Kamiq. I’ll be the first to admit I wasn’t all that across the background of Skoda’s new compact SUV contender prior to being thrust into the driver’s seat for a whirlwind seat-of-the-pants review.
I didn’t know its name is derived from ‘Amiq’ in the Arctic indigenous Inuit language. Or that the Kamiq existed as a larger crossover in China before this smaller and mostly unrelated European version surfaced.
But you don’t have to go even halfway around the block to size the Kamiq up and realise its strengths.
It sits below the Kodiaq and Karoq, built on compact family underpinnings shared with Volkswagen Polo and T-Cross – but with a plus-sized package atop to maximise practicality in fine Skoda tradition. Indeed, the tape measure confirms it’s about the same size as a Mk7 Golf.
The growl from under the bonnet and the character of the self-shifting powertrain discloses its three-pot and dual-clutch format on my plain white test car with no exterior model designation to note. It’s a strong indication Skoda hasn’t attempted to butter up journalists with heavily-optioned versions of the flagship variants called Limited and Monte Carlo – an homage to the tax haven rather than the biscuit, presumably.
Mine feels like an honest spec. Assessment-wise this is a good thing as Skoda’s value-for-money pitch is easily blurred by adding too many options to bring on a more Volkswagen-like price as tested.
Even without an options spending spree my machine features an elaborate digital driver’s screen amongst other extravagances, somewhat at odds with this example’s cloth trim. What gives?
As it transpires, the Kamiq 85TSI DSG has a lot of equipment as part of its pitch to lure buyers away from the Mazda CX-3, Mitsubishi ASX, Hyundai Kona, Kia Seltos, Ford Puma and, closer to home, Volkswagen T-Cross.
As Skoda’s first foray into this important end of the motoring market, it would really want to as well.
The automatic version of the three-cylinder Kamiq 85TSI lobs for $27,990 before on-road costs. However, Skoda has heralded the Kamiq’s local arrival with a sharp $29,990 drive-away price for the automatic.
It’s a fair hike up to the $36,990 drive-away price for either the Limited or Monte Carlo four-cylinder versions.
Alternatives on the compact and small SUV landscape for similar money include the Mazda CX-3 sTouring FWD ($28,840 list) or Maxx Sport AWD ($28,650 list) and entry CX-30 Pure FWD ($29,990 list).
The front-driven Mitsubishi ASX LS ($28,690 list), Kia Seltos Sport ($28,990 list), Hyundai Kona Active ($26,060 list), Honda HR-V VTi-S ($29,640 list), Nissan Qashqai ST ($28,290 list) and Ford Puma FWD ($31,990 drive away) are all around similar money, though you’ll need a bit more to get into a Toyota C-HR ($30,290 list).
Unlike some competing nameplates with all-wheel drive options, the Kamiq is front-drive only.
There are essentially two options packs available for the Kamiq 85TSI, including a Driver Support ‘trim and safety kit’ pack at $4100 and an ‘infotainment and lighting’ Tech pack at $3100.
See our pricing and spec story for details and options available across the wider range.
The base 85TSI version has a fairly well-rounded equipment package with a few nice bells and whistles thrown into the deal.
Outside, it has LED headlights (reflector) and daytime running lights, as well as LED tail lights with trendy dynamic indicators – you need to pay $3800 for fancier adaptive LED headlights with dynamic front indicators as part of the optional Tech Pack – as well as heated and folding mirrors with driver’s-side dimming, 18-inch alloy wheels, privacy glass, rear parking sensors, automatic wipers, and a powered tailgate.
Central to the cabin is the 10.25-inch digital Virtual Cockpit instrumentation, paired with a large 8.0-inch infotainment screen, a flat-bottom steering wheel, keyless go, cloth trim, dual-zone climate control, an auto-dimming mirror, red mood lighting, and neat oh-so-Skoda details such as a double-sided boot mat and an umbrella housed in a hidden cubby at the end of driver’s door trim.
