First drive: Skoda Karoq
The eccentric Yeti hands the torch over to what looks like a baby-Kodiaq and listens to the name Karoq. This Bohemian VW Tiguan-derivative – or Czech SEAT Ateca, if you prefer – has a much more elegant and homogeneous appearance, whilst causing a commotion in the infotainment and practicality department.
The Kodiaq is the jewel in Skoda’s crown. With its seven-seat capacity, VW underpinnings and appealing aesthetics, it became an instant hit across Europe, with delivery delays reaching more than 6 months at a certain point. It’s a good thing, then, that VW’s Czech subsidiary chose the same design direction for its baby brother, featuring a wide radiator grille with black teeth, sleek headlights with a crystalline appearance, rounded-off squarish wheel arches and clean, tight surfaces. The rear seems a bit less inspired – a matter of ‘form follows function’ (see below), or fear of making this car sexier than a Tiguan?
Practicality, the Karoq’s middle name
Compared to the Yeti, the Karoq is no less than 16 cm longer, 6 cm of which are to be found between the front and rear axle. The rest is divided over the front and the rear overhang. Add to that a 5-cm wider platform and you get a boot capacity of 521 litres – an impressive value for a compact SUV of just 4.38 metres long. If moving stuff is your favourite pastime, then the Karoq could be your best friend: with the optional removable VarioFlex-seats, you can put 1,820 litres worth of cargo in the rear.
These flexible seats are just one of Skoda’s 20 “Simply Clever” solutions available either standard or as an option on the Karoq. Another one is the retractable parcel shelf, which can be attached to the tailgate to facilitate loading and unloading. Also worth mentioning: the high-vis vest holders in the front doors, which can hold a 1.5-litre bottle as well. Rear passengers will be delighted by the airplane-type foldable tables fixed to the back of the front seats. Indeed, Skoda wants to seduce both customers that today drive an MPV and those dreaming about weekend escapes involving light off-road pleasure.
Powertrains: frugal and still generous
The first car we grabbed the wheel of at the airport of Palermo, was a 150 hp 2.0 TDI 7-DSG 4x4 in Style outfit, currently the top-of-the-bill. This is probably not the version you will see most on European roads, with its 135 g/km CO2 rating (NEDC) and relatively hefty price-tag (about 29k excluding tax). It makes for an agreeably powerful, smooth and fuel-efficient combination. We also tried the FWD 110-hp 1.6 TDI in a less sumptuous trim level, which equally convinced us with its generosity and relative discretion, but its tall gear ratios mean you have to shift down multiple gears to pick up speed after decelerating.
Perhaps the most interesting engine we put through its paces was the newly-developed 1.5 TSI petrol, a masterpiece of modern engineering featuring cylinder deactivation, a variable geometry turbocharger (which is quite unique in this segment) and advanced thermal management. 150 hp, 250 Nm between 1,500 and 3,500 rpm, 8.6 seconds to accelerate to 100 km/h, and a CO2 rating of 127 g/km: these are outstanding figures. The petrol range starts with a 3-cylinder measuring 999 cc, incidentally. On paper, this 1.0 TSI is hardly more fuel efficient (121 g/km) whilst playing in a lower performance league – all the more proof of the incredible efficiency of the 1.5.
Family-oriented driving dynamics
Sicily’s roads are basically the opposite of Germany’s: they are mostly winding, relatively dangerous (gruesomely testified by roadkill) and quite badly maintained. The number of holes and bumps per kilometre must rank very high in Europe’s top 10. That doesn’t make the island a disagreeable place to be, let alone test a car – al contrario. Breath-taking landscapes and mild autumn temperatures are a treat for an inhabitant of the flat and wet lowlands. A fortiori, bumpy serpentine roads allow you to really assess road-holding and comfort – and indeed build quality.
Challenging as these roads may be, the Karoq kept its composure, helped by its soft and forgiving suspension. On longer repeated bumps the body started to bounce a bit, though. Pitch and roll are more pronounced than in the SEAT Ateca, too, but the latter is also less comfortable. The front wheels do as they are told by the steering wheel and the brakes leave nothing to be desired. If you are distracted and in danger of hitting another car, or even a pedestrian, the standard Front Assist (AEB) intervenes timely. Full LED headlights, adaptive cruise control, blind spot detection and lane keep assist are optional extras.
Connected and refined interior
The seats of the Karoq feature supportive contours, especially the high-end ones in the Style model. Taller persons would perhaps prefer a lower seating position, but you immediately feel at ease behind the wheel. The materials look and feel luxurious, even more so if you opt for leather seats. We were blown off ours by the Canton audio system – at 400-odd euros, this is a bargain. We honestly don’t see how other brands can ask 1k or more for sound systems that don’t perform better.
Another must-have in the Karoq is the Amundsen infotainment system with SmartLink phone mirroring, WiFi hotspot and dynamic route guidance using hi-resolution Google maps. Its capacitive touch screen is of an unseen sophistication – this is what you would expect in a VW Passat or even an Audi A6, not a compact Skoda. The same goes for the (optional) entirely digital instrument panel (like Audi’s virtual cockpit), which allows you to visualize the information you want – and how you want it. The system is nothing short of awesome – compared to this, the competitors’ analogue meters and gauges are prehistoric, really.
A well-built cross-over that looks good and drives well, boasting fuel-efficient powertrains, advanced connectivity and a full suite of advanced driver assistance systems… Sounds like the Karoq is going to shake up the C SUV segment, just like the Kodiaq is doing in the category above. It’s not the cheapest on the market – Skoda decided to launch the higher versions first – but we think its price-tag is justified. The degree of technical sophistication is unprecedented for a mainstream compact SUV.
Skoda has also thought of those millions of customers who like SUV design but do not want to compromise on practicality and flexibility in terms of seating. The three individual VarioFlex seats in the back are a real master stroke. We predicted the Kodiaq would become an instant hit. It’s a safe bet that the Karoq will even outsell its bigger brother. In fact, we believe the Nissan Qashqai, VW Tiguan and Peugeot 3008 should be very afraid of being kicked out of the European sales top three next year.
|MPV-like practicality, comfort and space||Tall gear ratios|
|Technical sophistication: infotainment and ADAS||No green powertrains (neither CNG nor hybrid)|
|Build quality, interior materials||Too soft suspension (for some)|