What is it?
The Skoda Kodiaq is a rival to everything from a Kia Sportage to Land Rover Discovery Sport, depending on your point of view and requirements.
It’s a relatively compactly proportioned five or seven-seat SUV with a price that's eye-catching in entry-level petrol form but strengthens quickly but reasonably as you look up the range into the best-selling diesels and higher trim levels.
The Kodiaq is also a test for the Skoda brand. You hardly need telling, but Skoda has come a long way in the past decade, with booming sales powered by its finely-honed positioning as a value-for-money brand that you can buy with your head held high. No longer is there a need to explain to your neighbours why you’ve made your choice; instead, they’ll peer over the fence and nod in understanding, thinking "they know what they're doing”.
Will those same neighbours nod in approval if you pull up with a Kodiaq on your drive? Certainly, this is new territory for the brand. While you might argue that the Superb has already proved that Skoda can fight in the largest (in the physical sense) sectors, the Kodiaq is landing slap-bang in one of the most hotly fought markets of the current age. That it doing so with a car that, once you reach the higher specs, isn’t too far shy of Land Rover money, and that it is able to do it without prompting many raised eyebrows, shows again just how far it has come.
This is our second go in the Kodiaq: we’ve already tested the base 148bhp diesel, which is expected to be the UK’s best-seller, and here we’re driving the higher-powered Skoda Kodiaq 2.0 TDI 190, which has both four-wheel drive and an optional automatic gearbox.
This European spec car spec sits somewhere between the UK's top Edition model and next-best SE L trim, which means that seven seats and lots of kit come as standard.
What's it like?
There’s a risk that by describing the Kodiaq as true to the established Skoda brand values, we could leave you feeling a little bit cold, but that is exactly what it is and that alone should be enough to light the fires and get people queuing up to lay down deposits. The Kodiaq is a very fine car indeed, albeit in an appealing if not startling manner.
Chances are you will be interested in this higher-powered diesel engine because you intend to load the car to the roofline or tow with it. The extra torque and power over the entry-level 2.0-litre diesel certainly make its pull broader and progress brisker, and the engine combines reasonably with the auto 'box so long as you don’t want to push on too hard, when it tends to hold onto gears for too long. Overall, though, it’s a nice package that makes progress simple whatever the load.
However, we’d urge you to carefully consider the extra buying and running costs over the base 2.0-litre diesel - the mid-range 148bhp diesel engine moves the car along briskly enough for most of the people most of the time and is the more refined of the two units, so long as it isn’t pushed too far out of its comfort zone.
Curiously, in the right conditions, the Kodiaq can actually be quite fun to drive, which is unexpected for a large SUV from a car maker that has been known to err towards comfort. Its body leans less than some rivals in corners and the tyres grip well in corners.
However, this does come at a cost, because the adaptive suspension and steering system (called DCC) is curiously set up. In Comfort mode, it rides well, but the steering is light and short of feel; in Normal it rides firmly and the steering is still a little off; in Sport the steering weights up nicely but the ride is too firm for anything but a smooth road. It's probably the only significant miscue of the car, although you can dial towards a more preferable set-up through the so-called Individual option.
The Kodiaq’s interior is comfortable, often clever in its execution of neat touches such as storage solutions, and logically laid out and well put together. The glass-fronted 8.0in Columbus touchscreen infotainment system both looks good and operates swiftly and logically; qualities that are still - curiously - a blessing in the new car market.
In the second and third rows of seats, the Kodiaq has talents that compete head-on with the best its seven-seat rivals can offer. The middle row of suits are suitably accommodating for width and head and leg room, and the rearmost, while still cramped for the majority of people over their teenage years, are decent enough for their most likely intended use. It’s just a pity that you sit so low in them - passengers who like a view out of the front may want to insist on middle row accomodation. Put the rear seats down and the boot is huge.
Should I buy one?
There are many reasons to recommend the Skoda Kodiaq. It's accommodating, on the most part comfortable and frequently punching well above expectations in its interior execution, most notably with its infotainment systems.
However, at this price point it has strong and wide-ranging rivals, both in the same territory of being kit-laden and recommendable (the Kia Sorento, Hyundai Santa Fe, Mitsubishi Outlander and Nissan X-Trail to name a few), and some of which carry badges with arguably more kudos, if perhaps less kit (most notably the Land Rover Discovery Sport).
On this evidence, we’d give the Kodiaq the nod over all of its conventional rivals, and make a case for it giving the Discovery Sport a bloody nose too. It’s not perfect, but the qualities mean that the quibbles are easy to overlook. The Skoda Kodiaq has all the makings of being yet another king hit for the Czech firm.
2017 Skoda Kodiaq 2.0 TDI 190 4x4 auto SE L
Location Palma, Mallorca; On sale now; Price £32,795; Engine 4cyls, 1968cc, turbodiesel; Power 187bhp at 3500rpm; Torque 295lb ft at 1750rpm; Gearbox 7-spd auto; Kerbweight 1761kg; 0-62mph 8.8sec; Top speed 130mph; Economy 49.5mpg; CO2/tax band 151g/km, 30% Rivals Land Rover Discovery Sport, Kia Sorento