You have to hand it to Skoda. Where most manufacturers like to take us critics to a quaint corner of the Cotswolds for our first test drive of their new cars on British roads, Skoda’s PR team instead opted to let us try the Kamiq on the A1 on a rainy Tuesday evening. How’s that for real-world consumer journalism?
This was not simply to be a quick lap of a pre-planned loop, either. Just south of the Scottish border, we were handed the keys and told simply to head home. For us, that meant a long schlep down to London – and, what with our early afternoon time of departure, it also meant hitting the East Midlands at rush hour.
A stiff test for Skoda’s new compact SUV, then, and one not made any easier by the conditions. A yellow weather warning for rain was in place as we departed, and we braced ourselves for a journey spent dodging floods and finding out just how fast the wipers could go.
‘Our’ Kamiq was equipped with a 113bhp 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo, one of the three petrol engine options; there’s also a 94bhp version of the same engine, and a 148bhp 1.5-litre four pot, and alongside these sits a 113bhp 1.6-litre diesel. A seven-speed twin-clutch auto is available on all but the least powerful of these engines; four-wheel drive, as is par for the course in these smaller SUVs, is not.
You can have your Kamiq in one of three variants; the basic S is only available with the weediest engine, so probably not worth bothering with, though you do get alloy wheels, LED headlights, air conditioning and a 6.5-inch colour touchscreen as standard. SE adds 17-inch wheels, cruise control, an 8-inch touchscreen and wireless smartphone mirroring, while SE L gives you 18-inch wheels, dual-zone climate control, a 9.2-inch display and a TFT instrument cluster.
The Kamiq is ostensibly a compact SUV, and so goes up against cars like the Seat Arona, Nissan Juke and Suzuki Vitara, but it’s actually longer than any of these competitors, which might explain why it’s also more expensive.
The result of this extra length is plain the minute you jump into the back seats. Where most of its rivals offer enough space – but not a modicum more – you get a little extra room to stretch out in the Kamiq; the prospect of sitting three adults abreast is not unreasonable, either, though the person in the central seat will have to straddle the rather high exhaust tunnel.
The boot’s a reasonable size, too, though it’s beaten on outright volume by several of its rivals, including its platform-mate, the Volkswagen T-Cross, as well as the Renault Captur and Citroen C3 Aircross. Disappointingly, it isn’t very clever, either with no false floor to speak of, which also means you can’t fold the rear seats flush with the floor. And in stark contrast to the endlessly flexible Skoda Yeti which went before it, the seats in the Kamiq only split 60:40, and otherwise don’t slide, roll, or perform any other clever tricks.
There’s much better news up front, where a rather low driving position means you feel securely ensconced within the Kamiq, rather than perched atop as you do with some small SUVs.
Comfortable seats and smart materials mean the interior feels classier than most rivals’, and the central touchscreen is clear and easy to get to grips with. That said, the use of touch pads rather than physical buttons makes it fiddlier to operate on the move than we’d like. Especially when it’s dark and raining, and you’re trying to work out how to turn down the treble.
It’s especially hard if the road’s bumpy, because the Kamiq’s ride is surprisingly firm. Around town and on country roads, there’s a constant jitter on all but the smoothest sections of tarmac, while churned-up patches and potholes are transmitted through to your posterior wholesale.
Granted, the Kamiq doesn’t crash or shudder around the place, so it never becomes truly unpleasant, but neither is it the most comfortable way of getting around.
The upside is that the Kamiq feels stable and planted in corners, with plenty of grip and a nose that bites well when you turn the wheel. And while there’s barely any feedback, the steering is responsive and progressive, which makes the Kamiq easy to place on the road. In short, for a car that’s rarely going to be driven hard, it does what it needs to do.
For all that, the Kamiq is a better way of getting from one end of the country to the other than you might expect. On the motorway the ride calms down, never quite softening off enough to let you forget about it, but remaining the right side of comfortable all the same.
What’s more, wind and road noise are all kept to a minimum, and all the engine options are quiet at a cruise – even the diesel, in which we had a short stint down to the border from Edinburgh in the morning. It turned out to be a rather useful and surprisingly gutsy powerplant, even if it lags somewhat at the bottom end of the rev range.
The 113bhp petrol is the engine you’ll want, though. It isn’t fast – indeed, you get the feeling a fully-loaded Kamiq with the lesser 94bhp option might feel rather sluggish – but there’s more than enough grunt there to slip into gaps in fast-moving motorway traffic.
The standard six-speed manual gearbox is slick and easy to use, meanwhile, and the pedals are light and full of feel. The seven-speed auto is even better, mind you – slick, smooth and seemingly always in the right gear, so undoubtedly worth a look if you plan to use your Kamiq around town.
The problem for the Kamiq is the strength and variety of its competitors. Need space? The T-Cross does it better. Want something genuinely fun to drive? There’s the Arona. Fancy something with a bit of personality? The new Juke has that box ticked. And there are countless more where those came from, too.
If the Kamiq rode properly, it could claim to be ‘the comfortable one’, and justify its high-ish price. It’s a shame, too, that the boot and rear seats aren’t more flexible – comfort and versatility have long been Skoda’s big selling points, so it seems strange that the Kamiq is so underwhelming in these areas.
But while it isn’t a great car, the Kamiq is still a good one; a more rounded, more mature option than many of its rivals, and one for which we found ourselves with a sneaking fondness after our long drive home. And frankly, any car you can say that about, having driven from Scotland to London through the wind and rain of an autumnal British night, must be doing something right.
Skoda Kamiq 1.0 TSI 115 SE L – the facts
TESTED 999cc three-cylinder petrol turbo, five-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel drive
PRICE/ON SALE £21,980/now
POWER/TORQUE 113bhp @ 5,000pm, 148lb ft @ 2,000rpm
TOP SPEED 120mph
ACCELERATION 0-62mph in 9.9sec
FUEL ECONOMY 47.1mpg (WLTP Combined)
CO2 EMISSIONS 116g/km (NEDCeq)
VED £170 first year, then £145/year
VERDICT A classy and easy-to-use interior, lots of rear seat space, a good-sized boot and decent equipment levels mean the Kamiq is a solid, sensible and likeable compact SUV. But there are some flies in the ointment; a stiff ride and an inflexible boot mean this isn’t quite the car it could have been.
TELEGRAPH RATING Four stars out of five
Volkswagen T-Cross 1.0 TSI 115 SE L, from £21,870
Here’s a rare thing: a Volkswagen that costs less than the equivalent Skoda. The T-Cross manages to fit more space into a shorter body than the Kamiq, making it more wieldy in town as well as more versatile; there’s a sliding rear seat and a false boot floor, too. Its interior isn’t quite as swish, but we’d live with that for its many extra benefits.
Nissan Juke 1.0 DIG-T 117 N-Connecta, from £20,995
This latest Juke is light years ahead of its predecessor, with far more space and a much better interior. But as before, you get a welter of options for customisation, and it’s quite sweet to drive, especially in this manual form. This N-Connecta version is well equipped for the price, too.
Citroen C3 Aircross PureTech 110 Flair, from £20,520
A huge boot and magnificently flexible rear seats mean the C3 Aircross aces the Kamiq on versatility. It’s a more distinctive looking thing, too, inside and out; it’s just a shame the soggy suspension makes it a chore to drive, and while its interior looks funky, it feels rather cheap by comparison.
To talk all things motoring with the Telegraph Cars team join the Telegraph Motoring Club Facebook group here