Skoda's new Kodiak cool and clever

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Travelling through the Yukon Territory and into Alaska around 10 years ago, I learned a lot about North America's largest predator.

Basically, it boils down to this: Bears are magnificent, but not to be messed with. The biggest and baddest bear is the grizzly, and the biggest, baddest grizzly is the Kodiak. Utmost respect, then.

Something of the same should be afforded Skoda's new medium sports utility, named after the Kodiak, but with the last letter changed to a q (in tribute, Skoda says, to Alaska's native Alutiiq people who identify an animal by ending its name with a q).

The Skoda Kodiaq is no threat to humans; it'll seem nothing but friendly and loveable, especially with seven-seater-seeking families. It should, nonetheless, be feared by other sports utility makers.

Skoda is very much the VW Group's ascending star; profit margins surpass those of luxury sister brand Audi, only Porsche beats it for earnings power. And all so far with road cars, not sports utilities.

From now on, SUVs will be a Skoda focus. Kodiaq will be followed locally next March by a compact medium, Karoq and, then, in 2019, a sub-compact. Oh yes, there's also going to be an electric vehicle push, potentially including a battery-driven SUV in 2020.

Back to the present, the Czech operation's first proper SUV feels utterly right in respect to its size, design, engine choice, specification and price span.

The entry level Ambition delivers alloys, cruise control, air conditioning, a reversing camera, partial leather seating, full LED lighting, front and rear parking sonar, automated emergency braking, front drive and the smallest capacity (1.4-litre turbo) engine in the segment. Not bad for a $39,990 rig.

Skoda NZ expects most interest in its all-wheel-drives, in Ambition Plus and Style trim levels and with 2-litre turbo-petrol and turbo-diesel engines.

Ambition Plus adds three-zone air conditioning, sat nav, leather, heated front seats and steering wheel, keyless entry and start. The style implements a higher grade of leather, has a fancier sat nav, park assist, a full range of parking sensors and adaptive cruise control. The latter also runs a dynamic body control and is on 19-inch wheels, rather than 18s.

There's plenty of optional cool tech too, including a clever trailer-reversing assistance system that uses the automatic parking function to help steer the trailer in the right direction.

The only thing that might keep the Kodiaq from becoming the apex predator is here that the global demand is so strong just 380 are allocated to New Zealand this year. That's a setback for local boss Greg Leet, given he has previously predicted this model can achieve 500 sales this year, equalling the current most popular Skoda, the Octavia, but may be a relief for rivals.

Which are? All sorts of vehicles, including Kodiaq's own kin.

Being built upon the Volkswagen Group's MQB platform also used by the latest Octavia and Superb cars means it is, of course, closely related to the Tiguan.

Will the parent's car feel the bite? Skoda NZ emphasises that it is hunting the larger Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorento, Mitsubishi Outlander and Holden Captiva, and medium-sized crossovers such as the Nissan X-Trail and new generation Honda CR-V. Yet I sense hand-on-heart hope about averting in-house war comes with fingers crossed.

What hits home on meeting the Kodiaq is that, as well as being a fully equipped car, it is also a substantial one, size-wise a touch bigger than the Santa Fe.

Don't be surprised, though, if visual assessment disputes what the measuring tape relates. It doesn't look so big, more like a fat station wagon than full-blown SUV.

Sharp lines and angles have always suited the bigger Skodas and really work for this one. The face takes a while to warm to, but the frontal detailing is impressive, not least those straked LED ''eyelashes'' within the head-lamp housings.

Looks are secondary to functionality and practicality. That's what the ''simply clever'' motto is all about; all Skodas have clever features, but Kodiaq ups the game.

The ice-scraping tool within the fuel flap is familiar, but this time it also works as a magnifying glass. Inside the boot, the interior light detaches to become a torch magnetised to stick onto the car. The doors have integrated protection strips that flip out on opening so it won't bash on the wall or another car. And, of course, there are umbrellas in the front doors.

It's utterly children-minded: You can activate/deactivate child locks from the driver's seat and activate a system that picks up the driver's voice and pipes it to the rear passengers via the stereo speakers. There's also a ''sleep system'' on the rear passenger headrests, that flip forward allowing your head to be supported should you want to nap in the back. Apparently Skoda can also provide a snug blanket that clips onto the front headrests.

Traditional SUV flexibility occurs with a middle seat that splits 60:40 and tilts and slides on rails for third-row passenger room, while the backmost seats fold into the floor to increase the load space and provide a properly flat, double-sided floor. The rear hatch is powered.

Cargo volume extends from 270 litres with the third row in place, to 630 litres as a five-seater, and to 2055 litres with all seats folded flat.

Occupant room is pretty good. The rear seats are for children, but the middle row offers good adult room, even with the front seats all the way back.

Often at launch events there's a rush for the best-dressed models and the base car is a booby prize. Not this time. Everyone was curious to see how a 1.4 would go in a vehicle weighing up to 1723kg. I missed out. Those who didn't were impressed.

On a streaming wet day with a wide mix of road conditions, the 2-litre cars were no short straw. The petrol pulls well off the mark, has a broad torque spread, sounds smooth and seems to be relatively frugal. Yet it is overshadowed by a diesel which has even more pull, considerably more torque and feels more comfortable in marriage with the seven-speed direct shift gearbox.

You can adjust the driving modes to eco, comfort, sport, snow and individual setting, as well as the default normal mode.

Dynamically, the Skoda recipe is all about comfort and relaxation. It does feels light on the road and the ride has a lovely compliance. It runs very quietly.

Maybe that's more a testimony to extensive sound-quelling effort - a carpet-like coating in the rear wheel arches - but it impresses that all din is well quelled.

Skoda's new Kodiak cool and clever
At a Glance

SKODA KODIAQ

Price: $39,990 (Ambition TSi 110), $44,990 (Ambition Plus TSi 110), $54,290 (Style TSi 132), $58,290 (Style turbodiesel)

Engines: 1395cc four-cylinder turbo-petrol, maximum power 110kW@5000-6000rpm, maximum torque 250Nm@1500-3500rpm; 1984cc four-cylinder turbo-petrol, maximum power 132kW@3900-6000rpm, maximum torque 320Nm@1400-3940rpm; 1968cc four-cylinder turbo-diesel, maximum power 140kW@3500-4000rpm, maximum torque 400Nm@1750-3250rpm

Transmission: 1.4 six-speed direct shift gearbox; 2-litre: seven-speed DSG, front-drive (Ambition 1.4), four-wheel drive

Brakes and stability systems: Front and rear disc brakes, ABS, EBA, ACC, VSC

Safety rating: Not yet tested

Wheels and tyres: Alloy wheels, 215/65 R17 tyres

Fuel and economy (1.4/2.0 TSi; 2.0 TDi): 6.1/7.3/5.7 litres per 100km, tank capacity 60 litres

Emissions (1.4/2.0 TSi; 2.0 TDi): 164g/168g/150g of CO2 per kilometre

Dimensions: Length 4697mm, width 2087mm, height 1676mm