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Skoda: the very mention of the Czech brand used to bring sneers to the lips of car buffs and the general public alike. Like that other brand from behind the now-melted Iron Curtain, Russia’s Lada, Skoda was the butt of countless jokes, many of them unfair.

 

After all, Skoda was a reputable brand in Europe way before there was such a thing as the Communist Bloc and now-defunct Warsaw Pact. Way before, in fact, Volkswagen which now owns Skoda, existed.

 

Skoda’s Communist-era, water-cooled, rear-engined 1000MB, S100L and S110L sedans shared the same layout as the Renault Dauphine and R8, and the Simca 1000. But the French products didn’t provoke the guffaws and howls of derision the Czech ones did.

 

The first Skoda of which I was ever conscious was a front-engined, swing rear axle, rear drive Octavia owned by one of my father’s workmates in the early 1960s. I was most impressed that it had a 26-piece toolkit.

 

The last one I drove was a front-wheel drive Felicia which a fellow motoring writer and I sampled briefly on the model launch based at an inner-city Auckland hotel. The drive redefined brief. The Skoda’s petrol gauge indicated the tank was dry, so we nipped around the block and back to the hotel. It was an exercise in parking, really.

 

The lap of the block – less than a kilometre – was what passed for a press launch drive for the Skoda distributor of the time. Between being awed by the Octavia’s toolkit and changing the Felicia’s parking spot, I had road-tested several S110Ls in the early 1970s.

 

They were basic but fun, just able to pull the skin off a rice-pudding, desperately tail-heavy with the engine hung out behind the rear axle and ready to oversteer at the first hint of road surface wetness.

 

But the oversteer was progressive and predictable. You were always aware of the weight behind the rear axle and you got early warning that the back end was about to step out. In fact, it was quite unlike the similarly laid-out Simca 1000 which felt for all the world like a front-engined car. And then, when you got over-confident, the mercurial French car would tuck the outside rear wheel under during cornering, hop, and then snap into lurid oversteer.

 

No, the Skoda was much more benign than the ultra-light French car; and on gravel roads, despite a lack of power, an S110L was a hoot, aside from a tendency to pop out of second gear during acceleration. Fast forward 45 years to 2017 and I get my first real taste of a modern Skoda, the mid-sized Kodiaq SUV.

 

Nowadays, in the post-Communist Bloc era, Skoda is part of the Volkswagen Group, and its vehicles are based on VW platforms and use Volkswagen-developed running gear.

 

The Kodiaq is built on a version of the platform on which VW’s highly-regarded Tiguan compact SUV is based, but it’s a very different vehicle than the German wagon.

In some ways, the Kodiaq is a master of deception. The frontal styling makes it look big – far bigger, in fact, than it is.

 

I asked a colleague who was examining it closely for the first time, what platform he thought it was based on. He figured it used VW’s Touareg architecture; certainly he felt it was bigger than a Tiguan, more a Touareg’s size. In fact, it’s smaller than the Touareg, but it has presence in spades.

 

Arna Evans who contributes a young mother’s perspective on some of the SUVs and utes that we test, thought the Kodiaq looked compact on the outside but was surprised by how big the interior seemed.

 

She was a little startled to discover it was a seven-seater with good legroom, and had decent cargo space when the third row was in use...

 

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