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Skoda Kodiaq vRS review: plenty of Utility, but not enough Sports

Alex Robbins
2019 Skoda Kodiaq vRS

It’s school sports day, and the dads’ race is next on the schedule. A horde of middle-aged, comfortably-built men line up at one end of the sports pitch, clothed in old T-shirts and tracksuit bottoms; maybe even some shorts. 

All except one. You’ll know him; you’ve seen him before. He’s Competitive Dad; the dad who simply has to win. He’s turned up in £1,000 trainers with air this and carbon-fibre that; his T-shirt wicks, whatever that means, and his shorts are made from a lightweight textile developed for NASA.

Imagine this scene, and you’ll have some idea of how the new Skoda Kodiaq vRS sits next to more common-or-garden Kodiaqs in the range.

Skoda’s big SUV has been widely praised for its winning blend of no-nonsense practicality, seemingly endless space, notable cleverness and crisp, comfortable driving dynamics. But this new vRS version intends to combine all of that with an overtly sporting streak, rather like the Octavia vRS did when it was first launched almost 20 years ago. 

This is not just a fancy-badge-and-bodykit exercise, either; Skoda’s fitted the 2.0-litre, sequentially twin-turbocharged diesel engine already fitted to various Volkswagen Group vehicles, which gives the Kodiaq vRS a not-insignificant 236bhp.

The Kodiaq delivers a winning blend of practicality, seven seats, lots of interior space and comfort, to which the vRS model is intended to add more than a dash of cornering prowess

They’ve even taken the Kodiaq vRS to the Nurburgring to try to give it even more street credibility, and come away with the record for the fastest seven-seater to lap the Green Hell. Which rather feels like telling anyone who’ll listen that you’ve won the St Ethelbert’s Junior School Dads’ Invitational more times than anyone else while doing star jumps on the start line. 

As we all know, Nurburgring lap times mean about as much out in the real world as the trophy for the sack race. So does the Kodiaq vRS stack up there?

Well, first impressions aren’t bad, actually. The idea of a large, fast, seven-seat diesel SUV might sound abhorrent if you’re of a certain mindset, but in the flesh the Kodiaq vRS is more cuddly than you’d imagine; unashamedly sporty-looking, yes, but neither as imposing nor as overt as it looks in the pictures. 

The main changes to the versatile interior are chunky sports seats in the front, together with the requisite vRS badging and 'sporty' red stitching

On board, you get big, sculpted bucket seats that are diamond-stitched and unremittingly comfortable and that familiar Kodiaq dashboard, which is easy to use and built from decent enough materials, even if the underlying design is rather unexciting.

There’s a decent infotainment system, too, which is snappy and responsive, though its lack of a ‘back’ button can grow extremely tiresome at times; sometimes your only option is to go all the way back to the menu and start again, especially if you’re using smartphone mirroring. And what buttons you do get are touch-sensitive, rather than physical ones, which causes you to have to take your eyes off the road for longer to locate them. 

The rest of the interior is largely the same as you’ll find in any other Kodiaq, which is to say, spacious and very versatile. Those chunky front seats don’t really impact on leg room in the rear, and you get enough space in the third row for two teenagers, though squeezing adults in there for any length of time is liable to result in some whinges. No matter which Kodiaq you choose, there’s a tonne of boot space, and lots of hooks and compartments to help you divide up the space neatly.

The vRS styling package is mercifully discreet, with only the large wheels, shiny black trim and mildly aggressive bodywork addenda marking it out

All very admirable, then, but not really enormously different to what you’ll find in a lesser Kodiaq thus far. But all that changes when you start the engine, and are greeted with a noise not dissimilar to that which you’d find in an American muscle car. 

The culprit is Skoda’s Dynamic Sound Boost which – yes, you’ve guessed it – plays a V8-esque soundtrack through the car’s speakers, its pitch in line with the rising and falling of the revs. 

For the first half hour or so, after you’ve let loose a short, sharp laugh of derision, this is actually quite entertaining, and makes you feel as though you’re in a sort-of Czech-flavoured American road movie. Soon, though, it becomes rather invasive and irritating, so you find your way through to the car’s ‘Individual’ mode and turn it off. 

There is sufficient space in the third row of seats for teenagers as well as small children, although adults are likely to complain

Having done so, the first thing you notice about the vRS is that it doesn’t actually feel all that quick. It’d be unfair to say the vRS is sluggish; more that it surges onward relentlessly, rather than throwing you back in the seat, when you go near the throttle. 

That’s borne out in the performance figures; the vRS takes seven seconds to hit 62mph, whereas the Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace BiTDI, which has the same engine, can get there in 6.7 – and the five-seat BMW X3 xDrive 30d can do it in less than six. Mind you, the Kodiaq is at least not quite as sluggish as the considerably portlier Land Rover Discovery Sport SD4, which takes a yawn-inducing 7.9 seconds to hit the same benchmark.

