Hot cakes? Hot cakes are likely to have nothing on the new Skoda Kodiaq. We get our first test drive on Irish soil in the much-awaited big new SUV. Still want that Santa Fe?
In the metal
If ever a car were review-proof, it's the Skoda Kodiaq. Considering that it's a modestly-styled family 4x4 with optional seats for seven, from a brand famed for its quiet levels of sensibleness, the Kodiaq has been generating the sort of pre-launch publicity normally reserved for a new Iron Man film. Of the 1,000 that Skoda will be able to bring into Ireland from an already over-stretched factory this year, half are sold by now. To be honest, we could say that the Kodiaq eats puppy sushi and stamps on kittens and you'd probably still buy it...
Thankfully, it's rather better than that, but you will have to look past the styling a little. Skoda makes much talk of it being inspired by the faceted lines of Bohemian crystal work, but to these eyes it just looks a little blocky and a little bland. Certainly not ugly, but no more than functional and pleasant. While the fact that it's a seven-seat SUV breaks new ground for Skoda, the styling doesn't.
The same is true of the interior. Space and quality are there in the requisite amounts, but again style is lacking. The dashboard is big and blocky, but unassuming to look at. The dials are neat and the big eight-inch infotainment screen adds a touch of class, but lower-spec models are going to look pretty utilitarian.
Then again, utility is at the core of the Kodiaq. Up front, the seats are tall and comfortable, the view out is full-on Panavision 16:9. Behind, in the middle row, space is more than generous and the seats themselves are far comfier than you might think. There's width enough for the necessary three child car seats, but sadly (and oddly) you can't have ISOFIX in the centre rear seat, which seems like an omission.
Further behind (in the way, way back seats) room is predictably tight. You can slide the middle row fore and aft to make some extra space, but as with all rivals, the rearmost seats are for the smallest members of the family and preferably only for short trips.
The boot is massive, though. In this seven-seat form you can squeeze an impressive 660 litres in with the third row folded. Go for the (€1,000 cheaper) five-seat model and that expands to a whopping 720 litres. The Kodiaq certainly has practicality licked, and comes with the usual Skoda thoughtful touches of umbrellas built into the doors, an ice scraper in the fuel filler and cup holders that grip a bottle, allowing you to open it with one hand.
Again, there's nothing here that's new or dramatic, but there is a lot of good stuff. That unapologetically high driving position means you can see the corners of the car with great clarity, helped by the fact that the beltline rises only slightly towards the back, which improves over-the shoulder visibility.
Our test car came with the familiar 150hp 2.0-litre diesel engine, with four-wheel drive (which 70 per cent of Kodiaq buyers are going for) and a six-speed manual gearbox. It's an effective and really rather effortless combination. The engine's generous 340Nm of torque means that performance is pleasingly brisk, while the gearbox's light, easy action means you can keep close to the crest of that torque wave. The Kodiaq does, of course, lean a bit in corners, but it's not excessive, and thankfully Skoda has resisted the temptation to fit big alloys that would cripple the ride quality. Instead, it's firm, but flexible, and seems not to bang excessively on rough-surfaced country roads. The steering is quick and well-geared, but very light and over-assisted. It's not a car that communicates much with you when cornering, but it's well-behaved, well-balanced and goes where you point it. It also seems to lack the slight sense of wallow and float that we've noticed with some versions of the Skoda Superb.
Fuel economy is, according to official figures, 53mpg, which feels do-able on this first, brief test drive, but if you go for seven seats, the extra weight does push you up a tax band to Band C - and an annual €390 for a tax disc. The 150hp engine, though, seems (as ever) to have sufficient muscle to make upgrading to the 190hp model rather pointless, but there is a 1.4 turbo petrol (with either 125hp or 150hp with 4x4) that should be a better choice than diesel for town-dwellers.
While the Kodiaq doesn't surprise, it is a very pleasant to drive, feels safe and secure on a twisty road and mostly refined on a larger roads. Considering its family-friendly target market, that's all the major boxes ticked.
What you get for your money
You will have to be a little careful with the options list to prevent the cost of your Kodiaq ballooning into €40k territory, but the good news is that a basic Active model comes with everything you really need - 17-inch alloys, air conditioning, cruise control, Bluetooth and smartphone connectivity. There's also a new Skoda Connect system that allows you to monitor the health and status of your car remotely, and on higher-spec models you can have a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot, live news, parking, fuel pricing feeds and more.
You will have to upgrade to a €35k Ambition model if you want a diesel engine though, which does make the Kodiaq rather suddenly more expensive, but Skoda does offer a nice Style + pack for €1,400, which includes a panoramic roof, electric tailgate and rear-seat tablet holders.
If you don't need diesel, though, you can theoretically have a seven-seat Kodiaq on your driveway for less than the price of the most affordable (and mechanically identical) five-seat Volkswagen Tiguan, which makes this quite the bargain.
The new Skoda Kodiaq SUV is the car that Irish family buyers have been crying out for: it's stylish, but not at a premium price; it has seven seats, but is categorically not an MPV; it should be reliable and is sensible, but is certainly not dull. There is little doubt that it's going to fly off forecourts.