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Skoda Kodiaq vRS: Driven

We take Skoda's latest vRS to Silverstone and Sweden to see whether it really can bring power to the people

By Dafydd Wood / Saturday, January 19, 2019

Over the years there have been many attempts by manufacturers to 'democratize performance'. From the original pony cars, to the Honda NSX, via the Impreza Turbo and the Golf GTI, various makes and models have claimed to bring the speed, handling, technology and/or luxury of the era's leading lights to the masses for, if not what could necessarily be considered affordable prices, then at least less eye-watering sums.

Skoda's first attempt at such a venture came in 2001, with the original Octavia VRS. Based on the Mk.4 Golf, it featured a 1.8-litre turbocharged engine putting out 180hp, and turned out to be a very good driver's car indeed. Over the years the VRS brand grew to encapsulate the Fabia, before retracting again to focus solely on the Octavia range. But no one buys saloons anymore - or so they say - what they buy nowadays are SUVs.

The trouble is that, just as supercar performance, limousine comfort and fighter jet tech were once the preserve of the most expensive end of the market, so sporty SUVs have remained largely exclusive to the upper echelons of the segment. A niche which began with the German premium manufacturers has ballooned skyward to include the likes of Lamborghini, Bentley and Rolls-Royce, but has taken its time to spread to more affordable marques.

Which brings us to this, the Skoda Kodiaq VRS. It follows hot on the heels of the smaller Cupra Ateca as the second instalment of VW Group's assault on the performance SUV market. Key numbers include 240hp and 370lb ft of torque - the most ever in a production Skoda - from the 2.0-litre bi-turbo diesel engine, seven seconds to 62mph and a top speed of 136mph. It also costs from £42,870, but we'll come back to that one later.

Our first encounter with the Kodiaq comes at Silverstone, on the full GP circuit. First impressions? It's quite a handsome thing, not overly brash, but rather sporty and well proportioned on its standard 20-inch wheels. Inside it's all very familiar, the standard Alcantara sports seats are quite nice indeed, though the contact points perhaps don't feel quite as premium as in other VW Group products.

Onto the track we head and, you know what, the VRS is better than you'd think. It ought to be, of course, carrying as it does the somewhat spurious pedigree of its 9 minute 30 second Nurburgring lap record (for a seven-seat SUV). Response from the progressive steering rack is good, resulting in a surprisingly nimble turn in, one aided by the Dynamic Chassis Control. Into some of the faster corners the Kodiaq can't help but succumb to understeer, of course - virtually inevitable given its size, and no matter the amount of tech Skoda throws at it.

Once on the other side, exit proves good too, though. The combination of all that torque and four-wheel drive meaning the Kodiaq grips and goes, if not like a saloon car, then at least like a far smaller SUV. The 340mm front and 310mm rear disc brakes do an admirable job of shedding speed when the sheer size of the Kodiaq again eludes you at the end of the Hangar Straight, although after half a dozen laps or so the pedal begins to feel rather longer than it did when we began.

All in all a good showing nonetheless, and proof that the VRS badge has been fairly earned. The Kodiaq must still repeat the trick once more though, this time in the more challenging surrounds of Sweden's ice driving Valhalla.

The small town of Arjeplog has been playing host to manufacturers for decades, ever since Opel first journeyed to its frozen lake perched on the edge of the Arctic Circle. These days the set up is rather more formal than it was back then, with 1:1 replicas of tracks including Silverstone, Yas Marina and Paul Ricard painstakingly ploughed out atop its metre thick frozen surface. We'll be heading to Silverstone once more, albeit the old layout, and with studded winter tyres in place of the standard 235/45 boots worn in the UK.

Venturing out onto the surface of the lake is an otherworldly experience. The winter sun spends the entirety of its four hour day suspended just above the horizon in a permanent state of rise/set, casting a pale pink glow across the ice. The temperature settles at -26°C and, while at first the icy expanse seems to continue indefinitely into the similarly frosty blue sky, a cloud of ice crystals kicked up by the lapping cars soon reduces visibility to just a few dozen feet.

The conditions provide a good chance for the Kodiaq VRS to demonstrate both sides of its character. Snow Mode, with the traction control and electronic stability control fully engaged, keeps the car almost as composed on the Swedish ice as it was on the Northamptonshire tarmac. The intelligent all-wheel drive can deploy up to 85 per cent of the car's power to any given wheel, and it utilises the full extent of its flexibility to keep things as tidy as possible, even through the tighter turns at Becketts and Luffield.

Switch to Sport and dial down the nannies, though, and things are a little different. The VRS can hold some incredibly entertaining angles for a car of its size, particularly one which so resolutely refused to step out of line just moments earlier. Braking from 100mph-plus into Stowe, with no margin for error now, its studded tyres help it remain amazingly stable, but get the nose in early around those more acute bends and there's plenty of potential for a great deal of fun.

Of course, the average VRS owner won't be heading to Lapland any time soon, but the exercise did demonstrate the Kodiaq's ability to play it both safe and practical as well as lairy. It's a trick that dearer SUVs have been adept at for some time now, though one which hasn't necessarily trickled down to more affordably priced models as they once did in the saloon market. The fact is, though, that this new generation of lumbering Chelsea tractors now offers every bit of performance to the average buyer that those celebrated fast four doors once did.

By way of comparison, the Kodiaq VRS produces 60hp and 135lb ft more than that first Octavia VRS managed, and hits 62mph a second quicker. That's despite weighing 357kg more and having 0.8-litres fewer capacity to play with. It also manages exactly the same combined fuel consumption, with a WLTP-calculated 35.3mpg. Of course, it doesn't have the sweet shift of the Octavia's five-speed manual, and physics dictates that it isn't as dynamically sorted either. But it'll seat seven, stow up to 1,950-litres of luggage and comes loaded with more standard equipment than most cars have options boxes.

When it comes to offering performance and practicality to drivers who have their own five-a-side football team to schlep around, then, the Kodiaq does a more than respectable job. Its performance may not be particularly mind-blowing in the era of the super SUV, and it certainly isn't altogether cheap, but as far as allowing access to a segment of the market which many buyers were previously priced out of, the Kodiaq VRS is a strong opening salvo in what is surely soon to become an all out bombardment of hot SUVs.

1,968cc, twin-turbo four-cylinder diesel
Transmission: 7-speed auto, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 240@4,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 370@1,750-2,500rpm
0-62mph: 7.0 seconds
Top speed: 136mph
Weight: 1,838
MPG: 35.3
CO2 (g/km): 167
Price: £42,870

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