It’s become a well-worn cliché, ‘Simply Clever’, as it relates to vehicles made by the Czech brand Skoda. But clichés are clichés for a reason – because they are true. And in the case of the relaunched and expanded Skoda Karoq line-up, that simple truth remains.
Skoda first launched the Karoq in 2018 with just a single variant, the 110TSI. Now, the medium-SUV combatant has been refreshed for 2020, the 110TSI receiving a new engine and transmission, and is joined in the Karoq line-up by the meatier 140TSI SportLine.
Skoda has always prided itself on being a little bit different, even if the Czech brand has in recent years succumbed to SUV-mania. Yet, when Skoda did take the leap into the high-riding crossover pool, it did so with its typical flair for being just a little bit, well, clever.
The 2020 Skoda Karoq range kicks off with the 110TSI at $32,990 plus on-road costs. That’s exactly $7000 cheaper than the newcomer to the Karoq range, the 140TSI Sportline 4x4 that asks for $39,990 plus on-roads.
And you get a lot of Karoq for your money. Standard equipment highlights include LED daytime running lights, fog lights, privacy glass, silver roof rails, leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, an 8.0-inch hi-res touchscreen with Bluetooth connectivity and smartphone mirroring, and Virtual Cockpit digital driver display.
Skoda is big on bundling option packs, and in the case of the Karoq, there are three to be had. You can option them individually, or you can bundle all three together and enjoy a hefty discount. Separately, the Premium Pack ($3700), Tech Pack ($4200) and Travel Pack ($3800) would want for $11,700. However, bundling all three for $8500 represents a healthy saving of $3200. Could be worth considering if you must have all the fruit in your Karoq.
The Premium Pack brings niceties like leather upholstery, electrically adjustable driver’s seat with memory functions, heated front seats, and auto-folding door mirrors. It also adds some key safety tech such as rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring, and lane-keeping assist.
You’ll want this if safety is key to your purchasing decision. The Skoda Karoq wears a five-star ANCAP rating awarded in 2018. While it scored well in crash protection – 93 per cent for adult occupant, 79 per cent for child occupant and 73 per cent for pedestrian – it only scored a pass mark in terms of safety tech with a score of 58 per cent, with ANCAP noting that while it had AEB as standard, other technologies needed to be optioned.
Adding the Travel Pack brings full LED headlights, 18-inch wheels, a powered tailgate, and sporty-looking stainless steel pedals. It also adds front parking sensors to complement the standard-fit rear parking sensors.
The Tech Pack is as it says, brimming with enhanced niceties like a 9.2-inch hi-res touchscreen with integrated satellite navigation, a premium sound system including DAB+ radio, wireless phone charging, virtual pedal that opens the auto tailgate by you waving a foot under the rear bumper, parking assist, and the ability to set up three different driver profiles.
Inside, the Karoq presents a very Euro style. There are plenty of softer touchpoints, while the materials feel plush. Everything is logically laid out and intuitive, including the infotainment operating system. Apple CarPlay is seamless and quick to fire up, although it’s worth mentioning that in the 140TSI SportLine, it proved a little glitchy, trying multiple times to connect before giving up.
The solution was the good old tech support standard ‘did you try switching it off and on again?’. Turning off the ignition and then starting again fixed the problem. Happened a couple of times, though. It should be noted it didn’t happen in the 110TSI, which worked faultlessly, so we’ll chalk it up to a glitch in that particular car. Simple fix, one imagines.
In terms of creature comforts, the Karoq features dual-zone climate control, with vents but no separate controls for the second row. There are no USB points in the second row either, although you do score a pair of cupholders, and some integrated holders for your devices that can easily easily accommodating a smartphone or standard-sized tablet. The kiddies will love it.
Skoda’s quirky touches abound, with an umbrella stowed under the passenger seat and the neat little rubbish bins in the door pockets. There’s also a slot for the key nestled in the centre console. It’s amazing how many manufacturers don’t provide this little convenience.
The boot carries the obligatory Skoda torch and comes equipped with three cargo nets, which can be configured flat or upright in any number of ways to securely hold your stuff. Again, clever. A space-saver spare lives under the floor.
Before we hit the road, it’s worth noting some dimensions. The Karoq is unashamedly a medium SUV vying for buyer consideration in a field liberally sprinkled with mines. For its part, Skoda considers the Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson and Mazda CX-5 as main rivals.
Interestingly, the Karoq is smaller in every measure than those contenders. Measuring in at 4382mm long, 1841mm wide and 1603mm tall, the Karoq is dwarfed by all three rivals. And yet, despite its diminutive stature when standing alongside those three, Skoda has managed to package the Karoq so that its interior space – and thus, comfort – is measurably superior to all three.
Starting in the front row, the Karoq offers a width of 1486mm (Sportage 1450mm/Tucson 1450mm/CX-5 1450mm), and a decent 1022mm of head room (Sportage 998mm/Tucson 1005mm/CX-5 998mm).
It’s much the same tale in the second row, where the Karoq’s back seat passengers enjoy a width of 1451mm (Sportage 1400mm/Tucson 1410mm/CX-5 1392mm). Only in terms of second-row head room does the Karoq cede some ground to two of its rivals with 993mm (Sportage 1054mm/Tucson 995mm/CX-5 991mm).
