Skoda jumps into the SUV market with both feet — and seven seats, but can the Kodiaq win the people's hearts in an already congested SUV market?

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It’s so typical of Skoda, while the car industry as a whole is rushing to build new 4x4s, not to launch just another typical modern compact SUV but instead to give us something a bit more useful: the new Skoda Kodiaq.

This car gives us the perfect opportunity to take stock of the complexity that phenomenal sales growth has now brought to the SUV market and the remarkable choice that a British consumer with about £30,000 to spend now enjoys.

Full-LED double-lens headlights are styled to look like traditional Czech crystal cut glass, according to Skoda

If you want to trade outright practicality for style, a zesty drive and a premium brand, you can do it (BMW X1, Audi Q2, Range Rover Evoque).

If you need the opposite – a big SUV with lots of space and maximum towing ability, from a value brand – you can also have it (Kia Sorento, Ssangyong Rexton).

If you want what we might call a ‘normal’ modern, volume-brand compact SUV (Volkswagen Tiguan, Mazda CX-5, Honda CR-V, Ford Kuga), a more traditional 4x4 done small (Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forester) or even an oversized crossover (Ford Edge), you can have it.

Among all of which, you’d imagine it impossible for a firm new to the segment (but for the loveable warm-up act that is the Skoda Yeti) to carve out a clear bit of territory to call its own.

And yet this one damned near has. The Skoda Kodiaq is a compact SUV with a twist of extra space and functionality: a car, in prospect, that’s as modern and close to as fuel efficient as any other 4x4 on the Volkswagen Group’s MQB platform but approaches the size and usefulness of the Kia Sorento’s seven-seat sub-breed.

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And we can take its blend of simple functionality, space and value for money as a preview of what to expect from the new Yeti, due in 2018, and the smaller Skoda crossover that will follow it by the end of the decade. Beyond, being the new corporate face of Skoda SUVs, the Kodiaq may also spark adventures into pastures new for the Czech manufacturer.

Following the standard SUV is the Skoda Kodiaq Scout, which brings genuine off-roading ability and underbody protection, while bosses are toying with the prospect of launching a Skoda Kodiaq vRS version as well as a coupé version of the Kodiaq in the same ilk as the BMW X6 and Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupé.

The Kodiaq also brings new driver assistance systems, new infotainment options and other luxury and convenience features to Skoda showrooms, forming a key part of the firm’s effort to move upmarket. The side benefit is that it could just be one of the best SUVs for families.

But first, it's time for its first major hurdle, then: how will it fare against the oldest benchmark car test in the business?



Skoda Kodiaq front end

Cleverly packaged size will be a key part of the Kodiaq’s appeal.

This is a five/seven-seat SUV measuring less than 4.7 metres at the kerb – and therefore only 40mm longer than an Skoda Octavia hatchback and shorter than a Skoda Superb saloon.

Disappointed to see the Kodiaq arrive without a really innovative ‘simply clever’ thing to its name. I don’t count the door edge protectors, done first by Ford

It’s very marginally longer than a Mitsubishi Outlander and a Nissan X-Trail – the cars whose market position the Kodiaq most closely threatens – but considerably shorter and smaller than the decidedly less European-feeling Kia Sorento.

To those who want an SUV that delivers large on interior space without looking so large outwardly, that may be a strong selling point.

As a result of being comparatively compact and using the advanced MQB platform as its basis, the Kodiaq is relatively light.

Entry-level models, powered by a 123bhp 1.4-litre turbo petrol engine and driven exclusively by their front wheels, weigh less than 1.5 tonnes, says Skoda. Although the claimed kerb weight of our diesel, four-wheel-drive, fully loaded test car tops 1750kg, that’s still a good 150kg less than many equivalent seven-seat 4x4s.

In all, there are three turbocharged petrol engines and two diesels to choose from, with the petrol range made up of two tunes of the 1.4 TSI engine and topped by a 178bhp 2.0-litre TSI. The oilburner range consists of a 2.0 TDI available in two guises - 148bhp and 187bhp respectively

The pick of the range for private buyers may well be the middle-order petrol unit: a 1.4 TSI combining 148bhp with CO2 emissions from 141g/km, boosted by active cylinder shutdown technology.

