It wasn’t quite enough to edge out the overall winner the Volvo XC60, but the Skoda’s combination of excellent practical features, compelling price and rewarding driving dynamics still rate it as one of the most versatile and best value vehicles on the market.
Just a year before, another seven-seat large SUV made COTY history when the Mazda CX-9 took out the top award, and in a rematch earlier this year between the winner and the Skoda, the Japanese victor retained its title as the one to have.
But the seven-seat battle of the brands is not done yet because Mazda has now introduced a new three-row SUV dubbed the CX-8 and it promises to bring all of the practicality of its larger sibling minus some of the bulk.
Is this finally an opportunity for the Kodiaq to assert its position in the growing arena of high-capacity SUVs or will the first CX-8 in Mazda’s ranks continue to carry the value and practicality mantle?
Price and equipment
At $61,755, the range-topping Mazda CX-8 we tested is not the cheapest offering in the segment nor is it the most expensive, but thanks to a generous list of standard equipment, it’s only $265 more expensive than the base price of an off-the-shelf Asaki.
The diesel-only range opens with the front wheel drive CX-8 Sport for $42,490, but stumping the extra cash gets you an all-wheel drive transmission and a heap of extra kit. A white Nappa leather interior looked like the stuff of expensive options lists, as did 19-inch wheels, Bose sound system, electric adjustable heated front seats and heated steering wheel, second-row seat heaters and power tailgate, but all are included in the price.
Safety equipment is also well represented with the increasingly valued autonomous braking and collision warning included as standard, as are blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and assistance, reverse camera and speed limit recognition.
It also has Mazda’s G-Vectoring technology that is proliferating the range, enabling better vehicle control whether cruising comfortably or driving more enthusiastically.
With a base price of $52,990 the Skoda is at the more affordable end of the seven-seat segment. You can save even more by opting for its $42,990 petrol entry-level sibling, otherwise, it’s only vehicles such as the Honda Odyssey and Kia Carnival that offer more capacity for less cash.
Standard fare in the Sportline TDI we tested is a 2.0-litre four cylinder diesel engine coupled to a dual clutch seven-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters (unique to the Sportline) and all-wheel drive.
Other notable standard features include an excellent sports interior which upholsters the more supportive seats in a combination of leather and quilted Alcantara with silver stitching and electric adjustment, black roof lining, 20-inch wheels and blacked out exterior details.
Red Velvet paint is offered for the Sportline but ours was dressed up in Magic Black ($700) which works brilliantly with the other black touches for a handsome and sporty looking Kodiaq.
Ours had been upgraded with a number of options including the $2600 Tech Pack and $3400 Luxury pack taking the as-tested price to $59,690.
As for safety, the Skoda competes well with nine airbags, blind spot detection, lane-keep assistance, adaptive cruise control, cornering lights, 360-degree camera, parking assistance, and an emergency assistance function that detects an inactive driver and attempts to alert them with a controlled swerving motion. If that fails, the Kodiaq will bring itself to a halt with the hazard lights on.
Read next: Mazda CX-8 pricing revealed
Interior and connectivity
Virtually any other manufacturer would be charging you extra for a beautiful white Nappa leather interior the likes of which graces the cabin of the CX-8 Asaki – you can also have Dark Russet brown – but the Japanese manufacturer’s efforts to include as many goodies as possible means you’ll pay nothing extra for the hide. In combination with some decent wood inserts, the cabin feels high quality without delivering any surprises. It’s all very much Mazda family genealogy in here.
Compared with some competitors including the Skoda, the CX-8’s central screen is a little small and the analogue instruments with single colour trip info display are in danger of feeling a little dated in a car that’s fresh to the market.
Second row passengers get their own climate control with vents and the third row seats are reasonable propositions for adults on shorter trips, unlike some seven-seaters on the market. With the two extra pews in place, the Mazda offers a 209-litre boot which can be expanded to a decent 742-litres when in five-seat mode.
