New model action, for obvious reasons, has been pretty subdued this year, but small SUVs have defied the gloom, with new models and updates hitting the market during the long, dark Covid winter.
Notable arrivals include Nissan’s Juke, the Ford Puma and Toyota Yaris Cross. With drive-away prices starting in the mid-high $20K zone, the small SUV field now offers lots of choice and — if you know where to look — good value, too.
Skoda’s Kamiq shares familial DNA and hardware with Volkswagen’s 2020 arrivals, T-Cross and T-Roc. However, as is usually the case with Skoda, it has enough points of difference to make it more than just a badge-engineering exercise.
We’re testing the base model 85TSi Kamiq. It runs the same 85kW 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbopetrol/seven-speed dual-clutch automatic/front-wheel drive set-up as the T-Cross and Polo hatchback. Its $29,990 drive away price is within small change of most rivals, and if you like to change gears yourself you can have the six-speed manual for $2000 less.
Size-wise, its wheelbase — the measure that determines interior space — is longer than both T-Cross and T-Roc and closer to the next size up Tiguan. So rear seat legroom and boot capacity are at the expansive end of the class.
You won’t find a $30K drive-away rival with more luxe or tech than Kamiq. Adaptive cruise, customisable digital readouts in front of the driver, slick, hi-res touchscreen infotainment, wireless phone charging, dual-zone aircon, keyless entry and starting, a power tailgate and 18-inch alloys are standard. Clever, practical Skoda touches include a removable torch, double-sided floor mat and load restraining nets in the boot, a brolly in the driver’s door and ticket holder on the windscreen.
Tall drivers can get comfortable without restricting rear seat legroom for passengers. Two Type C USB sockets, vents and storage pockets/door bins are also provided in the back, and the high, firm seat is well suited to kids.
Stand-alone voice control and navigation are missing; you can use both functions in your phone via the two Type C USB connectors on the dash. The control layout is stylish, efficient and intuitive, apart from clumsy, complicated touch screen adjustment for some aircon and weak, patchy AM reception.
Kamiq feels slightly stiffer in the suspension than the T-Cross, and runs low profile tyres on 18-inch wheels. Its ride is tolerable though quite firm in town; comfort improves at speed and the suspension works particularly well on rough country roads.
Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert — standard on Toyota’s C-HR — can only be had as part of a bling-heavy $4100 option package.
The Kamiq’s 1.0-litre turbo triple is the little engine that could. It has amazing grunt for its size and does the business willingly and efficiently in town, albeit with an occasional case of the yips due to a slightly tardy automatic stop/start fire up and the seven-speed’s hesitation when moving off from rest.
It’s shifting just 1211kg, so once mobile Kamiq gets along smartly with a typically gruff three-cylinder note under acceleration. The auto keeps it in the broad mid-range sweet spot with crisp, timely shifts. The 0-100km/h trip takes a leisurely 10 seconds.
That said, it cruises easily at 100km/h where it’s also remarkably smooth and quiet for a small SUV.
It’s also frugal, averaging mid-fours on the highway and single figures in town. Premium fuel is recommended.
Kamiq’s longer wheelbase, firmer suspension and grippier Goodyear tyres give it a sportier, more planted attitude in corners than the T-Cross, with the only whinge of note being overassisted steering at highway speeds.
It’s certainly one of the frontrunning handlers in this class. The once canyon-like gap in dynamic ability between small SUVs and hatchbacks is shrinking fast, and Kamiq is a prime example.
The name “Kamiq” is Inuit for “something that fits as perfectly as a second skin in every situation.” People will think I’m really interesting when I tell them that.
Small SUVs often don’t deliver on the extra space for extra dollars promise, but this one does, and it’s a great deal at the price, too.
Kamiq’s drive-away value proposition is a standout in this crowded class. It’s a Goldilocks price/size/specification package, and one of the better drives.
Kia Seltos, from $29,290 plus on roads
Base Seltos uses a 110kW 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated petrol/CVT. Seven years warranty, runs on regular unleaded. Driver assist safety tech package is a $1000 option.
Nissan Juke ST, from $30,490 drive away
Juke also runs an 85kW 1.0-litre turbo triple/seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Slightly smaller than Kamiq and a tidy drive. Comprehensive safety spec standard.
SKODA KAMIQ VITALS
Price: $29,990 drive away
Warranty/servicing: 5 years; $1400 for 5 years/75,000km
Engine: 1.0-litre 3-cyl turbo, 85kW/200Nm
Safety: 5 stars, 7 airbags, auto emergency braking, adaptive cruise, lane-keep assist
Spare: Space saver