Driven: Skoda KODIAQ

The KODIAQ is Skoda’s answer to the seven-seat SUV question that British families seem obsessed with asking. Forget the fact that almost everyone would be better in an estate like the Volvo V60; the middle-classes seem to prefer the feeling of superiority that comes with an elevated driving position.

Yet, as far as cars like this go, the KODIAQ is better than average largely because the team that designed it has thought about how people actually use their cars, and responded with myriad thoughtful touches.

Like an umbrella stowed in the doors, and an ice-scraper inside the fuel flap. When it’s not needed, the rear parcel shelf stows away underneath the boot floor, which is a brilliantly simple idea that almost no-one else offers.

Nor does it end there. The handle for the bonnet’s secondary release catch is huge and ergonomically designed. The rear side windows have sunblinds built into them. And the front door pockets have a nifty little bin rubbish holder. With bags in it.

I used it solo with the seats folded flat to shift half-a-dozen large boxes – and then fully loaded with six other passengers. I drove it to Devon and back in complete comfort and in almost complete silence. I threw it along some of the finest roads north Wales has to offer and enjoyed every single minute.

Grassy car-parks, made slippery by smattering of snow followed by a sprinkling of spring rain, were a doddle thanks to the KODIAQ’s all-wheel-drive system, which shuffles power around the four wheels according to demand and available grip.

I could go on, but I hope you get the message; the Skoda KODIAQ is an unusually thoughtful and versatile car.

Mostly.

Because there are a few flaws that utterly ruined the experience for me. The SmartLink+ Android Auto interface, for example, was buggy and laggy and crashed repeatedly. One friend couldn’t link his phone with it at all.

The driver settings reset themselves every time I turned the engine off, instigating the KODIAQ Shuffle: turning the automatic engine shutdown off, the Dynamic Chassis Control setting to ‘sport’, and the gearbox out of its standard setting and into the sportiest.

And while this complete reset is far from unique, even with the DSG gearbox in its sportiest setting the KODIAQ still had the slowest gear changes of any car I’ve driven in the past ten years – and I include classic cars in that category. It was so slow to change down that I even drove for an hour-and-a-half to see a friend who is a gearbox engineer. His verdict? It’s like something out of a 1960’s American car.

It was so bad that I’m convinced there must have been something wrong with it; the DSG gearbox is usually one of my favourite automatic gearboxes but in this application it was hopeless.

Which ruined a good chassis. One-hundred-and-ninety PS is a useful amount, even in a seven-seat behemoth like the KODIAQ. Travelling back from Heathrow late one night showed the Skoda in a kinder light. Sitting at typical motorway speeds it proved to be a fine long-distance cruiser, refined and comfortable and quiet. It rides well too, even on the Skoda KODIAQ Edition’s 19-inch rims and low-profile tyres.

I was seeing an average of 41.5mpg too, which is pretty good, especially when you factor in decently sprightly acceleration and as much mid-range torque as any family man could reasonable hope for. On quiet roads like this, at high speeds, the KODIAQ and I started to bond.

And then the Android Auto crashed – again – forcing me to stop to reset Waze and my music before setting off again. But then I hit the familiar roads of north Wales and turned the sat-nav off. I know them well and have no need of anyone telling what to do, or when. Sadly, the gearbox felt the same, refusing to change down until it had taken its customary two-second pause to prove its reluctance.

Yet I was still sad to see it go. The trouble is, for nigh-on £40,000 I expect more and my as-near-as-dammit 1,200 miles with it left me feeling a bit cheated. A bit sore. Yearning for what might have been rather than what was.

 

Carlton Boyce @motoringjourno