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Just how far have we come to get to this point? I’m not thinking geographically, but philosophically – the geography of this morning’s 90-mile drive to Salisbury Plain has merely provided the evidence.
It’s early summer and every farmer is tooling between fields in a battered Daihatsu Fourtrak, Defender or rusting pickup. The Plain itself echoes with the rattle and clank of heavy armour, but in the dust kicked up by each tracked vehicle lurks a Land Rover, aerials waving, suspension jouncing. It’s the cement that binds the military machine together. Images: Rowan Horncastle •. Agriculture and warfare – the two furnaces in which our love of the SUV was forged. How much hammering on the anvil has it taken to get us to the Skoda Kodiaq? The Mini Countryman?
Can you imagine either loaded up with sacks of fertiliser and collies? Of course not. We are the great pretenders, and car manufacturers have repurposed the rugged utility vehicle to match our hearts’ desires. These are family cars. It wasn’t departure angles and diff locks that governed their design, but refinement, visibility and easy-folding back seats.
You don’t even have to have 4WD – all four, even the Nissan X-Trail, can be had as front-drivers only. I say ‘even’ the X-Trail because that’s the one that used to be different. Used to be a bit of a workhorse with a wipe-clean plastic bootfloor and so on. But the success of the Qashqai and Juke means Nissan has started to see the light.
The process isn’t over – this one still has lockable diffs and a rugged attitude, the 2.0-litre diesel chunters noisily and it lollops along. This jars with the safety warnings, panoramic roof and power tailgate of this top-spec Tekna model. A facelifted version is due very shortly, and we know which direction it will be heading in, don’t we?
Better infotainment, better plastics. You’re thinking I’m being derogatory. I’m not, this cultural shift is only right and proper. Cars have to move with the times, to give the populace what they want. I don’t mean to make them sound like a political movement, but I don’t want an old Defender to shift my family around in. I want a Skoda Kodiaq. Honestly, it’s so civilised.
There are smart plastics up front, generous legroom in the back, and a boot of unmatched square footage. It cruises comfortably and this one is sporting the latest must-have accoutrement: a petrol engine. A mere 1.4 litres, for heaven’s sake. To deal with this confluence of crossovers, a proper introduction is needed.
Thirty grand is the sweet spot for do-it-all family cars these days. Or, expressed in a more relevant way, about £300 per month for a car that’ll commute quietly, soak up endless school sports bags, handle the camping holiday to the Lakes, deal with that awkward kerb at the entrance to the supermarket and make the Zafira-equipped neighbours spit feathers with envy. Your first answer to this conundrum might well have been Discovery Sport, but then you saw the price, so now you’re turning Japanese. Or Germano-British.
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What makes the Skoda Kodiaq so instantly appealing is the knowledge that it’s, well, a Skoda. These days, that means a VW with added space and value, and, hey, that sounds like a pretty good premise for a family SUV.
It’s largely the same as a VW Tiguan underneath, but the MQB platform’s wheelbase has been stretched by over 100mm. For under £30k, you can have a 150bhp petrol 4x4 in high-spec SE L trim with seven seats, although I’d be tempted to stay within budget by dropping a spec level, adding a DSG gearbox and switching to diesel. I know, controversial. So that’s why we wanted the Kodiaq as a petrol representative here. What’s it like compared with a diesel?
How efficient? Has the time come to abandon oil-burners? More on that soon. As already discussed, the X-Trail is more traditional and looks set to be given a hard time by the new Mazda CX-5, which seems good value at £28,695 in 2WD 150bhp Sport Nav trim – the 177bhp 4WD Tekna X-Trail tested here retails at £35,055, but step down a trim level or two and you’ll reach a point where the kit/cost trade-off makes much more sense. Then there’s the maxi-Mini. Based on a BMW 2-Series Active Tourer, don’t forget. It’s the shortest and lowest here, so makes no great play for practicality, but if driver enjoyment features anywhere on your radar well, £29,565 buys you a 190bhp Cooper SD and a 0–62mph time two secs quicker than anything else.
Now, we need to talk about roofboxes. Because if you’re considering the Mini Countryman and you have a brace of children, you’re gonna need one. In fact, even with a 500-litre Thule on top the Mini still doesn’t have as much capacity as the Kodiaq.