Those who choose diesel will mostly go for the 148bhp 2.0 TDI engine, as fitted to our test car, and it can be partnered with front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive and a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox.

The Kodiaq gets one up on many of its sister-model SUVs by offering independent rear suspension on every version in the range.

Steel coil springs are standard across the range. Dynamic Chassis Control continuously variable dampers are available as an option, as well as an extra Driver Mode Select setting called Off-road, which only really adds to the armoury of the stability and traction control systems.

For now, there’s no jacked-up, extra-rugged version and ground clearance is an unremarkable 187mm. However, Skoda announced at the Geneva Motor Show that a more rugged version of the Kodiaq will join the range, which has had its ground clearance jacked up to 194mm, a ramp angle of 19.7deg and, approach and departure angles of 22.0deg and 23.1deg respectively. The Kodiaq Scout looks as if it will be joined by vRS versions in the future, with petrol and diesel variants dicussed and a 300bhp output mooted.


Skoda Kodiaq interior

The Kodiaq is not only Skoda’s first proper SUV but also its first seven-seat passenger car of any sort.

In light of those facts, the Czech manufacturer has done very well to get so much right about the way the car is packaged and fitted out in order to open up those rearmost two seats for everyday use and generally to make the car as versatile as it can be.

Why would Skoda make so much effort to offer the best in-car technology and infotainment on the Kodiaq but omit to adapt the VW Group’s virtual cockpit tech

Our test car was equipped in a high trim level with leather sports seats as standard, but have the regular seats instead and you can specify an optional folding front passenger seat to go with your standard 40/20/40-split second row.

Not counting the space made available by flopping that front seat over, there’s up to 2065 litres of storage on offer in a five-seat Kodiaq with its rear seats folded, which is likely to be as much cargo bay volume as you’ll ever need.

For occupants, that second row is split 60/40 to slide up to 180mm fore and aft, allowing you to juggle leg room between the second and third rows.

In optimum five-seat mode, the Kodiaq offers ample second-row space for adults – more head room than in either an Nissan X-Trail or Volkswagen Tiguan, although not quite as much leg room as the Tiguan.

Don’t forget, though, that the Tiguan doesn’t have third-row occupants to make room for. Tilt and slide second-row seatbacks make the Kodiaq’s third-row seats easier to get to than in some rivals, but space back there is still tight for adults.

It’s sufficient for any child, though. Skoda’s failure to put Isofix child seat anchorages on that third row is therefore annoying, but not uncommon.

Meanwhile, anyone with experience of a bigger SUV may miss the stadium seating they may have previously enjoyed. The Kodiaq’s rear seats are set too low to give occupants a view of the road ahead over the heads of those in front.

The Kodiaq’s dashboard layout is entirely conventional, but it’s smartly presented, well laid out and solidly constructed.

Skoda’s new touchscreen infotainment looks like a welcome touch of class. The Kodiaq takes the Czech brand into new territory for infotainment sophistication.

Opt for a top-of-the-line 8.0in Columbus system and Skoda Connect and your car comes fitted with its own 4G data sim and always-on connectivity, allowing your passengers to connect their mobile devices and stream their own media on board. You get free unlimited data for the first year of the car’s life and it’s by subscription thereafter. Wireless phone charging is included. 

The Columbus system looks great, it’s intuitive and punchy to use and its navigation is excellent, with detailed mapping and clear directional instructions. You can also connect to it remotely from your smartphone and set up alerts that can notify you if your car is driven outside of a given boundary or above a certain speed.

The car’s bottom-rung touchscreen system is called Swing and gives you a 6.5in colour touchscreen. There are two mid-range systems (Bolero and Amundsen), which allow you to talk to your rear passengers using the car’s network of speakers.

As for the trim levels, there are four to choose from - S, SE, SE L and Edition. Entry-level Kodiaqs will be equipped with 17in alloy wheels, electric windows, LED day-running-lights, keyless ignition, tinted rear windows, emergency autonomous braking and various other safety tech as standard. Inside, there is air conditioning, a cooled glove box, height adjustable front seats and steering column and hill start assist.

