Turns out it was quite appropriate that our first drive of the Skoda Kodiaq vRS took place on a frozen lake. The vast quantities of ice involved in the test drive, after all, were reflected in the rather frosty comments from PHers on the forums. "All fair and well, but what is the point? It's a diesel and doesn't manage 40mpg," said Mike335i. "Octavia vRS estate or Superb estate are better options. Still don't get the obsession with SUVs!" said g7jhp. "This is a WTF moment for me. £43k!" added, ahem, Pumpsmynads.
Mind you, it should come as no surprise, really, that a big, diesel-powered SUV with sporty trappings and a price tag north of £40,000 would receive a fairly chilly reception from the PH faithful. Such things are, in many ways, the antithesis of driving enjoyment. And yet, for drivers who need a practical SUV that can seat seven, but still want to go fast, the Kodiaq might offer a combination of talents that few other cars can match.
"Its performance may not be particularly mind-blowing in the era of the super SUV, and it certainly isn't altogether cheap," we concluded, "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."
But while the concept of the cheaper hot SUV is relatively new, the idea of one with a bit of poke and seven seats is not. So perhaps you don't need to buy new to get everything the Kodiaq can do after all. And indeed, buying used might allow you to circumvent that eye-catchingly high price. So in this week's Trade-Off, we're on the lookout for something that's just as much of a one-car solution as the Kodiaq - but for half its price.
Granted, it isn't an SUV, but in the search for a sporty seven-seater it's impossible to prevent our thoughts first turning to the Ford S-Max. After all, its main remit was to be exactly that. Of course, you'll have to forego the huntin' shootin' fishin' body stylin' (sorry), but the S-Max is still a handsome beast - plus, because it's a proper MPV, you get full-size third-row seats, rather than the vestigial ones you'll find in the Kodiaq.
This 2015 2.0 Ecoboost Titanium Sport should do the trick. It gets a punchy 240hp 2.0-litre turbo - petrol, in contrast with the Skoda's diesel - and as it's top-spec, it's loaded with toys too. However, there's a problem: despite all that power, it's way off the pace - it's unable to match the Kodiaq in acceleration terms and neither is it as wieldy in the corners. What's more, its price - at more than £1,000 over our budget - rules it out.
What about an earlier - and classier - performance diesel SUV, then? An Audi SQ5 might have seemed overblown and overpriced when it was new, but this example at a shade below £21,000 seems to defy at least the latter part of that conclusion. The SQ5 is properly quick, too - with 313hp and a 0-62mph time of 5.1 seconds, it blows away the Kodiaq - and most other contenders.
Problem is, at six years old with 82,000 miles on the clock, this SQ5 is rather leggy. And as an alternative to a brand-new car, one with that sort of mileage is possibly pushing things a step too far. It also lacks that extra row of seats, which will rule it out for anyone buying the vRS for its practicality. Still, if you don't mind the mileage and you don't need seating for seven, its huge performance makes it a tempting prospect.
Seems like it isn't easy to meet all the Skoda's plus points for half its price, then - but it isn't impossible. We reckon about the closest you'll get is with this BMW X5. It's a second-generation model, dating from 2010, which makes it a little older than we'd like - but with 52,000 miles on the clock the mileage isn't off putting. Also in its favour is the fact it's an xDrive40d, giving it a 3.0-litre, six-pot diesel with a whole 306hp to its name.
This particular X5's secret weapon is the fact that its first owner specified the optional seven-seat layout inside. It should be pointed out, however, that the rearmost seats in the X5 are truly tiddly - less spacious even than the Kodiaq's - so best reserved for kids, and small ones at that. Nevertheless, the fact is that the X5 can carry just as many people as our Kodiaq.
It can carry them just as fast, too - faster, in fact. The X5's vital stats of 0-62mph in 6.6 seconds and a top speed of 147mph ace the Kodiaq's 7.0 seconds and 136mph respectively. And given its remarkably deft chassis, the X5 should be a match for the vRS in the corners, too; you'll find well-weighted steering that's full of feel and, as this one's an SE rather than a firmly-sprung M Sport, a suspension setup that treads a pleasing line between ride quality and body control.
And we've got options aplenty - the all-important professional navigation system, for one thing, which has had the TV box ticked; adaptive xenons, side view cameras, heated front seats and front & rear parking sensors are all fitted too, according to the advert. So not only will it overhaul the Kodiaq in a drag race, but it'll feel more palatial while it's doing so. That goes for the way it's built, as well; the Kodiaq's a nice place to spend time, don't get us wrong, but it can't quite match the quality of the X5's plastics and leathery bits.
The best part, though, is the price - for this X5 can be yours for a fairly tantalising £19,500. A whopping £1,935 saving on our already stingy budget and £23,370 less than a brand-new Kodiaq vRS - more than enough to leave you a fair old slush fund for when things go wrong.
What's more, you'll save money on tax, because the Skoda will set you back £515 in its first year and £450 a year after that until it's five years old. The BMW, by contrast, costs just £290 a year. That should offset any extra fuel cost you'll incur - for while the Skoda's 35.3mpg fuel consumption might look less efficient than the BMW's 37.7, the former was recorded using the WLTP, while the latter is an NEDC figure.
So, it turns out you can get all the same benefits as the Skoda Kodiaq vRS offers in a nine-year-old BMW X5. That said, whether you'd be able to bring yourself to spend even half of your hard-earned on a nine-year-old BMW X5 instead of a Skoda Kodiaq vRS is another matter. Over to you, then: could you?
SPECIFICATION - SKODA KODIAQ VRS
Engine: 1,968cc, twin-turbo four-cylinder diesel
Transmission: 7-speed auto, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 239@4,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 369@1,750-2,500rpm
0-62mph: 7.0 seconds
Top speed: 136mph
MPG: 35.3 (WLTP Combined)
CO2 (g/km): 167 (NEDC Derived)
SPECIFICATION - BMW X5 XDRIVE40D SE
Engine: 2,993cc, six-cylinder turbo diesel
Transmission: 8-speed auto, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 306@4,400rpm
Torque (lb ft): 443@1,500-2,500rpm
0-62mph: 6.6 seconds
Top speed: 147mph
MPG: 37.7 (NEDC Combined)
CO2 (g/km): 198 (NEDC)