Indian car buyers can’t shake off the taste for Skodas. The Czech brand’s glamorous styling, European build quality, spacious cabins and thoughtful designs have made Skodas very desirable. Nonetheless, a history of appalling after-sales service has created wary customers. But, over the last few years a revamp of the dealer and service network and the introduction of the appealing Superb and Octavia sedans has put Skoda on the rise again. Now, with a seven-seat SUV from Skoda coming to India in the second half of 2017, any remaining resistance to brand Skoda is quickly disappearing. We drove Skoda’s first seven seat SUV, the Kodiaq, to see just where it fits in.
Viewed from the front the Kodiaq is quite distinctive. There is a sense of width as the butterfly grille fans out wide, with chunky bars popping out to create a strong three-dimensional design. The sharp cut and slim headlamps increase the sense of width, but also add a sense of delicateness to the design. As expected from Skoda, the lines are crisp and elegant and it is evident when you view the Kodiaq from the side. Lightly squared-off wheel arches give a hint of robustness. From the rear the Kodiaq looks neat and crisp, just that. The sharply cut tail lamps also jut out, giving them a three-dimensional feel. The C-motif is also executed in an edgy and taut feel. The deeply clefted tailgate breaks up the volume nicely too.
It’s been named after an Alaskan bear, but the Kodiaq is no grizzly SUV. Like the Audi Q7, the Kodiaq too has a whiff of an overgrown estate rather than a brawny SUV. The surprise, though, is that the Kodiaq really isn’t small! While it looks quite tidy, its dimensions put it in the league of the Hyundai Santa Fe. At 4,700mm, it is as long as the Santa Fe, and with 1,880mm of width it is as wide as well. The Skoda boasts of longer wheelbase (by 90mm!) which gives it a planted stance too. However, the Skoda isn’t as tall as the Santa Fe and that’s what keeps it from getting that towering SUV-like stance.
With the Kodiaq Skoda has raised the clever quotient. Two umbrellas are a good sign, no? But then, the Kodiaq boasts of a door edge protection system - a little rubber strip that pops out to protect the door edges from bumping into walls when opened. There’s an ice scraper which doubles as a magnifying glass in the fuel filler door. The boot also has a lamp, which can be detached and used as a torch, and which also sticks onto the car body if required. We loved these features and the Kodiaq packs in a lot more including some serious tech too. It boasts of blind-spot warning, lane-keep assist, and city-collision brake, that will apply brakes at speeds under 34kph to avoid a collision, and more. But it remains to be seen how many of these make it to India. We can be sure that the powered tail-gate and top view for the reversing camera, motorised driver’s seat with memory settings, three-zone climate control and panoramic sunroof will be offered in India.
The dashboard design is straightforward and handsome, with smart looking vertical aircon vents breaking up the horizontal flow. The highlight, though, has to be the large and clearly laid out 6.5 inch touchscreen infotainment system. It is crisp to look at and quick to respond. While build quality is solid, some plastics didn’t feel all that impressive.
The front seats are wide, well bolstered and well cushioned too. But its the sheer sense of roominess that heightens the sense of comfort. Headroom is abundant, and the knee-room in the second row is incredible. The cabin feels wide, too, and sitting three abreast should be no issue. The middle passenger will appreciate the flat seat back and the low transmission tunnel. Passengers in the third row will sit quite knees-up, but they can get decent legroom as the second row slides back by eighteen centimetres! Practicality is given an added boost as even with the third row up you have 270 litres of boot space. The last two rows can be folded easily with just a tug of a lever in the boot to liberate a massive 2005 litres of storage!
The Kodiaq will be available in India with two engine options -- a 180PS 2-litre petrol and a 2-litre turbodiesel. The diesel is available in 150 and 190PS states of tune, but India is likely to get the 150PS version first as it is Euro 6-compliant while managing to deal with poor fuel quality. Irrespective of fuel type, at the time of launch, we will get seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearboxes and all-wheel drive hardware.
The petrol engine is smooth, ambles calmly and breaks into a trot effortlessly as there is enough torque available even under 2000rpm. It would make for an easy going companion on the daily commute. If you like to drive at a faster pace, you will have to use the revs, as there is a bit more zing after 2600rpm. The engine continues to pull ahead with determination even as you go past 4000rpm, and the dual clutch gearbox lets you go up to 6200rpm before shifting up. The gearbox is reasonably quick and you have paddle shifters for greater control. It is a quick enough motor but seems in its element when driven at a sensible pace, and cruising on the highway is a stress-free affair.
The 150PS diesel also proved to be good for everyday usage for most city dwellers. It is quick to respond even at low speeds, with torque building smartly from about 1700 rpm. The engine pulls well past 3000rpm, however, at higher speeds it didn't have the punch of the 190PS diesel. On the flip side, the 190PS version doesn’t have great low speed drivability, and the gearbox feels a little less eager to change gears here. The Kodiaq also offers different drive modes: Eco, Sport and Normal - these adjust the responsiveness of the gearbox and throttle to suit the need.
Firstly, the Kodiaq deserves credit as it feels quite car-like to manoeuvre, shrinking around you quite well; and that bumps up its city-friendly quotient further. Adaptive suspension is offered as an option in Europe, but is expected to come as standard for India. However, the system feels like it could do with a bit of tweaking. The Comfort mode’s soft setup is pleasing in the city, albeit a bit floaty at higher speeds. The Normal mode is the default mode in which to drive the Kodiaq, as it offers a more balanced setup, except that there is a sense of stiffness over sharp bumps and edges on the road. Sport mode stiffens the suspension enough such that you would not use it for long durations on public roads.
The all-wheel drive-equipped Kodiaq uses a Borg Warner on-demand system. So, the Kodiaq is primarily a front-wheel drive machine and you can feel that when you attack corners. At first, when you turn in, there is a hint of understeer, but as you prod the accelerator the rear wheels start to push and this helps the SUV turn better and more confidently. The Kodiaq was easy to drive and quite un-SUV like but it didn’t feel like too much fun to steer, as the steering was too light and lacked feedback. Nonetheless, the Kodiaq is a composed mile muncher, with good high speed stability. The all-wheel drive system sends a small amount of torque to the rear wheels to ensure that. It also packs strong brakes to shed pace when required. At high speeds, the cabin is quiet, although there is a bit of wind noise around the A-pillar at speeds above 90kmph.
Adopt a Bear?
So where does the Kodiaq sit? In terms of size, Hyundai’s Santa Fe would be the Kodiaq’s closest rival. But, its sophisticated and car-like nature would make it an obvious choice for those who have yearned for a Honda CR-V but wanted a diesel option. In terms of pricing, it will be pegged on par with the Skoda Superb, and that means it will crop up on the radar of anyone looking to buy any SUV, from the Tucson to the Endeavour. Its European design and build quality could tempt entry-level luxury SUV customers who don’t want to sacrifice on the space or the third row of seats. Yes, this Skoda isn’t invigorating to drive, but this large seven-seat SUV it appeals to the head with its car-like manners, easy drivability, roominess and sense of premiumness. The Skoda Kodiaq is sure to be quite sought after when it arrives in India before Diwali in 2017!
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