Connectivity features include a 3.5mm jack and USB and Bluetooth for smartphone or other device pairing, while navigation internet-based radio Stitcher and Aha are also supported.
Like the Mazda, the Skoda also impresses as you board with a top-notch interior. But where the CX-8 goes for a more lounge layout with comfort the main focus, the Kodiaq delivers a sporting intent with racing styled seats dressed up in Alcantara. Complemented with a perforated leather steering wheel and carbonfibre-look trims that are far more convincing than most, the cabin continues the typically excellent design and finish that is commonplace with brands under the Volkswagen umbrella.
The high-end feel continues with a large 9.2-inch central touchscreen with sharp graphics, intuitive operation and a seamlessly integrated look.
But the Skoda goes further and is not guilty of being more style than substance. Scattered about the cabin are numerous example of how the Kodiaq has been extensively thought through to be practical as well as stylish.
The boot light doubles as an LED rechargeable torch, an umbrella is stored in each front door ready to grab as you exit into rain, a pair of blankets live in special pouches on the back of the second-row seats, little protectors emerge from the door edge as they open to prevent carpark damage and there’s a special bin to store the boot cover blind when not in use.
A Luxury Pack option added heaters to the front and rear seats but not the third row, three-zone air-conditioning as well as extra driver assistance items.
The third row of seating is still a viable option for adults thanks to a sliding second row, although not quite as accommodating as the Mazda. Behind the rearmost seats a 270-litre boot is still practical even with all seats in place although it can be expanded like the CX-8.
The Skoda’s information and entertainment system supports two USB ports, 3.5mm jack, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. There’s even wireless device charging in the central storage tray.
Read next: 2018 Skoda Kodiaq Sportline revealed
Ride and handling
If you wanted to take a simplified look at the CX-8, it’s the front end of a CX-5 bolted onto a stretched body with the same length wheelbase as the CX-9, and that has directly affected the way the new Mazda SUV drives.
It shares the bounding heavy feel of its larger sibling bringing a silky ride, but doesn’t benefit from the sense of stability that the CX-9’s wider track imparts. The result is a vehicle that feels tall and narrow and can be easily provoked into understeer when driven enthusiastically.
Steering feel is lacking and there are no gear shift paddles, confirming this car is in no way targeting a driver that likes to have fun at the wheel but wants a family hauler that manages to be inoffensive if almost to an anodyne extent.
But Mazda has perhaps astutely recognised that the segment rarely caters to customers that want to set lap times or destroy rubber. For many therefore, the CX-8’s excellent ride quality, and whisper quiet cabin when cruising will appeal to a wide audience. For everyone else, there’s an alternative.
Where the Japanese contender goes to lengths to cosset occupants at the cost of dynamics, the Skoda is at the polar opposite end of the spectrum. Find a twisty road, wet or dry, and the Kodiaq rewards a keen driver like no other car in the segment.
Its steering is light but needs no extra weight to add feel and categorically proves that feedback does not have to be heavy or exhausting.
Twenty-inch wheels with Pirelli rubber (although Scorpion Verde and not outright performance boots) doubtless add to the impressive road holding, while the Adaptive Chassis Control (part of the Tech Pack) allows the Kodiaq to stay flat and confident through corners.
While some SUVs in the segment offer a surprisingly sharp front end, the Skoda has the obedient tail to match it and locks onto a line with a delightful stubbornness
As you would expect, the playful handling costs some compliancy on rougher roads but not to a point it becomes tiresome. A little too much wind noise might have been partly due to incredibly blustery conditions, but the Skoda’s cabin is otherwise a very comfortable place to spend time. It’s firm but refined with great body control that makes the small sacrifice of a sportier ride well worth it.
Performance and economy
Diesel refinement has come a long way in recent years and never has that been more obvious than in the two cars you see here. At idle, the Mazda’s 2.2-litre SkyActiv-D four-cylinder is silent and even when working hard sings a surprisingly un-diesely anthem.
