Signs of the KODIAQ. Here are my impressions after 1,300km through Europe at the wheel of Skoda's new 5/7-seater SUV
First Drive - Barcelona to Cherbourg: SKODA KODIAQ
Here I chart my trip and assessment of the new SKODA KODIAQ SUV (5-seater/7-seater) as I drive it 1,300km from Barcelona to Cherbourg:
I've just arrived in Barcelona where I'm looking forward to beginning the Skoda KODIAQ road trip from here to Cherbourg in the morning.
It will be my first time in the new car. I'm looking forward to driving across the Pyrenees via Andorra, into France as far as Saint-Emilion. They mention food and spa but I suspect (hope?) the gym is small. I brought my gym gear but not my resolve.
From there, the following morning, it is a straight (and I hope straightforward) run to Cherbourg on Friday and we're due in Rosslare by lunchtime Saturday.
Last time I drove from Spain to the ferry there was an Icelandic volcano's ash cloud hanging over half of Europe and no flights. We were stranded. But four of us decided to take a car and belt it - let's call it the Ash Dash - for the north coast of France. We had a tight schedule and we barely stopped to switch drivers. But we made it into the welcoming arms of Irish Ferries and back to Ireland - thanks in large measure to the magic wrought by the legendary Don Hall.
Hopefully this will be as memorable and become as much part of the motoring corrs' folklore as the Ash Dash. Maybe it will come to be known as Great Craic, Kodiaq.
The Kodiaq? Oh, yes, of course. It's why I'm doing this isn't? It is Skoda's first mid-size SUV (5/7 seats). At 4.697m it's longer than the Volkswagen Tiguan but a tad shorter than the Kia Sorento. There is a towing capacity of 2.5 tonnes - really impressive figure that. It gets here mid-March.
The third row of seats is optional. There are 720 litres of boot space (mega) with five seats and 2065 with the second row flat. In the 7-seater there are 270 litres; 630 litres if you fold the third row. From launch there will be a 2-litre diesel with 150bhp and 190bhp. The 150bhp will come with a front-wheel-drive 7spd auto (DSG), 6spd 4x4 or 7spd DSG 4x4. The 190bhp version has 7spd DSG 4x4. There's a 115hp version due in 2018. The 1.4-litre petrol 125bhp version has front-wheel-drive and 6spd manual. The 150bhp versions include 6spd manual front-wheel drive, 4x4 and 6spd DSG 4x4.
We leave Barcelona for the morning mists of other-world Montserrat, up through the mountains of aesthetic beauty brought sharply to earth with swingeing tolls prices.
Clear blue skies, the snow-capped Pyrenees beckon as I sweep the KODIAQ through narrow, twisty roads and short tunnels. On we climb, the car quiet as a whisper amidst the green (conifers) white (snow-clad background) and gold of crispy leaves clinging to chilly December branches.
I'm easing into my 2-litre 4x4 manual 150bhp diesel KODIAQ, pushing it a bit harder every kilometre. There is excellent grip, great visibility, loads of room/comfort and I have a wonderful sat nav as my companion. If all sat navs were like this I'd never get lost. It's the best I've used. I'm liking the cabin; big, spacious with decent materials. I'm comfy.
My toll bill hits €23 for 133.9km. Gulp. On I press, spirits lifted by the beauty of the land (Martinet) and the sense of quiet motion. This has the feeling of a substantial motor; I have the third row of seats folded. There are acres of room in the second row. I keep picturing a family in the car (and of camping holidays in years gone by). They'd have liked this.
Traffic is seriously heavy as we near Andorra. It is the feast of the Immaculate Conception and half Spain is heading to the tax-free principality.
I fill up with diesel (only 91c/litre) and some food for the many hours of driving still ahead. Adieu Andorra. Another place-to-visit off the bucket list. Then it's over the summit into France. I stop to take pics and hey presto I have wifi in the car. I park for 40 minutes to get through the emails, make a few WhatsApps and Viber calls and off I go, sweeping downhill past AX-le-thermes.
