Jonathan Crouch finds in Skoda's improved Kodiaq vRS all the car he might ever need....
Ten Second Review
Skoda's idea of a performance mid-sized SUV is different to many other rival brands - and more appealing for that. The Kodiaq vRS, now featuring petrol power, sells for the kind of money that could alternatively buy you a faster premium-badged crossover but this seven-seat Czech contender delivers more character, more space and family flexibility, more traction, more equipment: more of just about everything really. None of which would matter if this wasn't really a credible piece of performance engineering. But, rather surprisingly, it actually is.
In the normal run of things, you wouldn't consider a Skoda Kodiaq, the Czech brand's mid-to-large 7-seat 'D'-segment SUV, as being an ideal candidate for performance engineering. It's a family conveyance intended for suburbia rather than Silverstone. Firming it up, adding on a body kit and shoe-horning a powerful engine beneath the bonnet ought to make little sense.
Yet, against the odds, it did with the original version of the Kodiaq vRS, which featured a bi turbo 2.0-litre diesel engine and was one of our favourite family SUVs, until emissions legislation forced this variant out of production. Unwilling to abandon the idea of a sporty Kodiaq, Skoda has re-introduced this top variant to the line-up as part of this model line's mid-term update, this time with 2.0-litre TSI petrol power. Surprising Skoda? In this case, yes.
The old diesel-powered Kodiaq vRS actually held the Nurburgring Nordschleife lap record (for 7-seat SUVs), so from that, you can gather that this crossover isn't a complete duffer through the turns. Pointless accolades of that sort speak of Skoda's rather desperate need for this model to be taken seriously as a performance car - which you can understand to some extent. It's not only the manufacturer branding here that rather handicaps this car in the showroom but also its crossover genre, its 7-seat interior and, as if all that wasn't enough, a rather exalted price tag. So in the unlikely event you were even aware that this car existed, you might easily dismiss it out of hand. But you shouldn't.
Not if you want family transport with seven seats, a bit of character, sensible running costs and a searing sense of speed anyway, not a combination easy to find for less than £50,000 in today's market. In place of the previous bi turbo 240PS 2.0-litre TDI diesel unit, the Kodiaq vRS now uses the VW Group's familiar 2.0 TSI petrol powerplant, the same one offered by lesser Kodiaqs with 190PS, but here tuned up to 245PS. The 62mph from rest sprint occupies just 6.6s, 1.1s quicker than the 190PS 2.0 TSI model can manage. It's also nearly half a second faster than the old diesel vRS.
Various drive modes are on offer and thanks to standard adaptive damping, those settings influence ride quality - as well as steering feel, throttle response and the change timings of the DSG paddleshift auto gearbox that's necessary to harness the twin turbo powerplant's prodigious grunt. Plus there are huge brakes and proper off road tractional capability too, including a selectable 'Snow' mode. In addition, you can tow a trailer weighing up to 2.5-tonnes. It's all very practical.
Design and Build
Skoda has dressed the Kodiaq vRS carefully to match its premium performance station in life. So there are eye-catching 20-inch 'Sagitarius' alloy wheels, along with red 'vRS' badges on the nose and tail. Plus sleeker bumpers, big bore dual exhaust tips and gloss back finishing for the roof rails, wing mirrors, window frames and front grille. None of this does anything to disguise this SUV's quite prodigious size; at around 4.7-metres in length, it's one of the biggest VW Group models to be spun off the conglomerate's MQB platform.
Inside, you get carbonfibre trim and the obligatory sports steering wheel, plus aluminium pedals and sports seats upholstered in grippy alcantara fabric. There's a standard 9.2-inch centre-dash infotainment touchscreen and Skoda includes its 10.25-inch 'Virtual Cockpit' digital instrument binnacle. As with any other Kodiaq, the second row bench reclines and can be slid back and forth through 180mm. And this car retains its third seating row - the kind of thing some performance SUVs dispense with. Out back, there's 270-litres of luggage room with all three rows in place - or 765-litres if you fold the third row and push the second one forward. It's 2,005-litres if you fold the second row too. So yes, this is about as practical as performance cars tend to get.
Market and Model
This is where you might think the proposition on offer here to start falling apart a little. After all, a budget of nearly £48,000 feels a little on the ripe side for a Skoda, even one as appealing as this. Particularly as you'll probably end up needing to spend more to get the right kind of end spec you'd ideally want. Add in niceties like a panoramic glass roof, an upgraded Canton sound system, a rear view camera and full-LED headlights and you'd be adding around £2,000 more to that figure.
If you take the view that what you'd get as an end result is a cut-price Audi SQ7, then the spend would be justifiable. But you might understandably equally feel that what you'd actually end up with is a car that doesn't really give you very much more than you'd get from the kind of Kodiaq Sportline 2.0 TSI 190PS DSG 4x4 model that would save you £5,000 or more. It's all of course a matter of personal perspective.
At least there's plenty of equipment for the cash: the full bodykit, DSG paddleshift auto transmission, the ultimate in cabin screen technology including a fully digital dash, a driving mode system, all the usual camera safety features and the kind of adaptive damping set-up you usually have to pay a lot extra for with a car like this.
Cost of Ownership
A big bore petrol unit paired to a near 2.0-tonne kerb weight isn't a recipe for particularly efficient running costs. Skoda's official figures tell us that this car will manage an official WLTP combined cycle economy figure of up to 32.5mpg (that's actually quite close to the old diesel model's 35.3mpg) and a WLTP-rated CO2 reading of up to 198g/km.
Recommended service intervals are based around a 20,000 mile/2 year regime. And you can budget ahead for maintenance costs by taking out a fixed-price pre-paid servicing plan at point of purchase that covers the first two scheduled garage visits. Finally, while it's certainly true that other rivals better the three year 60,000 mile warranty that Skoda provides, you can extend your cover to four or five years by paying extra. Not that you really need to. The brand regularly tops independent consumer satisfaction surveys: according to real people, there are few more satisfying cars to own.
Skoda's vRS model line dates back to an Octavia with that badge launched back in 2001 featuring a 1.8-litre turbo petrol engine with 180hp. At the wheel of this modern interpretation of what vRS branding can mean, it's instructive to consider how things have advanced since. Though the Kodiaq vRS weighs far more than that old Octavia and can stow far more luggage and seat two extra people inside, it's no more expensive to run and gets to 62mph over a second quicker.
The handling can't be quite as sweet of course, but the way the Czech engineers have reined in what ought to be prodigious levels of body roll from a car of this size is deeply impressive. The elephant in the room here of course is the £48,000 asking price, which gets you any number of premium brand mid-sized SUV alternatives. Hardly any of which have seven seat family versatility. And hardly any of which I'd rather have over a Kodiaq vRS. The formula here doesn't really add up on paper. But in the metal, I think the right kind of family buyer might rather like it.