A sophisticated, high-performance diesel engine is the focal point of the Skoda Kodiaq RS, the new flagship of the seven-seat Kodiaq range. Compared with the Kodiaq 140 TDI, the biturbo induction system lifts output by 36kW and 100Nm. Skoda has aimed the Kodiaq RS at enthusiasts, equipping it with all-wheel drive, a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and 20-inch alloy wheels – plus an Alcantara/leather interior, Virtual Cockpit digital instruments and advanced smartphone integration to satisfy the passengers.
Skoda Kodiaq RS launches into a bear market
There couldn’t have been a worse time to introduce an expensive new performance SUV than slap-bang in the middle of the worst global pandemic in a century. But that’s what Skoda Australia has done, launching the Skoda Kodiaq RS right around the time the global share market bears are waking from their slumber.
The Skoda Kodiaq RS is notionally a large SUV competing against mid-size prestige SUVs for around the same price, but the Kodiaq comes without head-up display or auto high-beam assist (as an option at least). A panoramic sunroof is available as a $1900 option, rather than as standard.
All of that possibly reflects some hard product-planning choices as the Aussie dollar plummets. For its part, the importer claims that compared with a host of competitors the Kodiaq RS is better value by at least $15,000.
So the Skoda Kodiaq RS is as well equipped for these uncertain times as any new model can be. It’s priced at $71,990 drive-away (including on-road costs) and it’s fairly well stocked with Alcantara and leather upholstery, plus parent company Volkswagen’s Virtual Cockpit digital instrument cluster.
There’s more too, in the form of Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone integration, powered tailgate, electrically adjustable front seats, adaptive cruise control and keyless entry/starting.
Added comfort and convenience features include a 9.2-inch touch-screen for the infotainment system, satellite navigation, voice control, Bluetooth with audio streaming, front/rear seat heating, self parking, auto-on headlights, rain-sensing wipers, sports pedals and electric fold-in exterior mirrors.
There’s a five-year warranty also (unlimited by kilometres), which outguns some of its prestige-brand rivals in the same price sector. And service packs could save the owner as much $714 over a five-year period or $399 over a three-year period.
Safe, solid, sophisticated
The five-star ANCAP safety rating for the Skoda Kodiaq RS is inherited from the crash testing of a lesser variant back in 2017. That rating is now a little out of date, but the fundamentals of the Kodiaq’s crash safety remain sound.
On-board safety features include autonomous emergency braking, multi-collision braking, driver fatigue detection, blind-spot monitoring, rear-traffic alert, lane keep assist, all-round camera monitoring and nine airbags.
The lane keep assist system helps steer the Kodiaq through wider-radius bends at speed. While the system is unobtrusive and picks the right line through a bend, it struggles with the faded line markings of Australian country roads – just like most other cars in the market. Unfortunately too, the Skoda set-up isn’t clear and unambiguous when it’s not detecting the painted lines, which is where some lower-priced cars are superior.
Skoda’s LED headlights work well, and on high beam they light up the road ahead like Lou Reed’s klieg lights over the skyline of Manhattan. The fog lights fill in the dark areas on the inside of corners to ensure the driver sees the dark-clad pedestrian about to step off the path in front of the Skoda.
When things turn pear-shaped, the Kodiaq RS delivers active safety benefits courtesy of its dynamic chassis. The brakes, suspension, steering and powertrain all keep the Kodiaq RS driver (and passengers) safe from harm.
Two turbos for the win
The biturbo four-cylinder diesel engine in the Skoda Kodiaq RS is one to convert you. Producing an endless stream of torque from idle to the redline – between 4500 and 5000rpm – the engine revs out cleanly from a start that’s practically lag-free.
While the engine produces that characteristic diesel power delivery at low revs, it’s enjoyably ‘rumbly’ all the same, helped in part by ‘Dynamic Sound Boost’ in the rear of the car. Even when cold or working under a light load it sounds like an engine with more than just four cylinders.
While the synthetic ‘acoustic experience’ is a bit of fun, it’s the fundamentals of the engine design – such as a reinforced cylinder block – that reduce diesel clatter, rattle, labouring and vibration to a minimum.
Tested during the Coronavirus lockdown, the Kodiaq wasn’t subjected to peak-hour commuting. It did post a fuel consumption figure of 6.7L/100km in free-flowing arterial traffic and on freeways. For a separate 70km test drive it returned a more realistic figure of 8.3L/100km.
