Skoda's Kodiaq 2.0 has seven seats, nine airbags and innovative features which no competitor has
Skoda's Kodiaq 2.0 gets smart The Kodiaq drives more like a sporty hatchback than an SUV, with quick and sharp steering. ST PHOTO: BENJAMIN SEETOR

When an automaker has a tagline which says Simply Clever, it had better deliver on it. Because it is simply too easy to spot an empty promise on wheels.

As it turns out, the first Skoda to land here after a four-year absence - the Kodiaq compact seven-seat crossover - is rather clever.

Making a compact seven-seat crossover in itself is already a feat. Measuring 4,697mm long and 1,882mm wide, the Kodiaq's footprint is not much bigger than a Honda Civic's. Yet, its wheelbase is longer than the wheelbase of Lexus' RX350L - a far bigger seven-seater.

Granted, the Kodiaq is not a full-blown seven-seater, but neither is the RX350L. Its last row is best reserved for small children.

The second and third rows in the Kodiaq can be folded completely flat to free up an enormous amount of luggage

The Skoda is quite a hoot at the wheel. Along with its relative compactness, the 2-litre variant tested here has a lively turbo-charged engine mated to an all-wheel-drive system.

The result is an impressively high level of deftness and driveability. Even against similar-sized SUVs in the Volkswagen Group (which Skoda belongs to), the Kodiaq manages to stand out.

It drives more like a sporty hatchback than an SUV, with a disciplined chassis delivering crisp handling and controlled body movements. Its steering is quick and sharp, and the car executes as neat a turn-in as a lower-slung car with a shorter wheelbase.

Folks who loathe SUVs because they tend to compromise on road dynamics will have very little to complain about with this Skoda.

space. It comes with a netting system to keep loose items from rolling about.

This way, the Kodiaq appeals to those who want the utility of a wagon and the capacity of a seven-seater.

It is pretty amazing on the performance front too. With 211hp and 320Nm of torque from 1,400rpm, it delivers an 8.2-second century sprint and a top speed of 205kmh.

It is nothing to shout about in today's context, except that the Kodiaq actually feels significantly quicker. There is not a hint of hesitation in the way it responds to throttle inputs, regardless of engine speed.

But the Czech car's cleverness is best illustrated by smaller functions. Its start button is located on the steering column, where the ignition key usually goes. Not only is this intuitive, it frees up space on the fascia and centre console. Its doors are equipped with door edge protection - a plastic strip which pops out when the door is opened and retracts when it is closed.

The front doors retain their built-in umbrella slots, a feature Skoda pioneered more than a decade ago.

The Kodiaq is also among very few models in its segment to offer wireless phone-charging.

The 2-litre version comes with nine airbags, adaptive cruise control, auto-hold function, hands-free tailgate, memory seats and park assist.

The car's build quality exceeds expectations too. Fit and finish, noise insulation and overall refinement are comparable with what Volkswagen products offer.

Its $161,900 tag is decent for such a well-equipped car. Those wanting more value can pick the 1.4-litre - $31,000 cheaper, but just as clever.