Meet your new Volkswagen Golf (it’s a Skoda Kamiq SUV)
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Skoda Kamiq Ambition+
- Perky performance from small engine
- Practical interior touches (very Skoda)
- Truly impressive rear-seat space
- Dual-clutch gearbox can be nervous off the line
- Sober styling behind the comedy headlights
- No AWD option anywhere in Kamiq range
A colleague who has driven his fair share of cars had a moment of disorientation inside the Skoda Kamiq: “I feel like I’m in a Golf. It’s a like a Golf to drive. Is that a Golf dashboard?”
In a global and historical sense, the Volkswagen Golf is about as mainstream as you can get. It’s a synonym for “car”, really. In principle, such a thing shouldn’t have anything in common with a new-generation family SUV.
Of course, the Kamiq shares some bits and general “feel” with a Golf because it’s simply another branch of the VW Group family tree. But the other reason it feels like a Golf is because in 2020, models like these really are the new-normal family cars.
Skoda is totally on board with all of this. Remember when it used to make wacky SUVs like the Yeti? It would probably prefer you didn’t; when the company launched the Kodiaq back in 2016, it was trumpeted as the brand’s first SUV. Not technically true, although it was definitely the first SUV of Skoda’s new design direction.
But it’s not really a baby. It’s just 14mm shorter than the outgoing Mk7 Golf and 100mm taller. If you have a Golf TSI at the moment and are looking to upgrade, this is the kind of thing you might be looking at.
I reckon the Kamiq is by far the most car-like of VW Group’s triumvirate of compact SUVs. The Seat Arona and just-launched Volkswagen T-Cross both have much more of a fun-and-chunky SUV feel. The Kamiq is more grown-up: function over fashion.
The driving position is also very car-like, hence the Golf vibe – even though you’re sitting 40mm higher than you would in a Skoda Scala (the family hatch on which the Kamiq is actually based, by the way).
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We’re pretty keen to drive the entry 999cc three-cylinder Kamiq, but the 1.5-litre four in the Ambition+ impresses for its perky performance and eco-tech. It sounds a bit gruff but really rocks along beyond 3000rpm, as evidenced by a pretty decent 0-100km/h time of 8.4 seconds.
On constant throttle the powerplant can also switch off two cylinders; you’ll know by a message on the dashboard, but also by a tiny shudder that permeates the car and a distinct change in engine note. It happens often and it’s an effective system if the fuel economy figures are anything to go by: the four-pot averages 5.8l/100km, which is almost as good as the three-cylinder model’s 5.5l.
The dual-clutch gearbox has the usual VW Group DSG fast shifts and occasional foibles. It can be a bit abrupt off the line in town, chirping the front wheels on slippery road markings or damp tarmac, even in normal mode. Click the lever down into Sport and the transmission hangs onto gears too long in town; keep that mode for the windy roads.
But the fuel efficiency benefits of DSG are well proven and once you’re under way, snappy shifts and lively engine introduce a fair bit of driver appeal to this compact family SUV.
The chassis favours comfort over speed and quite right too: it’s nicely fluid if you’re smooth and potentially a bit floppy if you throw it around. Like a Golf TSI.
But if you really want to sharpen up the handling you can add two-mode suspension (with a 15mm reduction in ride height) for $750, or just buy the much snazzier Kamiq Monte Carlo ($42,990), which has it as standard.
An all-wheel drive option would actually add a lot to the Kamiq’s appeal, but that’s not happening. At least not right now. It’s primarily an urban SUV; you can’t have an AWD Arona or T-Cross either.
As you’d expect, there’s plenty of practicality to go with the fun. The front seats in the Ambition+ are really impressive for comfort and support. As with the Scala donor car, rear-seat legroom is truly impressive, taking Kamiq well beyond baby-SUV status.
An extra $255 for a split-folding backrest seems a bit stingy and even when you do have it, you don’t have a completely flat load-through. Or the option of fully removable rear chairs like you can get in the next-size-up Karoq.
But you cannot complain about load space. The 400-litre boot puts some larger vehicles to shame and is another tick that makes Kamiq a genuine family-SUV contender.
It wouldn’t be a Skoda without some “simply clever” stuff. You get an umbrella integrated into the driver’s door (hello Rolls-Royce), grippy cupholders that help you open bottles one-handed, cargo nets on the underside of the parcel tray, Velcro brackets for the boot floor, ice-scraper with tyre tread gauge in the fuel filler flap and a funnel built into the lid of the windscreen washer tank. You can even have Kodiaq-style pop-out door protectors as an option.
SKODA KAMIQ AMBITION+
ENGINE: 1.5l turbo-petrol four with cylinder deactivation
GEARBOX: 7-speed automated dual-clutch gearbox (DSG), FWD
PROS: Perky performance, practical interior touches, truly impressive rear-seat space.
CONS: DSG can be nervous off the line, sober