It’s the same for power and torque delivery with a surprisingly high 5000 rpm red line and decent pulling power near the limit, and less of the instant diesel torque we were expecting. You can drive the CX-8 more like a petrol than an oil-burner.
Officially, the CX-8 gets to 100km/h from zero in 9.6 seconds but we managed to chop six tenths off that figure. It’s still not fast when loaded with four people, but an exercise in adequacy, like its ride and handling.
Mazda says the CX-8 will achieve 6.0L/100km in combined driving cycles but during testing over varied terrain, we recorded the new arrival as using 9.8L/100km.
And it’s a similar story with the Skoda’s engine refinement prompting us to check the Kodiaq’s fuel filler to make absolutely sure we had picked up the intended variant. Without augmented sound generation, the 2.0-litre 140kW/400Nm four-pot manages to sound sophisticated and even pleasant as you work it hard up to the governor, which also sits at 5000 rpm.
Somehow, the Skoda feels more powerful even though the Mazda puts out an extra 50Nm (most likely due to a kerb weight that carries an extra 200kg over the Skoda). Our suspicions were confirmed in 0-100km/h testing when the Skoda clocked an 8.5-second dash, knocking a tenth of a second from the official manufacturer’s time.
Paddle shifters allow snappy gearchanges as and when you determine, although the seven-speed dual-clutch auto does a commendable job clicking through ratios by itself.
Out on the rolling roads, the Skoda is a joy to pilot but the diesel/dual-clutch combo can become a little frustrating if you’re in a hurry about town. Idle stop requires a few fractions, followed by a short delay for the transmission clutch to slip, then a small amount of turbo lag askes for your patience. The net result is a noticeable lag on take-off that had us reaching for the idle-stop deactivate button more than once.
On paper the Skoda is said to use a miserly 5.9L/100km but under more realistic testing and our time with the Kodiaq, we managed to get it to use 9.7L/100km.
Warranty and servicing
The Mazda requires scheduled servicing every 10,000km or 12 months and each visit costs either $390 or $319 for the first five appointments depending on the nature of the maintenance. The total cost for scheduled maintenance over the first 50,000km is $1737. That equates to $3.47 per 100km.
With the exception of the BT-50, every new Mazda is sold with a three-year unlimited kilometre warranty.
Skoda improves on the Mazda warranty with a five-year unlimited deal but approaches scheduled servicing from a slightly different angle.
Three or five year servicing packs allow servicing costs to be pre-paid so there’s nothing to stump up when you pick up your vehicle, unless unscheduled work is required. The three-year deal is limited to 45,000km while the five-year plan is good for 75,000km.
Servicing intervals are slightly longer than the Mazda at 15,000km but more costly if paid for on the day. Without the pre-paid packs, visits range from $297 for the first maintenance appointment, to $748 for the work required at 90,000km.
The first 60,000km of diesel Kodiaq servicing will cost you $1976 or $3.29 per 100km.
If you closed your eyes and imagined the CX-8 without having seen one before, when you opened them again the Mazda would be exactly what you were envisaging. It looks like every other CX in the range, it has an interior that’s hard to pick from any other similarly sized Mazda, and it is filled with the sort of equipment and features you would expect to find in any high-spec Mazda model.
That’s not to its discredit. The reason people will like the CX-8 is due to all the virtues the Japanese manufacturer represents and if the new arrival did anything drastically different, many Mazda fans would likely be put off.
Read next: Kia Sorento v Skoda Kodiaq comparison review
The Skoda, by comparison, is one pleasant surprise after another and offers a completely different proposition in the same space. It’s style driven and performance-focused but not at the detriment of practicality.
As contenders in the affordable seven-seat segment, you could argue the Skoda and Mazda are arch rivals, but actually, they bring such significantly different skill sets to the same space, it’s unlikely they will ever bother each other for attention.