The vRS isn’t exactly a featherweight, weighing in at around the two-tonne mark. At least Skoda has done its best to mitigate that extra weight by throwing adaptive suspension at it, though this doesn’t entirely solve the problem. In ‘Comfort’ mode the quick Kodiaq becomes floaty and wallowy; ‘Sport’ mode is quite brittle, meanwhile, causing the car to shudder and jolt a little too much over bumps. 

The boot is large and well shaped, with a plethora of hooks and compartments further aiding practicality

Happily, ‘Normal’ mode is smooth and controlled enough, though you still get the occasional wallow or shudder at the extremes of the suspension travel, which makes it feel like a compromise rather than a truly cohesive setup in its own right. Don’t forget that in any of these three modes, you get that soundtrack, too, though it is at least quietened down in ‘Comfort’ and turned off completely in penny-saving ‘Eco’ mode. 

Stick it in ‘Sport’, then, and let’s ignore the faux V8 rumble and instead throw the Kodiaq at a twisty road. First impressions are of precise and responsive, albeit rather numb steering, and a reasonably crisp turn-in, if not one that will rival hot hatches – or even the smaller, more eager Cupra Ateca. 

Despite the stiffened-up dampers, the Kodiaq rolls rather more than, say, a BMW X3 would, too. It’s not disastrous, but neither does it feel entirely happy being asked to pelt its way down a back road. That excess flab is not easy to hide, even through the vRS’s athletic get-up.

Skoda has attempted to mitigate the two-tonne weight by fitting adaptive suspension, although it's a bit wallowy in ‘Comfort’ mode and harsh in ‘Sport’ mode

It’s undoubtedly safe and easy to hustle along, mind you. There feels very little chance of the nose pushing wide or the tail stepping out no matter what you try, the four-wheel drive and stability control systems keeping everything in check even if you clang your foot down onto the throttle and brake, and wrench the wheel around. Fun, though? Well, that might be pushing it.

Then there’s the price. The vRS will cost you £42,895 before any options. That’s more than a Tiguan Allspace with the same engine, and not far off a similarly potent Land Rover Discovery Sport HSE. And while neither will be as overtly sporting, both will hold their values better and feel more upmarket inside. 

The vRS’s problem, though, is less its rivals than its own stablemates. For while it’s a thoroughly decent, comfortable and extremely practical trug in which to your family around, so is every other Kodiaq. Eschew the sporting pretensions and settle for a 2.0TDI 150 SE L, for example, and you’ll save more than £10,000 – enough to buy yourself a little sports car on the side, perhaps – not to mention £450 a year in tax for the next few years.

Yes, the vRS is a bit faster than a regular Kodiaq and goes around corners a little better, but the chances are you’ll end up using its additional prowess about as often as school sports day comes around. And here’s the thing: when it does, who wants to be the guy dressed in Lycra?

THE FACTS

Skoda Kodiaq vRS

TESTED 1,968cc four-cylinder diesel twin-turbo, seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, four-wheel drive

PRICE/ON SALE £42,895/now

POWER/TORQUE 236bhp @ 4,000rpm, 369lb ft @ 1,750-2,500rpm

TOP SPEED 136mph

ACCELERATION 0-62mph in 7.0sec

FUEL ECONOMY 35.3mpg (WLTP Combined)

CO2 EMISSIONS 167g/km (NEDCc)

VED £530 first year, £450/year for four years thereafter, then £140/year

VERDICT A gutsy performer with all the space and versatility of the standard Kodiaq – but not quite enough extra sparkle to warrant its price (and VED) premium. Stick with the standard Kodiaq, and buy yourself a sporty toy with the change. 

TELEGRAPH RATING Three stars out of five

THE RIVALS

Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace SEL 2.0 BiTDI 240 SCR 4Motion DSG (no, really), from £40,535

Cumbersomely-named VW shares the same engine as the Kodiaq, though isn’t quite as spacious, especially in its rearmost row of seats, and nor is it as sporty. If you can live with that, though, the lower price makes it a more sensible bet.

Land Rover Discovery Sport SD4 HSE, from £45,665

Also has seven seats and comes with 1bhp more, but eschews sportiness in favour of luxury – and does it well, feeling more upmarket. Considerable weight disadvantage costs it performance and fuel economy, though. 

BMW X3 xDrive 30d SE, from £46,925

Only need five seats? Want a truly involving SUV that’s genuinely quick? Then look no further. SE spec means fewer toys but a smooth ride and less gimmicky styling; you’ll get a classier-feeling interior than the Skoda’s, too, and residual values should be better. 

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