Race for your life: we drive Skoda's hot Kodiaq RS SUV
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Several years ago, a satirical UK car news website published a headline along the lines of “all other car companies give up following release of Volkswagen Golf R wagon”.
The joke being that there was really no point in competing with the fire-breathing hot hatch reborn as a practical wagon, because it would inevitably do everything perfectly. Game over for everyone else, in other words.
I can’t help but think there might be several SUV-makers who could empathise with this (admittedly completely made-up) news story right now. Because the best SUV in the country — as voted by Driven and the Automobile Association in 2017 — now has extra horsepower, a feistier character and more aggressive looks.
But yes, there is still a self-charging torch in its capacious boot and an umbrella neatly secreted inside a cavity in the driver’s door.
This is the Skoda Kodiaq RS; although that hero “Race Blue Metallic” exterior paint and those 20in Xtreme alloys might possibly have told you so already without having to read this far.
In effect this SUV takes Skoda’s most successful template and builds on it with the Czech brand’s iconic RS performance badging.
On paper it’s a recipe that should work well. And there’s really no point burying the lead: in practice it proves a brilliant execution, too.
SUVs that adopt some of the histrionics of a hot hatch have become the new sports currency for plenty of manufacturers, as buyer tastes have evolved over the last decade.
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Back at the conclusion of the 20th century, the idea of a twin-turbo SUV fitted with snug race seats might have seemed like an oxymoron. Or at best a joke along the lines of that Golf R wagon headline.
Not so now. In fact, you can barely move on Germany’s infamous Nurburgring circuit for manufacturers testing SUVs and attempting lap records in the process. Skoda is no exception; the Kodiaq RS has been spanked around the track by Sabine Schmitz, becoming the fastest seven-seater SUV to conquer the “Green Hell”.
Interesting, yes. But irrelevant in the Kiwi SUV market? Actually, quite the contrary.
New Zealand is home to the highest mix of RS-badged Skoda product in the world. Admittedly for the last few years that has been represented by just one model; the Octavia RS. But when a not-insubstantial 32 per cent of Octavias come armed with the red RS badge on the grille and bootlid, adding to the performance stockpile with a second RS option seems like a sure thing.
Now add to the story the model chosen to next adopt RS enhancements.
The Kodiaq has been an unmitigated success for Skoda since its arrival a couple of years ago.
Already established with bang-for-buck fare in the form of the Octavia and Superb, the Kodiaq has pushed Skoda into the mainstream, challenging Subaru and Hyundai — rather than other Volkswagen Group marques as one might expect — for the boutique buyer dollar.
Last year Skoda sold 1575 cars. This year it’s looking to push on to 1800 models shifted.
Two per cent market share has been identified as the desired magic figure; the local distributor identifying the Kodiaq RS as the bridge upon which to get there.
How does the RS version differ from its civvy street siblings? In short order, looks and power.
The previous crown holder in the Kodiaq range — the Sportline 2.0 TDI — offers 140kW peak power and 400Nm of torque.
The RS builds on both figures; 176kW peak power and a hundred more Newtons are available from what is the most powerful bi-turbo diesel four-cylinder Skoda has built. Zero to 100km/h is achievable in seven seconds.
Those alloys (lifted directly from the Octavia RS and available only on this flavour of Kodiaq) and a new reflector strip that runs across the entire rear width of the car are obvious visual cues that this is the “hot” one.
And yes, you’re right, that RS badge has lost its green colouring; going full-red for every RS iteration across the range from this point on.
Dimensions, including that massive boot (2005 litres of luggage space with both second and third row seats folded flat), remain lineball for both, although the Kodiaq RS sees the arrival of premium new features such as Skoda’s first fully customisable Virtual Cockpit infotainment system. This lets the driver configure all manner of data — in full colour — in the instrument binnacle and on the large and responsive touchscreen in the centre console.
Snug contrast-stitched Alcantara-trimmed seats add to the car’s sporty demeanour inside. The fact the diamond quilting seat elements extend right through to the third row is a nice touch.
There’s an RS sports steering wheel on offer, too.
The Kodiaq RS features six driving modes (Eco, Comfort, Normal, Sport, Offroad and Individual), as well as Dynamic Chassis Control, calibrated with special dampening settings.
Both inside and outside the cabin, changing the drive mode into Sport ignites a Dynamic Sound Booster system which deploys an actuator in the exhaust system to amplify the sound in a suitably snarling manner.
It’s a little bit of trickery, but effective all the same.
Triple-zone air conditioning, satellite navigation, heated seats front and rear, a “sleep pack” and plenty of other clever items are all standard on the Kodiaq RS as well.
And did I mention that umbrella in the door?
For the RS purist, being low-slung still counts for a lot (as does that impressive $55,490 entry point), so the Octavia is still a hard act to follow in terms of sheer dynamic ability.
But if you want comprehensively-packaged SUV first, out-and-out performance second, the one-spec, one-price Kodiaq RS will tick all the boxes you need. No joke.
Skoda Kodiaq RS TDI 4x4
Engine: 1968cc four-cylinder bi-turbo diesel (176kW, 500Nm)
Pros: Extra power, RS badge cache, built on the right SUV platform
Cons: If you want true RS athleticism, the Octavia RS remains the benchmark