THE timing could have been planned right down to the day, let alone the month.
First week in April and the early Kodiak bears start emerging from their dens on the Alaskan island of the same name, where they have been isolated from other large predators for 12,000 years.
It coincides with the UK arrival of the latest new car model from Skoda, one with both a name and design inspired by the world’s largest bears.
And while there are but 3,500 of these big bruins living on the islands in the Kodiak Archipelago, Skoda is hoping its first seven-seater SUV will hit some high numbers of its own – in the sales charts.
Named the Kodiaq, the newcomer heralds a new wave of models aimed at accelerating the relentless progress made by the Volkswagen-owned Czech brand.
Facelifted versions of the popular Octavia family car, compact Rapid and its Sportback stablemate plus the Citigo city car are all due this year before an all-new Yeti crossover goes into production before Christmas.
For now though it’s all about the Kodiaq, and so positive have been the pre-launch vibes that 30,000 customers officially registered an interest in buying – even before they had seen a car in the metal.
From launch the Kodiaq will be up for grabs with a choice of five engines – three petrol and a pair of diesels – with power outputs from 125 to 190PS and four trim grades.
All the engines feature Stop-Start, transmissions are manual or DSG twin-clutch automatic and there’s both front-wheel and all-wheel drive.
Tough and muscular while transmitting an air of superiority – rather like its wilderness namesakes – the Kodiaq enters a fiercely contested area of the market, one populated by the likes of the Land Rover Discovery Sport, Ford Kuga, Mazda CX-5 and SEAT Ateca to name just four.
Mere styling won’t be sufficient to guarantee sales so Skoda has ensured the car’s driving experience is matched by practicality, the latest tech and the sort of simple but effective touches that can tip the balance in the Kodiaq’s favour.
The latter features fall under Skoda’s banner of Simply Clever and among 30 common sense ideas are pre-loaded springs which prevent the metal edges of the doors from scraping a wall or other vehicles and a brolley hidden in each front door panel.
Every model, from entry level S which starts at £21,545 up to flagship Edition grade with 4×4, comes extensively kitted out and has LED daytime running lights, alloy wheels, air-con, digital radio, touchscreen info set-up and SmartLink phone connectivity as standard.
Skoda also intends to add a SportLine trim later in the year as well as a Scout model with the emphasis on off-road ability.
Regards space, the Kodiaq may be only 40mm longer than the Octavia but it has an above average interior for the type of car, particularly when it comes to head and legroom.
In addition, the middle seat row can be folded 60:40, can slide by 180mm, has individually adjustable backrests and with all the seats folded there’s a cavernous load volume of 2,065 litres, which Skoda says ensures the largest boot in its class.
On the downside the centre middle passenger can feel perched and has to travel with legs either side of the transmission tunnel and the third row pair of seats – which fold away into the floor – are realistically only for kids.
Of the Kodiaq’s engine line-up, the more powerful of the two 1.4-litre TSI petrol units (there’s also a 2.0 TSI with 180PS of wallop) was the one that impressed the most on an extensive press exercise from Bath out into Somerset and through the Mendip Hills.
With 150PS on tap and Active Cylinder Technology it felt strong, well balanced and comfortable to drive as well as being agile through some of the fast country lanes and averaged 39 miles per gallon – which compared favourably with the official Combined figure of 44.8mpg.
The cloth seats were nicely bolstered and the DSG transmission seamless in a car that has a fresh, well put together and upmarket feel to it. In SE trim, one up from basic, it represents plenty of car for the £25,300 list price.
We also tried the top spec 2.0 TDI 150PS DSG Edition variant costing £32,565, which comes loaded to the hilt with kit and a claimed 56.5mpg.
It’s slower on the uptake than the petrol version and less enjoyable to drive – even if you do travel in leather-clad luxury.
Making its debut on the Kodiaq is Skoda Connect with its live journey information and the line-up also has new features like Trailer Assist and Area View while there’s also Front Assist with City Emergency Brake on all models.
Various extra cost options are also available in a 24-strong Kodiaq range – so there’s plenty of choice in a line-up that seems sure to prove a big success.