'Simply Clever' is Skoda’s slogan. And in the case of the all-new 2018 Skoda Karoq, it rings true on both counts. It is both simple and clever.
The Czech brand is calling the Karoq the spiritual successor to the Skoda Yeti, the boxy yet cavernous crossover that seemed to have limitless interior space. Gone, of course, is the quirkiness of the Yeti. In its place is a far more conventional looking mid-sized SUV. But that doesn’t mean the Karoq has lost any of the practicality its ‘spiritual’ forebear wore so well.
Skoda is keeping the Karoq simple with just a single variant, available with either a manual or DSG transmission. It’s that simple.
Skoda has cleverly priced the six-speed manual at $29,990 (plus on-roads) to sneak under that $30K psychological barrier. The seven-speed DSG variant asks for $32,290 (plus on-road costs). And, as is the Skoda way, your money buys you a lot of standard equipment.
In base trim, the Karoq rides on 17-inch alloy wheels and has tyre pressure monitoring, keyless entry and start, an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, eight-speaker audio system, rear parking sensors, dual-zone climate control, LED daytime-running lights, LED ambient interior lighting, privacy glass, and an electric parking brake.
Throw in automatic headlights and wipers, front fog lights, a three-spoke leather sports multi-function steering wheel, silver roof rails, two tablet holders for back-row passengers, and a handy and thoughtful double-sided mat in the luggage compartment.
In terms of safety and driver assistance, the Karoq comes as standard with autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, driver fatigue monitor, seven airbags, and a rear-view camera.
Those wanting to up-spec their Karoq can opt for just three options packs – to add a bit of luxury you can tick the Premium Pack ($3600) box, which includes full-LED headlights with adaptive front lights, leather-appointed upholstery (cloth trim is standard), 18-inch alloys (over the standard 17s), front parking sensors, automatic tailgate, and steel pedals.
The Tech Pack ($3200) brings a gesture-operated tailgate, the 9.2-inch satellite-navigation system with gesture control and 10 years of MapCare, Park Assist 3.0 for parallel, parallel exit, reverse and forward perpendicular parking, a 10-speaker Canton sound system, selectable driving modes, configurable vehicle set-up via key, wireless smartphone charging, and DAB+ digital radio.
And if driver assist systems are at the top of your shopping list, adding the Travel Pack ($1700) adds lane assist, blind-spot assist and rear cross-traffic alert, as well as an electric driver's seat with memory, auto-folding and auto-dimming side mirrors with memory and courtesy lighting, along with heated front seats.
And, for those early adopters out there, there is a limited run of the Launch Pack ($8900, 260 units), which combines the above packages into one. Enticingly, the Launch Pack also includes the three-year/45,000km service package (valued at $1078), but doesn't include the 10-speaker Canton sound system. Our test car at launch was fitted with the Premium and Travel packs, bringing the as-tested price to $38,290 (plus on-roads).
Powered by a 1.5-litre turbo-petrol engine with modest outputs of 110kW and 250Nm, the Karoq isn’t going to scare the punters at Wednesday night’s street drags. However, those outputs come on song at some pretty handy and usable levels, with peak power between 5000–6000rpm and the entire slab of torque is yours to be had from just 1500rpm through to 3500rpm.
That’s certainly a sweet spot for most driving situations, and helps to make this medium SUV a pretty fun thing to drive. The benchmark 0–100km/h sprint can be achieved in 8.4 seconds, and that feels about right. Top speed is rated at 215km/h, for those who like to know such things. It’s not important, though.
On the road, the Karoq displays the levels of refinement we’ve come to expect from this Czech outlier brand. The ride errs on the side of comfort, not a bad thing in this segment. It’s soft, but not wallowy, and it eats up imperfections with barely a ripple. And take on any of Sydney’s larger traffic impediments, such as speed humps, and the Karoq settles quickly back down to the road. There’s no jiggling, no bouncing, just a simple up/down motion and you’re on your way again.
