Proving Grounds: 2023 Skoda Kodiaq first drive review
It was my first time at NATRAX, and things were going to get even more exciting. I had been invited to the hallowed automotive grounds to experience the 2023 Skoda Kodiaq, which gets a few changes but largely remains the same as before. The updates include the BS6.2 compliant 2.0-litre TSI engine, the door edge protector (which makes a comeback!), cool-looking finlets for the rear spoiler, and a lounge step for the middle row of seats. All of this has bumped up the starting price to Rs 37.99 lakh, which goes up to Rs 41.39 lakh (ex-showroom). With that out of the way, it was time to do what I was there for – experience Skoda India’s flagship SUV at NATRAX. For the uninitiated, NATRAX is India’s biggest automotive testing facility – a 3000-acre campus with all kinds of test tracks and labs, including a high-speed oval, braking tracks, off-road tracks, just to name a few.
We got to take the Kodiaq around the high-speed track (HST) and the off-road tracks. The HST is a massive, 11.3km oval with four lanes and banked corners that lets you drive as fast as your skills allow. For us the rules were simple – stick to the third lane and accelerate gradually, and slow down as instructed. Time to get into the Kodiaq, buckle up and get going. Since we had to be gradual, this wasn’t the time for an acceleration test. However, we were still gaining speed fairly quickly. We reached a top speed of 215kmph before the first oval and the Kodiaq felt quite stable even at that speed.
There’s not much around the HST that lets you perceive speed the way you are used to. You barely have a fleeting blur of a tree or the surveillance camera poles. No matter how fast you have driven on public roads before, going that fast at NATRAX is a surreal experience, at least due to its novelty. At those speeds, you have to be super gentle with the inputs. Approaching the first oval at 215kmph, I was slightly nervous. The key is to not look straight, but around the bend – look where you want to go. The banks need you to turn the steering wheel oh-so-slightly, and the corner goes by before you even realise it. I also had a chance to drive the Slavia around the HST. After I was done, I couldn’t help but feel that both the cars had been put on a leash from the factory, and were capable of more. Many reasons for a manufacturer to do so, including safety.
Speaking of which, both the cars, and the Kushaq, have a five-star NCAP rating. This is partly because of features such as airbags (up to nine on the Kodiaq, and up to six on the Slavia/Kushaq), traction control and brake vectoring but mainly has to do with the solid platform and strong body structure that is capable of absorbing impacts instead of transferring them into the cabin. Safety is something we cannot harp on enough and we are glad manufacturers like Skoda are bringing safer cars for India.
Coming back to the drive, it was time to do the dirt tango with the Kodiaq. This was my first time and I was glad to have an instructor guiding me. It took me about 20 minutes to cross the off-road track which had me going from side to side, and front to back on the driver’s seat. Of course, I also had the chance to tip the Kodiaq onto three wheels a couple of times. A bit scary at first but the car did it all without batting an eyelid. What made it even easier was the dedicated off-road button, all-wheel-drive and driving profiles. The course ended and my time at NATRAX was up. Until the next time!