Upgrade to SE, and the Kodiaq is adorned with 18in alloy wheels, headlight washers, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, auto wipers and lights, and an umbrella housed in the front doors. Those pining for a bit more luxury can opt for the SE L model which gets 19in alloy wheels, lots of chrome exterior details, LED head, rear and fog lights, electrically adjustable, heated and folding wing mirrors, heated front seats, a powered tailgate and an Alcantara upholstery.

The range-topping Edition Kodiaq gets silver roof rails, metallic paint, a leather upholstery, wireless charigng port, blind spot monitoring, electrically adjustable front seats and light assist.

To most testers’ eyes the decorative trim of our Edition-spec test car failed to add much class. But overall, while it’s questionable on this evidence exactly how far the Kodiaq’s interior treatment advances Skoda’s luxury car credentials, it’ll serve owners very well indeed on a more functional level. 


2.0-litre TDI Skoda Kodiaq engine

The five-seat Volkswagen Tiguan we road tested gives us a very handy benchmark comparison for the Kodiaq, given that both cars were tested with the same Volkswagen Group 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine and a manual gearbox.

It’s interesting to note that the Skoda was carrying a weight penalty of less than 75kg compared with the Volkswagen; that isn’t much considering its relative size, extra seats and the fact that the Skoda had four driven wheels to the VW’s two.

Chassis hangs on quite hard around corners and then electronics prevent the car from running wide under power

The cars were also tested on different days and in slightly different conditions, but our 30-70mph through-the-gears benchmark gives us the chance to see beyond that and the car’s technical differences to
the fact that the Tiguan took 9.6sec for the sprint and the Kodiaq just half a second longer.

The 129bhp diesel X-Trail that we performance tested needed 11.8sec for the same discipline.

So even in mid-range oil-burning form, the Kodiaq doesn’t perform in a way that needs many excuses made for it. The engine’s brawny slug of mid-range torque not only makes the car easy to keep rolling but also lets it move as if it were much lighter.

It’s not the quietest diesel engine of its kind, but although there’s little point in revving it much beyond 3500rpm, you’ll find it couth enough when you need to do so, such as when climbing or overtaking slower traffic.

At 67dB, the cabin’s noise level is 1dB higher at 70mph than that of the 1.6-litre Nissan X-Trail. At maximum revs in third gear, the Skoda’s cabin is the quieter by the same margin.

As is typical of a Volkswagen Group offering, the Kodiaq’s driveline controls are uniformly weighted and pleasant to use, with the exception of the manual gearbox on our four-wheel-drive test car, which had just a bit too much notchiness in its shift quality. Generally, though, it’s easy enough to keep the engine working within its comfort zone.

For that reason, our guess would be that light off-roading and towing would be easy work in the Kodiaq as well. Prospective owners should be advised that only the DSG-equipped four-wheel-drive 2.0 TDI 150 and 190 models are rated for the Kodiaq’s maximum 2.5-tonne towing capacity on a braked trailer.


Skoda Kodiaq cornering

Rightly or wrongly, and whether the Czech manufacturer likes it or not, you can’t help having certain dynamic expectations of a big Skoda.

Distinguishing ride comfort would be a realistic expectation of any family SUV, of course, but when the manufacturer of the likes of the Skoda Octavia and Skoda Superb makes one, you expect it to be comfortable. And the Kodiaq is comfortable, just not outstandingly so.

Kodiaq doesn’t take long to settle on its outside contact patches, taking a consistent and predictable path to the exit

This is doubtless because the customers to whom Skoda would like to sell its new-generation SUVs are being defined as quite different from those who’ve bought Skoda Superb Estates and the like thus far.

The company is plainly keen that the Kodiaq and its ilk be thought of as cars every bit as modern and dynamic as most in the class – and you can tell, because the Kodiaq is absolutely no softer riding than most of its rivals.

Its body is cradled quite tautly by its suspension and is prevented from rolling or heaving too hard when driven with a bit of gusto. As a result, it handles quite well for a car of its size.

But over anything less than a millpond surface, there’s also a restless edge to the ride that is set up by those slightly firmer-than-average suspension springs, which may be exacerbated by the anti-roll bar settings and which wasn’t effectively addressed by out test car’s adaptive dampers.