Dynamically, too, the Karoq is perfectly adept. Realistically, you’re not going to be carving corners in this mid-sized SUV, but if the fancy takes you, know that the Karoq is happy to play along with an assuredness that inspires confidence. The weather gods weren’t kind to Skoda during the launch this week, and despite its front-wheel-drive underpinnings (there is an AWD variant coming in 2019, we’ve been told), the Karoq remained unflustered and unflappable. Body roll, too, was minimal.
The steering is nicely weighted and very direct, and also provides nice feedback from the front wheels directly to your hands. Torque steer? We certainly didn’t experience any.
That 1.5-litre petrol engine is a perfectly capable mill, quiet and refined with enough push for most situations. Sure, it’s no traffic light grand prix winner, but then it’s not meant to be. Poke? You've got it. A bit of punch when needed? Hmmm, almost. There’s certainly enough torque on tap to dispense with most overtaking manoeuvres or required bursts of acceleration. Won’t throw you back in your seat, though.
The seven-speed DSG is a delight too. Gone is the laggy, lurchy double-clutch application of days gone by. This iteration is smooth and linear, and offers the right ratio for the right occasion. Mostly. A couple of times, when trying to find a bit more power uphill, the DSG did pause for a smidge too long before shuffling down and delivering that much-needed burst of power. By no means a glaring issue, though.
Skoda claims a miserly 5.8L/100km fuel consumption on the combined cycle, and the news here is good too, with our launch run covering a couple of hundred kays of mixed conditions returning 6.3L/100km. And that included some enthusiastic driving, shall we say.
Inside, the Karoq is well-appointed and with a cabin that belies its sub-$30K starting price point. The materials are of good quality and practicality abounds.
The seating position is nice and high (it can be raised or lowered to suit your stature) and offers great all-round visibility. Comfortable too. The steering wheel is familiar if you’ve ever sat in a recent Volkswagen group car, but it’s stylish and nicely weighted.
There are the usual accoutrements of clever touches – from the little rubbish bin in the driver’s door pocket, to the dashtop storage unit that is deceptively large and can carry all manner of objects, although we’d venture there’d be some rolling around that could get annoying.
The 8.0-inch infotainment screen is straight out of the VAG playbook, which is to say it’s excellent. There’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard, although you’ll have to opt for the Tech Pack to score proprietary sat-nav. Skoda’s now ubiquitous umbrella can be found under the front passenger seat.
The second row offers plenty of space, certainly in leg, toe and knee room. And head room is plentiful. Comfortable too. And more cleverness can be found with two smartphone/tablet holders integrated into the backs of the front seats.
And it’s in the second row where the Karoq’s party trick shines. Thanks to Skoda’s Vario Flex system, the Karoq can be configured as a five-, four-, three- or even two-seater, should the need arise. That back row of individual seats (split 40/20/40) can be either flipped forward entirely to free up boot space, or if you’re really in need of some load-lugging capacity, it can be removed either entirely or individually. It’s clever and easy to use, and it makes a whole heap of sense.
The boot space also features plenty of party tricks. From the LED lighting that can be removed to become a handy torch, to the Velcro-secured fasteners that stop your stuff floating around. The boot mat, too, is carpeted on one side for when you’re feeling fancy, or plastic on the other for when your stuff is muddy and you just don’t want to spoil that nice pile finish.
Boot space? There’s a mountain of it. From a conservative 479L with the back row in its rearmost position to 588L should you deem leg room isn’t a crucial concern for passengers three, four and five. Flip the back seats forward, though, and there’s 1605L to play with, while removing them entirely, as per Vario Flex trickery, and 1810L is your domain. It’s a lot of room to stow your stuff. Clever.
The Skoda Karoq is covered by the company’s standard five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, while servicing intervals remain at 12 months/15,000km. There’s five years’ roadside assistance too. Servicing costs seem reasonable, with the first six scheduled maintenance calls setting you back $288, $363, $427, $583, $427 and $433 for a total of $2521 over the first six years.
Skoda has entered the mid-sized SUV fray with a genuine contender – a well-priced, well-specced family hauler that feels premium and handles itself with aplomb on the road, and that comfortably straddles the gap between more mainstream brands and Euro luxury.
Sure, some of those endearing styling quirks that make Skoda, well, Skoda, are gone, but in their place the Karoq delivers on practicality, performance and price. And you still get an umbrella.