Cruise control is adaptive rather than passive, and the infotainment system has a reversing camera and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Featured are four USB-C ports and wireless phone charging.
Stumping up for the Tech and Driver Support packs adds leather trim, 9.2-inch infotainment with wireless CarPlay, and other goodies, but the combined $7900 premium otherwise affords the step into a fully-loaded four-pot 110TSI Limited Edition anyway.
Outside of standard Candy White there are five metallic or pearl-effect finishes that add $550, or a special Red Velvet finish for a richer $1100 outlay.
As forecast in our pricing and spec story, the Kamiq has a five-star ANCAP rating based on Euro NCAP testing conducted on the structurally-related Skoda Scala.
It was a solid performance too, with an exceptional 96 per cent for adult occupant protection, 85 per cent for child occupant safety, 80 per cent for vulnerable road user and 76 per cent for safety assistance systems.
The Kamiq has seven airbags (including driver’s knee), all-speed (4km/h to a wishful 250km/h) AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection at some speeds, forward collision warning, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assistance, fatigue detection, tyre-pressure monitoring, multi-collision braking, the aforementioned adaptive cruise, and rear manoeuvre braking assistance.
It’s certainly fit enough for its segment positioning and price, but does miss out on some gear as standard. Rear cross-traffic alert and blind-spot monitoring are optional across the range and ask for $350 and $900 respectively, though both are bundled into the $4100-optional Driver Support package. Meanwhile, safety-enhancing adaptive LED headlights are part of the $3800 Tech Pack as noted earlier.
The base Kamiq 85TSI’s cabin is a real strong point. It’s a fine example of intuitive design, clever material use, and brilliant packaging smarts.
The Virtual Cockpit, in any of its configurable display skins, is perhaps the least-fancy digital setup on the market and all the better for it. What it lacks in showboating flash it makes up for with clear quick-glance legibility superior to most premium German systems in its core role of information display. Nice work.
The floating 8.0-inch touchscreen system looks the business, has sharp resolution, and is quick to respond. Provided you’re using smartphone mirroring you’re right to go, because without satellite navigation proprietary functionality is limited.
The lack of satellite navigation isn’t uncommon at this price and in segment, but the absence of DAB+ is a bit disappointing. The fitment of USB-C ports is a sign of the times and buying a few extra cables or an adaptor for the car isn’t an elaborate extra splurge.
The general design is inspired, not because it’s flamboyant but because – hallelujah – it’s not a sea of boring dark grey. The variety of colours and textures, particularly the seat trim, are a lesson in designing a sense of airiness and occasion in a cost-conscious manner.
Skoda invests where it matters – fabric door inserts and centre armrest, fabric headlining, plush carpeting – to strategically inject a moderately upmarket feel that doesn’t feel like cookie-cutter Volkswagen.
Row two is excellent. There’s not just genuine roominess but a sense of spaciousness, too, with impressively comfy seating and essential family-friendly facilities such as dual USB ports and rear air vents.
Skoda makes this stuff look easy when so many of its competitors struggle to create a semblance of proper adult-friendly rear accommodation.
Boot space is a decent 400 litres as a five-seater and expands to 1395 litres with the 40/60 rear seatbacks stowed. The powered tailgate and large, elasticised luggage netting for the groceries are nice inclusions.
The entry Kamiq has a willing 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol three-cylinder engine outputting 85kW of power at 5500rpm and a quite heady 200Nm of torque in a fairly narrow 2000-3500rpm band. Opt for the manual and you get six forward ratios, while our as-tested dual-clutch is of the seven-speed variety.
That’s 25kW and 50Nm down on the larger-capacity 1.5-litre 110TSI four-pot further up the range.
Claimed combined consumption is an impressive 5.0L/100km for the DSG (5.1L for manual). Milking maximum efficiency demands patience and a light right foot, and it’s more realistically a mid-7.0L/100km proposition.
