Skoda’s journey from being something of an automotive punchline to well respected family car maker will be studied in business classes for decades. Today, Skoda is at the hight of its power and genuinely produces some of the best equipment in its class. Case in point being the rather good Skoda Kamiq compact SUV. However, it did launch a few years ago, and competitors are always keen to catch up. Can this new Monte Carlo model deliver a winning hand?
Those whole know are initiated into the rough and tumble world of rally will know exactly why this new Kamiq trim level wears the Monte Carlo name. Strong success at the event for the Czech marque saw a special edition Fabia start the trend a few years ago. While Skoda aren’t planning to send a pumped-up Kamiq into the motorsport arena, it does serve to revive the sporty trim.
Some of these baby SUVs try a bit too hard to catch your eye in the showroom. Massive wheels, vivid paint and styling as inconspicuous as a banana boat – it can be a bit much. The Skoda Kamiq takes a more grownup approach, and while still a reasonably stylish item, comes across as sophisticated. A chiselled shape is complimented by a handful of clean lines to details its design. It’s not voluptuous like Alfa Romeo’s pending Tonale, but it is handsome in its own way.
The new Monte Carlo trim delivers a set of 18-inch Vega alloy wheels that have just the right proportions to fill those arches. You’ll notice that everything that was once chrome is now glassy black for a slightly more sinister look. The grille, roof bars, skirts and badging has all gone dark to provide a more sporty tone, something that looks great on the optional Race Blue of our test car.
That wraps up the visual changes, asides from the obligatory smattering of ‘Monte Carlo’ badging, of course. These additions are far from extensive, but these small tweaks do add up to a smart little SUV.
Monte Carlo cars are easily distinguished from their lesser siblings via the interior. Open the door and the first thing you’ll notice are those big bolstered sports seats. While this family car doesn’t really possess any high performance credentials, these black and red posts certainly set a tone. More importantly than looking good, they are plenty comfortable over long distances thanks to good lower back support.
The cabin has that typically Skoda durable feel to everything you touch. Sturdy construction and a solidity to cabin design gives plenty of reassurance that this car will stand the torture test of family life. There are enough premium materials to give it an upmarket feel, including faux carbon trim in this car, but hardier plastics are welcome where muddy shoes are likely to clip doors.
The somewhat boxy nature of the Kamiq is ideal for cabin space, and the large windows let in plenty of natural light. The rear bench seats three with excellent head room and a respectable level of leg room. As is typical in this class, the middle passenger does draw the short straw thanks to a protruding transmission hump in the floor.
A real ace of practicality up the Kamiq’s sleeve is its boot. Open the hatch to reveal a nice large aperture that makes life easy when lugging something heavy. A full 400-litres of space is great for everything from a substantial shop to a family dog. Better still, it comes with a compliment of chunky luggage hooks to stop bags from flying around the boot.
The new Monte Carlo trim is actually based on the favourite SE-L grade, meaning that it comes loaded with plenty of kit. Things like the highly configurable Virtual Cockpit, cruise control, lane assist, and a 9.2-inch touchscreen display come at no additional cost. Other niceties include a full length glass panoramic roof, LED lights, dynamic indicators and all of the aforementioned visual enhancements.
The infotainment system in this Kamiq isn’t actually the latest Volkswagen Group unit found in things like the Golf, and while some would typically argue that as a negative, in this case it isn’t. You see, as graphically impressive as the newer screen is, it’s far from the most ergonomic, and so the unit inside this Kamiq is actually better to use on the move. It’s responsive, features plenty of screen space and will play nice with smartphones. In fact, things like Apple CarPlay can function wirelessly. While occasionally slow to load first thing in the morning, a frustration when you’re eager to leave the driveway, all is smooth once up and running.
The 10.25-inch Virtual Cockpit is great and allows the driver to configure and customise the information housed within the instrument binnacle. From tech-heavy driving data to a neat map bookend by instruments, it’s pleasing in both form and function.
An option worth ticking is Skoda’s ‘Simply Clever Pack’ that adds a host of gadgets to solve everyday problems. An ice scraper hidden within the fuel door for emergencies, a deployable torch in the boot, a built-in funnel for windscreen wash refills and deployable door guards. You’ll take all of these for granted, but that’s sort of the point. Each is a genius little fix to a problem few other car manufacturers care for.
As interesting as the Monte Carlo trim might be, the real story here is a new 1.5-litre TSI engine option. The Kamiq launched with a really strong three-cylinder engine that proved it could punch above its weight. While it never felt lacking in grunt, this new 1.5 also found in the Golf 8 gives it longer legs. Now equipped with 250Nm of torque, this Kamiq is a much strong motorway proposition. This added mechanical muscle will get you up to a cruise with limited fuss, but also provide good low-down shove to make it an asset at junctions.
The new 148bhp unit can be had with an automatic or manual gearbox, with this example being the latter. It’s a nicely weighted shift, and while it can feel a little notchy at times, its six sensible ratios makes it well mannered. Drivetrain refinement is pretty good with the engine quietly humming along at a steady speed. It can sound coarse under hard acceleration, but generally things remain muted in the engine department.
There is some road noise that penetrates the cabin, something likely amplified by the 18-inch alloy wheels, which is a bit of a shame. That’ said the larger wheels don’t impede comfort with the suspension being pretty good at soaking up lumps in the road. At lower speeds the odd thud does make its way into the cabin, but that’s something seemingly overcome when traveling a bit faster.
It might say Monte Carlo on the badge, but as you likely already expect from a compact SUV, it is is no sports car. Credit where credit is due, it keeps body roll at bay impressively well for a higher riding car, but look elsewhere for driver engagement. The steering is accurate and predictable, but also devoid of feel and a bit light. Obviously, engineers have tuned this car for a life of parallel parking, but rivals such as the Ford Puma offer a bit more fun for those sat behind the wheel.
This particular Kamiq is front-wheel drive, but even on the rather icy roads of the past week, a sense of security dominated the drive. Ample grip and a continuous sense of composure makes for a relaxing and reassuring means of going about your business come rain or shine.
The Skoda Kamiq Monte Carlo adds a splash of sporty design to an extremely competent compact SUV. Let’s be honest if you’re buying any SUV you care for how it looks, and in this new trim the Skoda is arguably at its best. The additional equipment is welcome, as is the boost of charisma for the interior. There’s not much in it in terms of price between SE-L and Monte Carlo trims, and considering it’ll amount to the price of a coffee or two a month, we’d say it’s worth the upgrade. Just be mindful of the options list as it’s easy to get carried away.
At £25,350 this new engine option combined with the Monte Carlo trim is a bit on the pricey side, but the new 1.5-litre is certainly worthy of consideration in any guise. It’s smooth, flexible and is realistically capable of hitting the claimed 42-46mpg Skoda claims for this car.
The Kamiq is one of those cars that’s hard to knock in any devastating way. Skoda once again proving that it fully deserves the rejuvenation it has enjoyed.
Model tested: Skoda Kamiq 1.5 TSI Monte Carlo
Engine: 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo
Transmission: six-speed manual
Power / Torque: 148bhp / 250Nm
0-62mph: 8.3 seconds
Top speed: 132mph
Boot space: 400-litres