(Pocket-lint) - Having flirted with cars like the Roomster and Yeti, Skoda's march into SUVs proper has been rather successful. The Karoq is a great compact model, while the regular Kodiaq offers all the quality of Volkswagen Group cars with the affordability of the Czech brand.
For those who remember Skoda as the butt of playground jokes, it was VRS that really pulled the perception of the brand out of the mire. "It's rapid" remarked an old school friend upon hitching a ride in an early-2000s Octavia VRS (in its shocking yellow coat, yes).
Now riding in electric blue, the Kodiaq VRS is the company's first dalliance with a performance-ish SUV.
Tightening the design
Take a Kodiaq VRS and sit it next to a Kodiaq SE and we know which we'd choose. A sportier overall look - achieved though the a dab of customisation on the bumpers and sills, a blackening of the grille and wing mirrors - and you're pretty much there. The VRS is the winner.
The finish of the VRS is actually pretty close to the Kodiaq Sportline - but in that Race Blue metallic finish - riding on those big 20-inch wheels with red brake callipers on show, so the overall affect is more eye-catching.
Not forgetting the VRS lettering. It's a trick that VW has played across its cars for a number of years, not least with Audi's snarling SQ models.
The VRS Kodiaq varies slightly from the lower trim models in that it only comes with seven seats, rather than being available in a five seat option - options in general are fewer then the regular cars - but the profile is pretty much the same across the range.
It aligns with the Audi Q7 as a seven seater (although the Audi offers more powerful engines without getting an SQ label). Indeed, that's some of the appeal of the Kodiaq VRS - you're getting a sporty SUV without paying through the nose for it, even if it does see the starting price jump to just over £45k, which feels a little steep when the regular Kodiaq starts circa £24k.
In terms of the looks there's a lot that Skoda gets right. We've seen some real panache in recent years, dropping the dowdy image of older models; there's a hark to family heritage with folds in the bonnet, but this VRS on the big scale. Just as VW has increased the appeal of the Tiguan and Toureg in recent iterations, Skoda's careful design has resulted in a large SUV which looks less like a barge and more like its estate models.
Appreciable interior quality
There's oodles of space inside the Kodiaq too. As a seven-seater it rivals the likes of the Lexus RX L or Discovery Sport - especially once you step-up to this VRS model. Sportiness is on the agenda, with sculpted VRS sports seats that hug you in the corners, keeping you in place against the inevitable body roll, while highlighting VRS detailing on the drive selector.
Alcantara with VRS stitching adorns the seats and door panels, while the sports steering wheel comes as standard, red stitching an all. There's no leather treatment to the dash - it's saved for touch points - which is where the Skoda differs from some other VW models. A dark headlining lends a serious finish to things, along with the obligatory privacy glass, topped off with carbon effect panels and soft-touch finishes for a great overall look.
Aesthetics aside, the Kodiaq VRS very much repeats the solid performance of the regular models. There's plenty of space in the front, lots of headroom and great visibility on the road, while the second row is granted ample space too.
With this being the seven seat model, that rear row will slide forward to give a little more knee room for the third row. It's the sort of compromise you have to accept if you're not going huge like the full-sized Land Rover Discovery and, with a bit of shuffling back and forth, there's enough headroom for an adult in the back row. So it's a veritable party wagon; a kids' party wagon, perhaps.
The boot itself is capacious when the seats are folded into the floor, with the parcel shelf able to be stashed under the floor when not needed. It's a bit of a tangle with the back row seatbelts getting in the way of the track for that shelf, but if you've figured out parenting you can probably work around it all. The boot gives you 600 litres of glorious space, shrinking to about 230 with the rear seats up - which is just about enough for a weekly shop.
Then we come to the little details, like the door protectors on the back door to save your paint job, or the umbrella stashed in the door, and you're left with a feeling of a sensibly considered car that's a little more exciting in this livery than the standard Kodiaq.
A diesel that sounds good?
If you're buying a sporty model, you probably want something in return - like a burble from the exhaust to remind you you're not just driving a four-pot oil burner. Except you are: the 2.0-litre diesel pumping out 239PS is the only engine option for the Kodiaq VRS, boosted audibly by synthesized sound.
