Skoda might not be causing Toyota any sleepless nights in Australia, but it’s not a niche purveyor of wagons and oddball cars like the Roomster any more.
Sure, there’s a new Octavia coming this year. And sure, the Mazda 3-rivalling Scala hatch is a software tweak away from being on sale. But it’s all about SUVs in the Australian sales race, and Skoda finally has a full range.
Having rolled out the seven-seat Kodiaq in 2016 and the smaller Karoq in 2017, the Czech carmaker last year launched the Kamiq, a twin to the Volkswagen T-Cross and rival for the Mazda CX-3, Toyota C-HR and Kia Seltos.
It’s sharply priced, going toe-to-toe with the related T-Cross on paper. But it takes more than a sharp sticker to win buyers in what’s fast become one of Australia’s most competitive showroom battlegrounds.
Has Skoda managed to cram the ‘Simply Clever’ goodness that makes the Kodiaq and Karoq so appealing into a smaller package?
Skoda kicks off the Kamiq range at $27,990 drive-away for the 85TSI manual but, given Australia’s general disdain for three-pedal cars, most people will pay $29,990 drive-away for the 85TSI DSG.
That makes the base Kamiq a perfect match for the entry-level Volkswagen T-Cross 85TSI Life, currently listed for $29,990 drive-away on the Volkswagen Australia website.
Skoda offers two options packs for the Kamiq, neither of which were fitted to our tester. The first is the Driver Support Pack ($4100), which brings leather and suede seats, automatic parking assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, heated front and rear seats, and a powered driver’s seat.
The other option is the Tech Pack ($3800), which adds a 9.2-inch infotainment system with satellite navigation, wireless Apple CarPlay, voice control, adaptive LED headlights with scrolling indicators, and an uprated sound system.
The Kamiq 85TSI has some big ticket inclusions for its relatively small starting price, but there are also some unusual omissions.
Outside, the car features LED headlights and daytime running lights, complete with cool detailing on their lenses to link the car with its concept predecessor. The rear lights are also LED units, and pack scrolling indicators as standard.
Inside, the driver is faced with a 10.25-inch Virtual Cockpit instrument binnacle and an 8.0-inch infotainment screen atop the dash.
There’s a flat-bottom steering wheel, keyless entry and start, dual-zone climate control, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, wireless phone charging, and red ambient lighting at night.
Skoda’s typical array of neat touches feature in its smallest SUV as well. There’s an umbrella hidden in the driver’s door, a double-sided boot mat, pop-out LED torches in the boot, clips for the seatbelts to keep them clear of the folding backrest, and a parking ticket holder.
There’s also enough netting in the boot to make Herman Melville weak at the knees.
Adaptive cruise control is standard, and there’s a reversing camera with rear parking sensors across the range. Both front and rear passengers have access to two USB-C ports, and the infotainment system is home to wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
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.
The Kamiq has a five-star ANCAP rating based on Euro NCAP testing conducted on the related Skoda Scala.
It returned scores of 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.
Along with seven airbags, the Kamiq packs the following active safety features:
- All-speed autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection
- Reverse AEB
- Forward collision warning
- Lane-departure warning
- Lane-keeping assist
- Fatigue detection
- Tyre-pressure monitoring
- Multi-collision braking
- Adaptive cruise control
Opting for the Driver Support Pack adds:
- Blind-spot monitoring
- Rear cross-traffic alert
There’s no question it’s a Skoda, although the smaller Kamiq does represent a slight departure from the design of the Karoq and Kodiaq with their bluff, upright dashboards and vertical air vents.
The first thing to note is the seats, which are trimmed in handsome two-tone cloth and offer excellent support for taller drivers. Sure, leather is available if you’re willing to pay, but there’s nothing wrong with the basic seats.
The fact the Kamiq shares its bones with the Volkswagen T-Cross and Polo is clear in the way it’s laid out. There are two cupholders on the transmission tunnel and a small storage bin under the armrest, along with decent door pockets and a spacious wireless charge pad beneath the dash.
With that said, it’s odd Skoda has gone to the trouble of fitting manual climate controls but buried most of the critical functions in the touchscreen. Want to change the fan speed? Press a physical button, then dive into the touch menus.
Regardless, it’s logical and everything falls easily to hand, while the large piece of silver trim across the dash goes a long way to lifting the cabin ambience beyond what you’d expect of a base compact crossover.
One of Skoda’s big calling cards is the 10.25-inch digital instrument binnacle standard across the Kamiq range.
It lacks some of the bells and whistles offered on more expensive cars, with no ability to change colour from its standard grey and no mapping, but it still has a huge range of layouts and crisp, simple graphics that make the Kamiq feel more special than it otherwise might.
