If I'd asked you a decade ago to tell me the first thing that popped into your mind when I mentioned Skoda, I'd have been able to take a pretty good stab at what your response would be.
"What's a Skoda?"...
But fast-forward to 2021 and that's changed entirely. Skodas are now seen as lots of things - sensible, practical, clever, good value - but most important of all, they're just seen.
The Kodiaq is big, but Skoda has since been applying its SUV skillset to vehicles much smaller - like this, the Kamiq, which we've just taken into our CarsGuide garage.
And while we'll drill down on the specifics in just a moment, I can give you a headstart by saying that, so far, it's delivered the same satisfaction levels as its bigger sibling - it's smaller, yes, but no less clever.
We've got plenty of time to get to know each other, of course, so let's start from the beginning. The vehicle you see here is the Kamiq 110TSI Monte Carlo, finished in Moon White. It will set you back $34,190 - or $36,990 drive-way - but a little more again if you want the options this one has been equipped with.
That makes it a pretty sizeable jump over the the entry-level Kamiq 85 TSI, which is $27,990 drive-away with a manual gearbox, or $29,990 drive-away with an automatic.
Skoda will encourage you to make that leap with a burst of extra grunt, and a bounty of goodies. And it's inside where the niceties are most keenly felt.
Usually the Skoda Kamiq is equipped with an 8.0-inch screen, but ours is fitted with a bigger 9.2-inch screen with navigation - part of a $4300 Travel Pack that also includes Automatic Parking Assist, blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, a better stereo, heated seats in the front and rear, flappy paddles on the steering wheel and Wireless Apple Car Play (which can remember two different phones). The Travel Pack, I think, is a necessary investment for maximum driver enjoyment, but it and the Metallic Paint ($550) do lift the Kamiq's RRP price to harder-to-swallow $39,040.
Still, leave the options list aside and you still get lots of stuff. All Kamiqs get LED rear lights, roof rails, ambient lighting in the cabin, the very cool Virtual Cockpit (which digitises the driver's binnacle), Apple CarPlay and Android Auto with wireless charging that pairs with an eight-speaker stereo, dual-zone climate and keyless entry.
Our Monte Carlo then builds on that, from the black 18-inch alloy wheels and panoramic glass roof to the adaptive LED headlights, and a sportier chassis set-up and multiple driving modes. You also get sports sears, blacked-out exterior elements, and sportier pedals.
Importantly, the Monte Carlo also delivers you more power, upping the engine to a turbocharged 1.5-litre petrol, and the grunt to a useable 110kW and 250Nm. The 85TSI, for reference, uses a 1.0-litre engine and delivers 85kW and 200Nm.
That's a whole lot a data, I know, but it's all important. But even more so is how that translates in the rear world.
The simple truth is that the Skoda has proved pretty much flawless over my first month with the car, and feels - dare I say it - decidedly premium from front to back, inside and out.
I've knocked off over 1000kms to date, and my earliest impressions are of some real quality here. It feels bigger and more solidly built than its dimensions suggest, and there's a heft to the steering - and even a thickness to the steering wheel - that constantly delivers this sense of quality.
The extra power is a bonus, too. I'm yet to drive the 85 TSI version, but the 250Nm on offer here feels perfectly suited to the Kamiq, and combined with its bite-sized dimensions and sportier set-up, provides genuine engagement and control from behind the wheel. It's not a performance car, but it does offer a sense of connection to the road beneath you that can sometimes be missing from this segment.
The 110TSI pairs with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, which at speed performs very well, but whether it's the gearbox or the turbocharged power delivery, there can be some confusion from low speed, resulting in an occasionally jerky (and even wheel-spinning if you're pointed up hill) take-off that takes some getting used to, but you do get used to it, and leaving the gearbox in its Normal mode (Sport is also an option) and being gentle with the acceleration does result in smoother starts.
So far, so good, then, with the Skoda Kamiq Monte Carlo. It feels a quality option in the segment, even if it does require some extra spend to climb into it. Will these happy feelings last? Stay tuned...
Acquired: April 2021
Distance travelled this month: 1081km
Average fuel consumption for April: 10.0L/100