Skoda Karoq CZECH HOOK (72/100)
Skoda's Karoq is targeted right into the heart of the industry's fast-growing SUV 'C'-segment. Jonathan Crouch tries a 2.0 TDI 150PS 4x4 version to find out what this spacious 'Qashqai-class' Crossover has to offer.
Ten Second Review
Skoda's Karoq is a strong contender if you're looking for a spacious five-seat 'C'-segment SUV in the 'Qashqai-sized' crossver class. It gets all the latest Volkswagen Group technology, including a hi-tech MQB chassis and cutting-edge safety and infotainment features. In theory then, there's everything you might want from a modern family-sized Crossover of this kind. We tried the 2.0 TDI 150PS 4x4 version to find out if that's so.
One size fits all. It's a good concept, but it isn't always an ideal long term strategy. Skoda used to offer one car, the Yeti, for anyone who wanted any kind of compact SUV. These days though, the brand has specific models for specific areas of this growing segment. And if what you need is a Qashqai-class family hatch-based 'C'-segment SUV, what the Czech brand hopes you'll want is this model, the Karoq.
It's a half-size bigger than the Yeti was, making room for a smaller 'B'-segment Fabia supermini-based SUV to slot in beneath in the range as part of a now much more complete collection of Skoda crossovers. But how can the Karoq stand out from its many rivals? Skoda tells us that ride quality, versatility, value and practical family-friendliness are its core attributes. Plus there's the kind of up-market technology and infotainment connectivity that you might not expect from the brand. Will that all be enough to competitively take on the Qashqai-crowd? We tested a top 2.0 TDI 150PS 4x4 variant to find out.
On the move, there's nothing 'sporty' about the Karoq, but its ride and handling combination is truly impressive. The only rivals that can equal this car's supple suspension feel can't match the way it can attack the bends with confidence and even a few occasional flashes of enthusiasm. On the highway, refinement is impressive. In town, it's manoeuvrable and easy to park. And when you're pushing on, the drive dynamics are very difficult to tell apart from those of an Octavia family hatch. Buyers are offered a choice of 6-speed manual transmission or a 7-speed DSG auto.
We elected to try the 2.0-litre TDI engine. You can talk to your dealer about a 190PS version of this top unit but we're tested it in the 150PS guise that buyers are more likely to want. In a manual transmission 4WD variant, 62mph takes 8.7s en route to 121mph. And pulling power is rated at 340Nm, enough to facilitate a braked towing capacity to 2,000kgs, half a tonne more than you get further down the range. You'll need the 2.0 TDI powerplant if you want to specify 4WD in a Karoq and if you go for all-wheel traction, you'll also get more sophisticated multi-link rear suspension. Plus an extra 'Off-road' mode that focuses all the car's electronic systems for 'off piste' use. The 4x4 set-up is the usual 'on-demand'-style system that keeps the car front-driven until a lack of traction brings the rear wheels into play.
Design and Build
The Karoq is a substantial 315mm shorter than its lookalike Kodiaq SUV stablemate and significantly narrower and shorter too. Behind the wheel, the design team have delivered another very smartly turned-out Skoda cabin, interior being beautifully put together, smartly designed and easy on the eye. Distinctive brand touches start with the grey-ringed instrument dials you view through the smart three-spoke wheel. And continue with the way that the cabin abounds with plenty of the company's famed 'Simply Clever' design features, there to make life a bit easier.
The real cleverness here though, lies in the rear passenger compartment with something Skoda's particularly proud of, it's 'VarioFlex' seating system. This replaces the usual rear bench with three separate seats that can individually slide, recline or be removed altogether. If you only need space for two, the centre seat can be removed, allowing the two outer chairs to then be pushed up to 80mm further in towards the centre of the cabin, creating limousine-like levels of shoulder room. Out back, you'll get a 521-litre boot if you have the standard rear bench, but with the 'VarioFlex' rear seats fitted, you'll get a cargo bay that you can vary in size between 479 and 588-litres.
Market and Model
Prices for the 2.0 TDI 150PS 4x4 variant start from just over £25,000 for a base 'SE' variant, but if you go for a plusher trim level (there are 'SEL' and 'Edition' options) and/or add a few well-chosen extras, you'll probably be looking at close to around £30,000. Well worth having is the optional 'Skoda Connect services' package. This consists of two things; 'Infotainment Online' gives you online traffic information and can update you on things like fuel prices, parking spaces, current news and weather. Then there are the so-called 'CareConnect Services' which allow you to monitor your car from your smartphone, plus the set-up includes a breakdown call function and will automatically alert the emergency services if the airbags go off in an accident.
In terms of camera-driven safety features, the Karoq can offer far more than the brand's previous Yeti SUV model ever could. Every variant comes equipped with autonomous braking - a combination of the brand's 'Front Assist', City Emergency Brake' and 'Predictive Pedestrian Protection' systems. Buyers can also add in Blind Spot Monitoring, Traffic Sign Recognition', a 'Rear Traffic Alert' feature that'll warn you of oncoming traffic when you're reversing out of a space and a 'Driver Alert' system that watches for signs of drowsiness at the wheel. There's also 'ACC' 'Adaptive Cruise Control' and 'Lane Assist' and if you have both these features fitted, you can also have an 'Emergency Assist' feature whereby the vehicle will be brought to a safe, controlled stop, should the driver be in some way incapacitated.
Cost of Ownership
The old fashioned image of SUV vehicles being somewhat profligate when it comes to fuel economy certainly doesn't really apply to the Skoda Karoq. The 2.0 TDI 150PS 4x4 diesel variant we're looking at here manages 56.5mpg and 132g/km of CO2. As you'd expect in this day and age, there's a start/stop system that cuts the engine when you don't need it, stuck in traffic or waiting at the lights. And the optional DSG auto transmission is equipped with a 'coasting' function that at cruising speeds, will disconnect the gearbox, leaving the engine to idle until you next need it.
Like most modern diesels, all the TDI units on offer get a selective catalytic reduction filter to cut down on nitrous oxide and have been designed around the use of a urea-based solution called AdBlue. This is injected into the exhaust gas stream to help clean up emissions, the liquid used being stored in a 12-litre tank mounted at the rear beneath the boot. This will need topping up as part of regular servicing and you can monitor its status via dashboard display. Insurance is group 15E.
If you find yourself approaching this car a little cynically, then we'd understand. At first glance after all, it might be easy to dismiss it as just another quite forgettable European mid-sized fashion-orientated SUV. A necessary addition to the Czech brand's model range perhaps. But not the kind of product that could be in any way uniquely 'Skoda'.
Surprisingly though the Karoq turns out to be more than that. In the endearingly comfortable way that it drives and handles, it's a very recognisable ambassador for its brand. And the same is true when you come to examine the versatility and practicality of its class-leadingly-spacious cabin. The VarioFlex seats in particular are a design master-stroke that would really sell us this car. True, some rivals in this segment are undeniably more stylish to look at but if that's not an issue, you could see in this car a compelling mix of competence and desirability.