The central 8.0-inch screen is easy to use, but lacks factory voice control (you need to link to Siri or Google Assistant) and DAB+ radio. It’s good enough to make the Tech Pack a ‘nice to have’ instead of a ‘must have’ option, and won’t cause you any headaches.
Skoda has done an impressive job making the rear of the Kamiq a good place for kids, teenagers, and shorter adults to sit. Legroom is above par for the class, headroom is plentiful thanks to the relatively boxy side profile, and you even get dual USB-C ports and air vents.
The bench folds 60/40, and there are neat holders for the seatbelt buckles to make sure they don’t get caught up in the seats when they’re folded.
Boot space is 400L with the rear seats in place and 1395L with them folded, and there’s a powered tailgate as standard.
Motivation in the Kamiq comes from a charming 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine with 85kW of power and 200Nm of torque, mated with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. It’s front-wheel drive only.
Claimed fuel economy is 5.0L/100km on the combined cycle, we saw 5.4L/100km on a 237km highway drive with an average speed of 73km/h, and closer to 7.0L/100km in and around the city.
It’s worth bearing in mind, the Kamiq demands 95RON premium unleaded, not cheaper 91RON.
On paper, the thought of the cheapest SUV from a German-owned company headquartered in the Eastern Bloc doesn’t sound like a recipe for excitement. But the Kamiq is a charming little thing, thanks largely to its thrummy little engine.
Three-cylinder engines are characterful by nature, because they’re inherently unbalanced compared to a four-cylinder unit. Done well, that lends them a distinctive sound and feel from behind the wheel.
The 85TSI engine in the Kamiq (and Volkswagen T-Cross and Polo) is a ripper. It’s not a powerhouse, but with 200Nm on tap between 2000 and 3500rpm it has more than enough pep to make the 1211kg (tare) Kamiq feel sprightly at city speeds.
Lean on the accelerator and the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission initially tries to hold a tall gear in search of greater efficiency, but is happy to snap down a gear or two and thrust the engine back into the meat of its torque band, at which point you get decent acceleration and a delightfully determined engine note.
First gear is short for quick acceleration in the traffic light grand prix, but if you’re a lead foot who needs to have all the engine’s power all the time it’s worth flicking the lever down past drive and into sport mode, which holds a lower gear.
It sends a shot of energy through the car, but is best saved for passionate punts through the hills.
Coupled with start/stop in the city, the transmission can feel a bit jerky off the mark. If you’re in a hurry and it needs to restart, engage first, and accelerate you get the sense there’s a bit much going on for it to handle.
The result is a pause between what you ask for and what’s delivered that might only be a fraction of a second, but feels much longer if you’ve punched the throttle and are trying to sneak into a gap in traffic.
A driving style adjustment is required if you’re coming across from a torque converter automatic. Once you’re attuned to the way it responds at low speeds, however, it’s not hard to meet the Kamiq on its level.
It’s clear some very smart people within the Volkswagen Group are working on making dual-clutch transmissions play nice with small displacement, small output engines because the Kamiq is relatively smooth for the most part.
The determined little engine is backed by a ride and handling balance that makes the Kamiq feel keen at almost any speed. The steering is light and direct off centre, and the suspension manages to blend impressive compliance with taut, almost sporty body control.
Speed bumps, potholes, and patchy tarmac skip beneath its wheels, but the Kamiq is also a hoot to push through the urban jungle. It feels like a slightly bigger Volkswagen Polo which, given the two share their underpinnings, it really is.
For all its grown up talents, there’s one place the Kamiq is slightly out of its depth. That’s on the highway where, at 110km/h, that thrummy three-pot wub-wub-wubs its way into the cabin with slightly too much determination, even in seventh gear.
But wind noise is still well suppressed, and road roar on coarse chip gravel is impressively hushed for what is a small car designed to spend its days in the confines of the city.
It’s not knocked around by crosswinds, and if you’re willing to lean hard on the accelerator it doesn’t feel underpowered up hills.
Skoda offers a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty on the Kamiq.
Servicing is required every 15,000kms or 12 months, whichever comes first. Skoda offers two prepaid service packs for the Kamiq, too.
Opting for three years costs $800, and a five-year package is priced at $1400.
In a segment often defined by crossovers that are big on style and low on substance, it’s refreshing to drive a car like the Kamiq.
Real thought has gone into making it work day-to-day, from the spacious and well-equipped interior to the effervescent powertrain.
Bundle in the fact it doesn’t look or handle like a soulless, joyless box on wheels and you’ve got a seriously charming little crossover on your hands.
Cheap, not nasty
The Skoda Kamiq might be priced sharply, but it's not short on standard kit
Our main gripe is the fact it lacks blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert as standard, although that they can be added goes some way to addressing that.
As if the appealing styling, packaging, and standard equipment list wasn’t enough, the Kamiq is even priced sharply provided you don’t dive into the options.
It might just be the best compact SUV money can buy.
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