First criticism beckons. I'm finding it hard to make out the speed; the outline figures on the dash are too faint. They need to be solid.
There are some crazy drivers - darting past with metres to spare against oncoming traffic. I wend and bend my way down. The kms are mounting up but time speeds by and dusk settles over frosty valley fields; smoky villages snuggle against the pre-Christmas chill. And still I'm enjoying the drive. Not tired at all. It's solid, this KODIAQ, but shows itself to be supple and sporty (I have it in Sports mode) as I lash around bend and loops. Great grip on some tight, fast hairpins. The lumbar support on my seat is on overtime - effective though.
Toulouse is jammed tighter than a tin of sardines. The sat nav re-routes me from gridlock - not for the first time. We go though the town. It's packed but not as bad as the Peripherique.
And then, finally, it's open road to Bordeaux and boy does this car gobble up the kms. It's child's play to drive now. I'm headed for the Hotel Grand Barrail where those who didn't do the Andorra route are waiting - as is some lovely food.
We talk about the car on and off over dinner. Price is the great unknown. Surely, it has to be decently under €30,000 for the 5-seater and below €40,000 for the 7-seater? A few more details on the car wouldn't hurt at this juncture I suppose.
Even thought it's due mid-March, they expect 1,000 people to buy one in 2017. Diesels will account for 95pc of purchases. The 2.0 TDI, 150bhp 4x4 (road tax from €280) will be the volume seller (I preferred it to the DSG).
Seven-seat variants will be in highest demand - 70pc of sales. All the more reason for keen pricing.
There will be three trim levels. Starting equipment (Active) is expected to include SmartLink connectivity, cruise control, 17ins alloys. Ambition will have 18ins alloys and Style LED lights and leather.
Much as I'd love to linger in the heart of wine-making country we have 700km to rack up before the ferry leaves Cherbourg at 8.30. Compared with the swoops and sweeps of the previous day this is motorway. Boring. Good chance to try out all the driver aids, instrumentation, modes, connectivity, adaptive cruise control etc.
I like the way the instrument panel is fully visible through the large steering wheel, leaving the central touchscreen free for any twiddling you want on the hoof. The car just skims over the road. Today I'm driving the 5-seater with 7spd DSG and not as fond of it as I was of the manual, even if I thought the gearshift on that a bit notchy. It's something I brought to their attention.
There's some wind noise too. Is that because the engine/road/tyre noise is so well suppressed that I can hear the whistling wind? Or is it a genuine complaint? Don't forget I'm zipping along at 130kmh.
All of a sudden I'm at the ferry. Trip over. I got mighty well acquainted with the KODIAQ over the couple of days. I pushed it hard; and yes I nitpicked.
But overall how do I feel about it? I like the looks; the front is eye-catching, smart. This 'Skoda' design works well.
From the side it looks like an elongated Range Rover Evoque/Discovery Sport - and we know how well that sort of profile has gone down.
The long wheelbase (which helps interior space) also means the overhangs front and rear are quick short.
In heavy Toulouse traffic that helped, as the car never felt over-large and was easy to drive through narrow gaps of opportunity.
The cabin is smartly laid out, roomy and practical - families will like it and the materials felt and seemed to be of good quality.
Overall, I'd describe the KODIAQ as a well-balanced package. It's not a revolution; rather it's a clever mix of what people are looking for from their SUV/Crossovers these days: good looks, room, plenty of kit and (I expect) a good price.
Make no mistake price will be vital to compete against 7-seaters such as the Hyundai Santa Fe, KIA Sorento, Nissan X-trail etc and even more so to rival 5-seaters such as the Hyundai Tucson, Volkswagen Tiguan, Toyota Rav4, Renault Kadjar etc.
With the exception of the initial Rapid, SKODA have always hit the ground running with their new cars. With the new KODIAQ I feel they have already given themselves a good head start.