Skoda didn’t publish performance claims at the Kamiq’s local launch but by the seat of the pants the 85TSI spec feels around the 10-second mark for its 0-100km/h sprint.
Skoda’s smallest SUV initially feels quite light and airy, both in its manner and how it connects with the driver. It seems more compact and less substantial than it looks which is, for its target buyer, good news.
The regular suspension tune applied to this Volkswagen Group MQB A0 platform – as shared with T-Cross and Audi A1 to name two relatives – is very impressive.
There’s a beautiful compliance to the primary ride that cushions the chassis over square-edged hits and speed humps though the actual tune is middling, with a firm enough grasp on vehicle mass to return excellent body control and fundamentally crisp handling.
The steering itself is quite light in weight but the Kamiq is keen to obey the driver’s whims, demonstrating fine poise and surprising reserves of grip. In many ways, the experience is closer to that of a Polo or Golf than you’d expect from a small SUV. Because it also feels so light on its feet and keen to change direction it’s quite a rewarding hoot just running around the ‘burbs.
It does make me wonder what the lowered ‘sport’ tune of the Monte Carlo might be like but the regular not-too-soft, not-overly-firm calibration does the Kamiq enough favours that it isn’t lacking.
The three-pot is real gem of an engine. There’s a nice bassy rort to its soundtrack, it’s amply tractable from low revs, and doles out more energy than you initially expect. Its initial response isn’t lightning quick, though a quick tap of the transmission control for Sport elevates the three-pot’s enthusiasm by a noticeable margin.
I found I spent a fair bit of time in Sport mode. It’s certainly cooperative enough for general driving and the extra pep on tap is handy for finding gaps in traffic. But the main reason is that in Normal mode the transmission wants to hover around a zone that creates a fair bit of unpleasant engine droning, which is pretty common for this particular powertrain.
On the move the seven-speed DSG is a smooth and quick operator and brings out the best in the engine. In terms of refinement, it’s a well-tuned example of a transmission that previously has had its patchy calibrations within the Volkswagen Group. The only foible is a slight tendency for the powertrain to surge forth at parking speeds.
The reversing camera is a bit grainy and has static guidelines but the screen view is large enough in compensation. Outward visibility is excellent and it’s very easy to judge and park.
Comfort and handling
Skoda has neatly balanced the way the Kamiq rides and handles, even in base 85TSI guise
As a collective, the compact and small SUV/crossover set is starting to offer some genuinely enjoyable and comfortable driving experiences, and the Kamiq lobs as one of the real shining lights.
Skoda offers a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty on the Kamiq.
Servicing is required every 12 months or 15,000kms, whichever comes first, and Skoda’s done a decent job of competitively price-capping its two servicing packs.
Opting for three years (45,000kms) costs just $800 total while a five-year (75,000km) package demands $1400.
Disclosure: I come from a family of Skoda sympathisers obsessive enough to once have owned three Octavia wagons… at the same time. Point is, I both ‘get’ the Skoda thing and am too familiar with it to be bedazzled by it.
And yet I’m still somewhat surprised at how impressive a package the base Kamiq is. It’s a prime example of care and smarts applied in the ideal areas and quality where it counts. It has a more premium approach to packaging and the driving experience than more expensive alternatives. Although they might be flashier they aren’t quite so cleverly executed.
The other good bit about the Kamiq is that it genuinely feels like a Skoda. It does feel like a Volkswagen with the reins pulled on that last 10 percent of flash and fanfare that give the Czech brand’s machines a slightly ‘humble’ – but not necessarily ‘poor relative’ – vibe. And that’s part of the marque’s charm.
The Kamiq is a fitting addition to the range of a brand making hard-fought and gradual inroads into Aussie car buying acceptance.
Some shoppers will undoubtedly remain gun-shy to the brand but, when it comes to small SUVs, they should really give this newcomer a look in before parting with cash elsewhere.