The seven-speed dual-clutch transmission operates seamlessly, without any hesitation, snatching, thumping or clanking. Using the shift paddles you can pick a lower gear even when the engine is working in the mid-range or a little higher. And the DSG automatically selects the next gear up at the redline, even in manual mode.
It straddles that divide between providing the driver with enough control while also placing a restraining order on driver abuse. The system works, and speaking as one who has often questioned the ‘need’ for shift paddles in a diesel SUV, I’m forced to reconsider my position.
If there's a gripe at all, it's the tendency of the transmission to hold higher gears in Normal and Eco modes to save fuel, prompting some booming vibration from the engine at around 1200rpm, most noticeable when the Kodiaq is plugging its way up a slight incline.
Putting the ‘sport’ back into Sport Utility Vehicle
It’s an odd quirk of automotive vernacular that soft-roaders aren’t really designed for soft roads. And hard-core off-roaders are more at home on soft, loose surfaces than unyielding bitumen. The Skoda Kodiaq RS is a soft-roader that reveals a hard edge on bitumen.
The Continental tyres play an important role in the car’s road-holding, but the suspension is the major contributor to the flat, neutral handling of the Kodiaq RS. Drivers will appreciate the direct steering too, with its communicative feedback.
Ride comfort gets a qualified thumbs up. There’s some initial sharpness in the suspension’s response to smaller bumps, which is to be expected from a vehicle designed as an actual ‘sport’ utility vehicle, but the Kodiaq also irons out the rough stuff well at touring speeds.
Brakes are quite strong too, with pedal feel that is progressive initially but firms up nicely when the driver demands a sudden stop in an emergency. The Kodiaq is one of the better examples of an SUV that can pull up with the best of them.
Parking is made easier with the combination of all-round vision, acoustic guidance and the parking assist, which worked to specification for backing into a (parallel) spot by the side of the road.
The Skoda Kodiaq RS also comes with an off-road function, which brings up three dials (tyre temperature, compass and altimeter) in the infotainment screen and sets up the car for rock-crawling and general bush bashing. There was no opportunity to try out this function away from the road, unfortunately.
In the family way
For a large SUV, the Skoda Kodiaq RS doesn’t feel bulky or cumbersome. It will seat seven in varying degrees of comfort, and the hip point is ideal for kids and adults alike, but it’s a vehicle that isn’t so very big that owners will hesitate to drive it down to the shops.
The Kodiaq RS is slightly narrower than the notionally mid-size Mercedes GLC and BMW X3. And the X3 is actually a little longer than the Skoda, so this ‘large’ SUV is closer to medium prestige SUVs in dimensions.
That hasn’t stopped Skoda providing a functional and roomy interior for seven in the Kodiaq RS, however. The second row comprises triple-split folding seat squabs with bases that slide forward and aft in a 60:40 ratio.
As useful as that is though, the single-seat section is on the driver’s side, compromising safety while loading the kids into the third-row seats when the vehicle is parked by the side of a road.
Otherwise the second row works really well. There’s more than enough legroom and headroom for adults of average height and taller, let alone kids.
The seats fold flat and lock in place for transporting larger loads, and the centre seat squab folds separately so long objects like skis can be loaded through from the luggage compartment without disturbing the passengers in the outboard pews.
Smaller kids will be fine in the third row, but there’s little legroom for teens unless the occupants in the second row give up some of their own space by sliding the seat forward. Headroom at the very rear is limited too, and there are no vents back there, although there are adjustable vents (and third-zone climate control switchgear) for the second-row occupants.
With seating for seven and handy luggage capacity, plus all-wheel drive components under the floor at the rear of the Kodiaq RS, it’s hardly a surprise there’s no spare tyre, but it would be nice to have. Still, where would you keep it?
The boot is practical, with a place to stow the cargo blind when the third-row seats are occupied. A finger pull either side of the luggage compartment unlatches the second row seats for additional goods-carrying capacity and all five of the rear seats are easy to lower or raise out of the floor.
This is where Skoda excels – functionality. That the Kodiaq RS also happens to be comfortable, enjoyable to drive and stylish as well is just icing on the cake.
How much does the 2020 Skoda Kodiaq RS cost?
Price: $71,990 (drive-away), $65,990 (plus on-road costs)
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic
Fuel: 6.7L/100km (ADR Combined), 8.3L/100km (as tested)
CO2: 163g/km (ADR Combined)
Safety rating: Five-star (ANCAP, 2017)
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