THE car market is brimming over with SUVs but there seems to be no let-up in demand.
Little surprise then that Skoda has just launched its first ever seven-seater into the mix.
Named after an Alaskan bear, the Kodiaq is priced from £21,565 and is available in four trim levels with a choice of automatic or manual gearboxes, petrol or diesel engines, two or four wheel drive and the option of five or seven seats.
In fact, there are 24 different variants available with two more spec levels being added later on - a Scout version with more aggressive styling and a SportLine with lots of black trim.
The Kodiaq is a great looking car with an athletic stance thanks to its wide three dimensional grille, raked headlights, clamshell bonnet and squared-off wheel arches.
It is available in 10 colours, eight of which are metallic.
The trim levels are S, SE, SE L and Edition with seven seats fitted as standard on SE L grade and upwards.
But even the lower entry trim models are packed with kit. For example S grade features LED daytime running lights, 17-inch alloy wheels, manual air-conditioning, a touchscreen infotainment system, DAB digital radio and SmartLink for seamless smartphone connectivity.
However, the S model is only available with a 1.4 TSI 125ps petrol engine.
Step up to SE and you will see the addition of 18-inch alloys, sunset glass, cruise control and rear parking sensors.
These models also benefit from a Bolero touchscreen infotainment system with eight-inch display, dual-zone climate control, rain and light sensors and auto-dimming rear view mirrors. Seven seats are available as an option.
Next in the line-up is SE L complete with seven seats, 19-inch alloys, a powered tailgate, Drive Mode Select, heated front seats and sat nav with Wi-Fi.
Finally, the range-topping Edition adds leather upholstery, metallic paint and chrome roof rails. Technology features include lane assist, high beam assist and blind spot detection.
At launch, the Kodiaq is available with five engines - three TSI petrol units and two TDI diesels. Capacities range from 1.4- to 2.0-litres with output ranges from 125ps to 190ps.
Although it is difficult to predict sales patterns for a new model, Skoda believes the splits will be 55 per cent retail, 60 per cent automatic, 70 to 80 per cent diesel, 65 per cent 4X4 and 80 per cent SE L trim and above.
We tried two models on a lengthy road route that comprised motorways, town centres and fast country lanes and the car certainly lived up to all the hype.
First up was the Kodiaq SE 2.0 TDI 150ps 4X4 with six-speed manual transmission priced at £27,300 (£28,940 with options fitted).
This model could reach from 0-62mph in 9.5 seconds, topped out at 122mph. It can deliver combined fuel economy of 52.3mpg with carbon emissions of 141g/km.
The first thing to mention is how spacious the car is.
Whilst the Kodiaq is only 40mm longer than the Octavia family hatch, it certainly boasts a larger interior than many rival SUVs.
There is easily enough space for three adults in the back (this was the five seat model) and there are generous levels of leg, head and shoulder space. Storage options are plentiful and the boot has a capacity ranging from 720 to 2,065 litres. The seven seater Kodiaq has luggage space ranging from 270, 630 and 2,005 litres depending on the seat configuration.
There is a wealth of on-board technology to explore and the car features all the latest infotainment facilities with full connectivity to multi-media devices.
The controls, dials and read-outs are perfectly placed for ease of use and the driver benefits from excellent all-round visibility thanks to the elevated driving position.
In town centres, the Kodiaq cruised along with ease and the car was deceptively agile for its size. Manoeuvring through narrow and twisting streets posed no problems and parking was simple thanks to sensors and camera.
Out on the faster roads, the Kodiaq also impressed. The road holding was assured and the steering nice and precise.
There is a little wind noise when pushed really hard, but generally the car is well insulated against outside sounds.
Another plus-factor is the instant power at your disposal which helps to make very light work of overtaking at short notice.
Next up was the 1.4 TSI 150ps DSG priced at £30,750 (£31,780 with options). This car can reach 62mph from a standing start in 9.6 seconds, maxes out at 123mph, has combined fuel efficiency of 44.8mpg with CO2 emissions of 143g/km.
Once again the car was a peach to drive. Being the range-topping model, it featured all the bells and whistles imaginable including luxurious leather upholstery, a drive mode selector to switch between normal, eco, sport and individual modes, wireless charging, electric seats, an eight-inch touchscreen and plenty more besides.
This model featured seven seats and it is reassuringly simple to raise or lower the third row. And unlike some rivals there is actually room in the duo of back seats for an adult to travel, albeit only for short journeys.
The petrol model seemed a little quieter than its diesel equivalent and proved slightly sharper when it comes to driving dynamics and performance. The automatic gearbox is beautifully smooth and despite being on huge 19-inch wheels there was very little body roll to speak of.
All in all, both models were a delight to drive.
The car has a truly premium feel to it with lots of soft-touch materials and smart inlays and I can honestly say that the performance levels match the styling.
It features lots of clever touches that have become synonymous with the Skoda name, including umbrellas tucked into the front door panels, an ice scarper hidden in the fuel flap and automatically deployed door protectors.
When you look at the Kodiaq front on, it seems to have a face that smiles right back at you. And after driving the car it would be fair to say Skoda has plenty to smile about too.