Testing the latest version of a popular Skoda model should enhance the Czech brand’s image at its highest ebb, states Iain Robertson, as he got down and dirty with the marque’s outstanding five-to-seven-seater, now available in sportiest guise.
As a former vRS fan, having owned several Fabia and Octavia versions carrying the Czech firm’s appealingly up-market and sportiest badge, I have to say that I am ever so slightly concerned about Skoda (and also Seat, as it happens) pursuing high-performance goals with loftier models. While I am certain that a niche exists for customers desiring a bit more ‘oomph’ in their pseudo off-roaders, I am disturbed increasingly by this apparent market shift.
The whole idea of vRS-tagging is linked, however tenuously these days, with motor sport. The road cars carrying the badges are lower, ride more stiffly, corner more precisely, are rortier and snortier but have leanings that are more circuit than off-road. To apply the sporting designation to an ‘off-roader’ (which is, of course, what all carmakers wish to impart with their SUV offerings, even if none of them ventures into the ‘boondocks’) is stretching the bounds of decency, clarity and even business credibility.
As if SUVs do not have enough purpose, to gift them a more sporting one is surely little more than sell-out…a marketing ‘push’ exercise, rather than one of sense, logic and meeting customer demands. To encourage the driver of a taller and, by nature, less stable vehicle into delving more deeply into a performance portfolio is surely asking for trouble, long before even venturing off-road. Tackling a designated off-road ground at speed, there is a dead-certainty that the driver will be asked to depart with alacrity and, if it is of a more natural and less-organised type of terrain, I hesitate to think about the damage that might be wrought on the vehicle, let alone its occupants.
There is no denial of the car’s popularity, with no less than 277,000 examples hitting roads worldwide in the past couple of years, since we first reviewed it. Mind you, 100,000 of them are just to China, which tells a story of its own. Skoda’s marketing types clearly believe that a butcher version of its already quite butch Kodiaq warrants some extra punch. As a result, the SUV offers sporty and moderately enjoyable driving on-road thanks to its potent, 236bhp, 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine, matched by a whopping 368lbs ft of torque developed between 1,750 to 2,500rpm.
There is no word of a petrol alternative at this stage. However, the Kodiaq is equally competent transporting mountain bikes to a remote downhill track in its spacious boot, as it is coping with moving home on a modest scale. Its towing capabilities are underscored by that mountain of torque. Yet, in a shift of emphasis, this vRS combines the qualities of a sporty, long-distance vehicle, with those of a robust and ostensibly safe and business-like car.
Bear in mind that this vRS secured its first record even before its world premiere. Racing driver Sabine Schmitz, who is the only woman to have won the 24-hour race on the Nürburgring Circuit to date, conquered the famous venue’s 20.832km-long Nordschleife in 9 minutes 29.84 seconds. In the process, she set a lap record for seven-seater SUVs at the legendary ‘Green Hell’. Unsurprisingly, she was full of praise for the vehicle, which needs to be tinged with a soupcon of cynicism, because she was paid to achieve her record lap time.
To be fair to it, the car not only looks sporty but is also surprisingly sporty to drive. Its handling is notionally good and helped immeasurably by judiciously engineered electronics. Skoda has always been standalone in its suspension developments and those of the Kodiaq vRS allow the car to be firm and roll-resistant but ride comfortably overall. It all feels eminently normal from the cosseting driver’s seat, albeit several feet higher from terra-firma than the archetypal business express. The car’s top speed is given as 137mph and it felt perfectly stable at an indicated 100mph (it can despatch the 0-60mph dash in around 8.2s), although I am clearly not its target customer, as travelling at higher speeds (in Germany, of course) must surely take the bravery of a Land Speed Record holder.
As you would expect, the entirely new Kodiaq vRS also incorporates Dynamic Sound Boost, which ‘symposes’ a particularly striking engine sound for occupants, which can be adjusted, fortunately, to stop their annoyance. It also varies according to the terrain being tackled, which is novel but truly valueless. However, there are other debuts in the new Skoda: for the first time, 20.0-inch diameter Xtreme alloy wheels are standard, as are full-LED headlights and tail-lights. Selected body elements in gloss black underpin the sporty appearance of the Kodiaq vRS. Driving through a 7-speed DSG (automated-manual gearbox) and intelligent all-wheel drive also contribute to the dynamic driving characteristics. Progressive steering provides reassuringly safe and fairly agile handling, which is not bad for a car that will tip the scales at more than two tonnes, with a full complement of people and their belongings on-board.
In addition to its spacious 725-litres boot, which can be expanded to 1,960-litres with the rear seats folded flat, the Skoda Kodiaq vRS provides plenty of room for five, or seven occupants (230-litres of boot space), dependent on the model choice. It offers the latest technology for infotainment and connectivity, features a Wi-Fi hotspot and also makes every day driving that little bit easier with numerous ‘Simply Clever’ features, of which there are many.
From a big business trip, or a family outing, to sporty usage both on- and off-road, the Kodiaq vRS is exceptionally well-equipped for virtually anything that everyday life can throw at it, even though I still feel distrusting of its broader possible remit. The Czech brand’s first performance SUV is aimed at active and design-focused customers, according to the marketing guff. With the Kodiaq vRS, it is suggested that they can ‘cultivate their modern lifestyles and highlight them with the car’s sporty stance’. Personally, I would opt for the more workhorse models and save a few Pounds. Prices are yet to be released but you will be unlikely to obtain much change from £40,000 and, once the options boxes are ticked, you could be looking at the most costly Skoda ever!