Introducing the new Skoda Kodiaq.
Czech vehicle brand Skoda is ramping up its New Zealand presence to an entirely new level with the launch of its first-ever SUV.
Any passenger vehicle manufacturer worth its salt needs to have at least one offering in the SUV segment. After all, latest new vehicle sales statistics for New Zealand show that better than 56 per cent of all registrations are this type of vehicle.
So Skoda entering the fray - big-time. The first is a medium-sized SUV called Kodiaq, which is rolling on to dealership floors about now. Next year - maybe even late this year - a compact SUV called Karoq will arrive, and this will be followed in 2019 by an even smaller and as yet un-named SUV.
In between all of that Skoda NZ plans to introduce further derivatives of the Kodiaq, including Sportline, higher-riding Scout, and performance-oriented RS models. And the longer-term plan is to move into e-mobility with PHEV and fully electric models.
Little wonder then that Skoda NZ general manager Greg Leet was fairly fizzing with enthusiasm as he helped introduce the Kodiaq to the motoring media in Auckland.
"It's such a significant event to bring a vehicle like the Kodiaq into a market that has such an SUV appetite," he told journalists.
"Not only will it add another layer to our product suite, adding to Fabia, Octavia and Superb, but it is the first string to Skoda's bow in the SUV segment. And now we'll be adding a new SUV every year - totally new models - through to at least 2020."
Skoda is a relatively small player in New Zealand, with a 1.4 per cent market share. But it is experiencing good sales growth - whereas in 2014 the brand sold 846 vehicles, this year it is anticipating 1460 sales, and planning for this to grow further to at least 1800 sales next year, helped along by the arrival of all those SUVs.
It's worth looking at its sales form in Europe. Up there it enjoys a 4.4 per cent market share, out-selling such brands as Toyota, Mazda, Kia, Hyundai and Nissan, and is the second-largest profit contributor to its owner the Volkswagen Group, behind Porsche.
It's also worth considering what's happening to Skoda's reputation. Once the butt of all sorts of motoring jokes (How do you make a policeman laugh? Tell him someone stole your Skoda.) and originally intended as VW Group's entry brand, it has progressed so much in terms of quality and reliability that in late 2015 it was voted the most dependable car brand in the United Kingdom.
And of all the various models in today's Skoda fleet, it may well be that the new Kodiaq best illustrates the dramatic advances the Czech brand is achieving in the quality of its product.
This new SUV immediately appeals as an excellent vehicle. Built on VW Group's scaleable MQB platform, it is a full seven-seater with a high level of standard specification and a variety of really good ideas that Skoda calls Simply Clever. It's available with a choice of 2WD and AWD, and is powered by a selection of 110kW 1.4-litre and 132kW 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engines, and a 140kW 2.0-litre turbocharged diesel.
It also enters the market with an entry price of $39,990, which line-balls it with the Nissan X-Trail in the seven-seater SUV competition. But in terms of dimensions the Kodiaq is bigger than a considerably more expensive Hyundai Santa Fe, and only slightly smaller than a Toyota Prado.
And that translates to heaps of interior space. Even with all seven seats in use, the rear load space is 270 litres. When the rear row of seats is folded down this grows to 630 litres, and with both rear rows down this expands to a capacious 2005 litres.
When the Kodiaq was introduced to the motoring press, who were invited to head out on a fairly substantial drive, an initial concern was that engine sizes might be a little small for a vehicle of this size.
But it quickly became clear there should be no such worry. Even the 1.4-litre TSI turbo petrol engine that powers the entry 2WD Ambition model performed well, offering 110kW of power, with the torque topping out at 250Nm from 1500rpm which is superior to the torque on offer from the 2.4-litre Hyundai Santa Fe.
The same engine and six-speed DSG automatic transmission is available aboard a 4x4 Ambition+ model that, for its $44,990 retail price, also offers a number of extras including full leather upholstery, different 18-inch alloys, satellite navigation, keyless entry and start, triple-zone air conditioning, heated front seats, and heated steering wheel.
Topping out the selection are two further 4x4 Kodiaq models with a Style level of specification that includes 19-inch alloys, dynamic chassis control, lane assist, and ventilated seats. One of them is powered by a 132kW/320Nm 2.0-litre TSI turbo petrol, the other a 140kW/400Nm 2.0-litre turbo diesel. Both these vehicles have a seven-speed DSG auto, and pricing is $54,290 and $58,290.
All the models boast a number of Skoda's Simply Clever features. These include umbrellas stored inside the passenger doors, door edge protectors that pop out when the doors are opened, digital voice enhancement that uses the audio system to broadcast conversation between those aboard while travelling at speed, and Skoda's Smartlink+ connectivity which allows owners to access data on the vehicle using a smartphone.
Kodiaq also offers a range of new technologies, some of them standard and several of them optional extras. The options include trailer assist that takes over the reversing of trailers or caravans into parks, and maneouvre assist which minimises the risk of crashing to something while reversing.
It's all very impressive - little wonder then that a large number of people have already expressed their interest in the vehicle.
There's one downside however: The worldwide demand for the Kodiaq is so strong that just 380 have been allocated to New Zealand for the remainder of this year.
"Globally, Kodiaq has sold out this year," says Skoda NZ's marketing manager Ross Hill.
"But look out for 2018. Next year we'll double sales of the Kodiaq, and at the same time we'll be adding another SUV in the Karoq. When sales of those two vehicles are combined, we could well sell more than 1000 SUVs next year."