Skoda Kodiaq Review

I test drove the Skoda Kodiaq yesterday. The only available option in India is a 2 Litre diesel, which I will come to later.

Apart from the fancy electronics and clever features, I liked the way the SUV handled itself. Those who know me well know that I’m not a decent person when it comes to test driving cars. I will put the car through its paces to test it thoroughly. I believe that if you really want to test drive a car, you need to drive it like you stole it. Driving a car slowly in city traffic doesn’t tell you much about it. I’m sure the folks in car dealerships have a term for people like me. But I don’t care. It’s my money that’s on the line after all.

I fishtailed the Kodiaq along some curvy roads and was impressed with the way the SUV held its ground. The ESP (Electronic Stabilization Program) kicked in and did its thing. I’m used to ESP on my 2012 Skoda Superb and I wanted to see how well the Kodiaq leveraged this amazing technology.

For those who don’t know what ESP is, its basically a combination of individual technologies like ABS and traction control which essentially lets you drive like an idiot and not kill yourself. This has literally saved thousands of lives in emergency situations. People think that only those who drive fast and are rash need their cars to have safety features. In fact, its quite the opposite. These safety features kick in when you least expect them to. You may be driving safely minding your own business and someone else on the road may end up doing something stupid.

Let me digress for a moment. A friend driving with me once asked me to explain ESP to him. Instead of explaining it to him in words, I thought it would be better to show him. It was wet that day we were driving at 80 kmph. I took the car partly off the highway with the right wheels on hard tarmac and the left wheels on slippery wet grass. Then I slammed the brakes. We got out of the car and I asked him to observe the tyre tracks. The car had stopped in a straight line instead of swinging out of control and crashing into a ditch. “Do you now understand ESP, or do you want me to explain further?”, I asked him. No prizes for guessing what his answer was.

The Skoda dealership usually doesn’t allow prospective customers to drive off-road. But I didn’t give the sales guy much of a choice. Without getting into the gory details, I will say that I tested the Kodiaq off road “to my satisfaction”.

While off-road the ESP kicked in as expected and kept the vehicle steady. Compared to my Suzuki Grand Vitara, the Kodiaq felt much more stable. The Vitara would have been all over the place. When it comes to the safety features of the Kodiaq, I have absolutely nothing to complain about.

But there was a deal breaker for me. The power. I’m not sure why Skoda did it, but they used the same 2 litre engine as the Superb, a car which is about 200 kgs lighter. Also they tuned the engine for higher torque, I’m guessing for better performance off road. But in the bargain they gave it lesser overall power. This ended up messing the Kodiaq’s power to weight ratio so much that it became quite noticeable when I was trying to move in a hurry.

For 41 lakh rupees I expect a powerful car which moves how I want it to, when I want it to. This isn’t about achieving a higher top speed. I’m sure the Kodiaq can cross 200 kmph. The question is how long will it take. This is very important in the Indian context, something which I think the Europeans don’t quite understand.

You see, highway driving in India is very different from that in Europe. In Europe you pick a lane and start cruising at whatever speed you feel comfortable. You speed up or slow down a little when changing lanes. If you want to overtake someone you simply switch to another lane possibly without even changing your speed. So a car that takes its own sweet time to go from 80 kmph to 100 kmph isn’t a big problem.

In India, its a huge problem. Here we have trucks moving at 40 kmph occupying all available lanes. You constantly go from 100 kmph to 40 kmph, then wait for some idiot trucker to move out of your way or find a space to squeeze through and then again move from 40 kmph to 100 kmph. This happens almost every minute. So if you have paid 41 lakhs for a car that takes its sweet time to go from 40 kmph to 100 kmph, then it becomes a problem. A very expensive problem.

I enjoy driving my Superb on Indian highways and not my Vitara for this precise reason. The Vitara takes its own time to speed up. Whereas the Superb is itching to fly. This makes a huge difference in highway driving experience. I bring up the 41 lakh number again and again to drive my point in. I repeat. For that price I expect a car powerful enough to not get me irritated while driving on Indian highways.

I expect the Kodiaq to do well in India. Like Skoda’s other cars it appears to have good value for money, unless you are as nit picky about power as I am.