The problem is more to do with fore-aft pitch than vertical bounce, but it’s there – it’s distantly bothersome – and a more practised SUV maker wouldn’t have tolerated it.

Likewise, we suspect a more experienced hand with relatively large and heavy cars wouldn’t have elected for a power steering calibration like the Kodiaq’s, which tries to use lightness to disguise the car’s size but ends up corrupting your primary relationship with the handling a bit.

That the wheel offers little feel isn’t a major problem for this kind of car, but it should at least seem consistently weighted and fluent.

The Kodiaq’s seems to shed its weight as you add angle, resulting in a slightly pendulous feel and occasionally making the car handle imprecisely.

Where bigger, heavier, more traditional big SUVs can struggle, the Kodiaq handles with laudable composure on Millbrook’s Hill Route.

Driving to extremes isn’t something you do out of choice in any seven-seat SUV, with a few exceptions, but the idea that the Kodiaq is better armed than you might expect, should you ever need to rely on its good handling response, may just help to sell it.

The over-assisted steering doesn’t always make it easy to be as smooth as you’d like to be or to sniff out every last bit of adhesion, but cornering composure is strong regardless and body control quite upright.

Balance is good up to a point, ebbing away at the limit, only for the subtle ESP system to prevent unwanted throttle-on understeer. But overall, the way it changes direction and stays secure at all times speaks of its relatively modest kerb weight and is a fine advert for it among safety-minded drivers.


Skoda Kodiaq

The Kodiaq range spans upper-level crossover territory at its lower end and premium-brand medium-sized SUV territory at its upper one, and with seven seats a £1000 option on mid-spec SE cars, there will be a version for almost any requirement.

The entry-level S grade is offered with front drive and a 123bhp 1.4 TSI petrol engine only. Those who choose this sub-£22k entry point get 17in alloy wheels and touchscreen infotainment with DAB radio and smartphone mirroring.

In seven-seat configuration, load bay is 630 litres and 720 if you don’t bother with the third row. Either way, it’s bigger than an X-Trail’s boot

SE trim gives access to a broader range of engines and transmissions, as well as 18in alloy wheels, cruise control, upgraded infotainment and dual-zone climate control, all from less than £23,000. A DSG-equipped, front-wheel-drive 2.0 TDI 150 SE undercuts an equivalent Nissan X-Trail by £2000 after you’ve accounted for the Skoda’s optional seven seats.

SUV devotees are likely to love the electric childlocks, always-on 4G wi-fi and extra-large Sleep Package headrests that the car can be optioned with.

This is also the first Skoda to be offered with a trailer assist system that uses cameras to automatically steer a caravan or trailer during tricky reverse parking.

Our advice would be to stick with the more functional Kodiaq than a more luxurious version, so we would opt for the 2.0-litre TDI 150 4x4 SE in seven seat form and add the Colombus infotainment system.

As for fuel economy, the Kodiaq offers more good news: nearly 50mpg on our touring test and an average of 37.2mpg, giving a real-world range of close to 500 miles.


4 star Skoda Kodiaq

Amid a flurry of new SUVs that could bury a wannabe buyer up to his or her neck in choice, the Kodiaq does almost all of the important things well: practicality, economy, driveability and convenience.

And it’s most impressive of all for its delivery of appealing quality, distinguishing versatility and smart and modern SUV desirability at a competitive price.

Versatile, appealing, added-value motoring for the bigger family

Where the car falls short is on luxurious richness and dynamic sophistication. The richness seems a lot to expect of Skoda from its first attempt at a big 4x4, although the price of our test car would buy more of it from more premium brands.

We find it harder to overlook the dynamic shortfall from our driver-focused viewpoint, because there’s just a little bit of naïvety about how the Kodiaq attempts to feel small and spry on the road.

Such naïvety can easily be rectified as the car develops through its lifecycle, and we’re leaving room to improve our rating as and when it is.

However, for those less interested in the driving experience, we can believe the Kodiaq will need little improvement at all.

With all than in mind, we have placed the Kodiaq just behind the impressive Land Rover Discovery Sport, but ahead of the Kia Sorento, Nissan X-Trail and Mitsubishi Outlander.


Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Skoda Kodiaq-2017-2024 First drives