That additional input gives a satisfying burble - but some people get upset by such systems, preferring authentic rather than amplified sound. The amusing thing is that if you change the drive mode to Comfort or Eco, it cuts the synthesized soundtrack too - but Normal and Sport give you the racy noise. Pick up a friend and give them a lift to the station and it's the icing on the cake - unless they happen to have a vintage V8 in their garage.
You only get the choice of this diesel, paired with a DSG automatic box and all-wheel drive. There are no other options for the VRS. Compare that to regular Kodiaq models (which only run up to 190PS but have options for petrol or diesel, manual, auto, FWD or AWD) and it's a healthy power boost, accepting that you have no choices.
Smooth gear changes from the autobox and a feeling that everything is in control underpins the experience, while it's responsive off the line, hitting 62mph in seven seconds without being hair raising - unlike the more powerful Seat Cupra Ateca.
What really comes across in this Skoda is refinement. The suspension is firm, but on Surrey's roads we didn't find it uncomfortable - reassuring, in fact. There's still quite a lot of car being flung around and it doesn't corner like a hot hatch, but really, does that matter? It's quiet (when you mute the exhaust), comfortable and incredibly practical - all things you can say of the non-VRS Kodiaq too.
You get emissions of 167g/km and a fairly economical drive once you're cruising. Mixed driving turned in an average of 36mpg in our hands, but this will soar over 40mpg once you're out on the motorways. And let's face it, the Kodiaq is a better long-range cruiser than it is an urban plaything and those short-range trips will see it drink diesel faster.
For those wanting to head off the beaten track, there is a snow mode, which we suspect is really to appease those Beast from the East fearers or those heading to the Alps for a spot of skiing.
Interior tech hits the sweet spot
One of the things that completes the picture of the Kodiaq VRS is the interior technology offered. Not only do you have the central touch display which - which offers just the right amount of capacitive buttons to make it easy to use - but it supports cable linking for Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, making it possible to use your own device services.
About the only complaint we have about the Skoda system compared to the almost identical setup you get from VW is that lack of a physical volume knob, although you can adjust the volume and mute from the steering wheel, so it's not a huge issue.
The mapping and navigation that Skoda uses is pretty good, too, with those maps transferring over to the virtual cockpit for the driver. In fact, that's one good reason for using the default system rather than your connected phone: if you connect your device, mapping isn't then supported in the digital driver display. But at least you have choices.
There are a full range of different views for each of the major section it will show - i.e., music or navigation, for example - so you can easily get to the information you want. The virtual cockpit isn't unique to the VRS - you can get it on the Scout trim upwards for a fee. Paired with the (optional) Canton sound system (available on all Kodiaq models), it makes for a great infotainment setup.
Overall, the Kodiaq feels thoroughly modern, offering the latest tech options, so the day-to-day experience of living with the Kodiaq VRS is perfectly pleasant.
Ultimately, the Skoda Kodiaq VRS is a dab of styling and a power upgrade over of the already impressive Kodiaq. The downside is that you can get close to this level quite a bit cheaper through some careful speccing of a regular model - a 190PS Sportline DSG with a couple of options comes in under £40k.
And that's the real problem: the Skoda Kodiaq VRS is a great car, but it appeals more to the heart than the head - because once it reaches this price, you can choose from many 7-seat SUVs out there, such as the Discovery Sport. If there was a mite more power, we suspect it would feel a little more special. As it is, this VRS feels like a special edition - unique, but something you have to pay for as a result.
But let's not play down what the Kodiaq VRS is: it's a great-spec larger SUV, with plenty of space, oodles of refinement and a ride that will satisfy all but the most demanding. Paired with a compelling tech system and plenty of convenience, it might not be as sporty as the VRS badge suggests, but it's still a fun car.
Land Rover Discovery Sport
The Discovery Sport is generally seen as the market leader in seven-seat SUVs in the UK. The Kodiaq VRS will leave it for dust and the appointment of the interior tech is a little more approachable in the Skoda, but if brand matters to you, you're likely to lean towards the Disco. The Discovery Sport offers true off-road skills, but also lashings of appeal.