But perhaps the Karoq’s biggest win comes in terms of load-lugging capacity. Thanks to rear seats that slide fore and aft, as well as fold forward not once but twice, the second fold tucking them away into the floor space of that second row, the Karoq’s boot capacity spans from 588L to 1605L. The Sportage offers 466–1455L, Tucson 488–1478L, and CX-5 442–1342L.
Better still, thanks to Skoda’s ‘VarioFlex’ seating system that means the second-row seats can be removed entirely, quickly and easily, the Karoq’s cargo area offers a whopping 1810L capacity. Clever.
First Karoq off the rank is the 110TSI. It’s out with the old and in with the new under the bonnet. Whereas the incumbent featured a 1.5-litre turbo four mated to a seven-speed DSG transmission, the 2020 update sees a complete overhaul of the powertrain. Now powered by a 1.4-litre turbo four, outputs haven’t diminished despite the reduced engine capacity.
Making the same 110kW and 250Nm as previously, drive is sent to the front wheels through a new Aisin-sourced eight-speed conventional auto. And right off the bat, it’s a belter of a combination. A 0–100km/h claim of 8.8 seconds isn’t particularly rapid, but it's quick enough for most applications. Tellingly, and for context only, it’s quicker off the mark than its three main rivals by 1.2s (Sportage), 1.1s (Tucson) and 0.3s (CX-5).
Sure, it’s no performance crossover, but acceleration, whether from standstill or on the move, is linear, predictable and fast enough to not cause concern. The new eight-speed auto is at once intuitive and adept at ensuring you’re always in the right gear. Gear changes are smooth and barely felt, while its intuitive demeanour never leaves you wanting for a different ratio.
Sling it at some corners, as I did, and the Karoq in this spec makes a decent fist of being an enjoyable thing to fling around. There’s a predictability to the powertrain and the Karoq’s chassis and suspension tune that’s hard not to like. There’s no wallowing and no excessive body roll, despite the 110TSI having no sporting pretensions.
The ride remains comfortable, even on those optional 18-inch alloys. It’s neither too soft nor too firm, the 110TSI simply feels a lot plusher on the road than its pricepoint suggests. Road noise, too, is minimal, even over coarse-chip surfaces.
Around town, too, the Karoq 110TSI more than proves its mettle as an urban-focussed crossover SUV. Its small exterior dimensions make navigating urban enclaves a breeze, while parking is a doddle. Speed humps, potholed roads, and the usual detritus of our crappy roads are navigated easily, the Karoq settling quickly and with minimal fuss.
Skoda claims the Karoq in 110TSI trim gets by on 6.6L/100km of 95RON. After a day behind the wheel covering around 250km of urban, country and highway running, we saw an indicated 6.3L/100km. Bravo.
With the charming 110TSI back in the garage, it was time to try the new kid on the block, the far sportier 140TSI SportLine. Visually, it’s distinguished by a SportLine-specific front bumper, black roof rails, 19-inch polished black alloys, tinted windows, a rear bumper in body colour with an integrated diffuser, black mirror caps and a black grille surround. It certainly looks a whole lot sportier than its tamer sibling.
Inside, the SportLine is distinguished by its perforated leather steering wheel with paddle shifters, carbon door trims, some piano black accents, and a smattering of SportLine branding.
In terms of bundling options, the SportLine can be had with a Tech Pack ($4100) and the Travel Pack ($2600).
The Tech Pack is the same as can be found on the 110TSI, but the Travel Pack is a conglomeration of some of the features found in the 110TSI’s Premium and Travel packs. In this SportLine it adds adaptive chassis control with dynamic steering, blind-spot detection, lane-keeping assist, as well as front and rear heated seats. Again, if safety is your primary focus, the Travel Pack is a box worth ticking.
Under the bonnet lies a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine with a petrol particulate filter. Outputs are rated at 140kW and 320Nm. It’s mated to a seven-speed DSG (dual-clutch) auto sending those outputs to all four wheels.
Straight off the bat, it’s clear this is a different animal. Even at idle, there is a delicious thrumminess to the engine that bubbles away quietly (albeit with in-cabin sound enhancement). Skoda reckons the 140TSI is good for a sprint to 100km/h in around 7.0 seconds, and that feels about right by the seat of the pants.
There’s certainly an eagerness from the SportLine when moving away from standstill. Overtakes on the move are a doddle. The seven-speed DSG is fine for the most part, although it’s not as intuitive as the eight-speed torque converter ’box found in its 110TSI sibling. On more than one occasion when driving uphill, it was found wanting, taking several moments too long to change to a lower gear. Using the paddle shifters mitigated this somewhat. Not a deal-breaker, by any stretch, but worth noting.
Throwing the SportLine at some corners, as I did gleefully, is a lot of fun. The 2.0-litre four-pot is a perfectly engaging littler power unit, and throwing the drive-mode selector into Sport only adds to that, with the engine happily holding onto revs longer and a delicious throttle blip on downshifts.
Under wheel, the SportLine remains composed and planted, and like its 110TSI mate from across the garage, it showed an unwavering ability to hold its line and composure. Skoda claims its adaptive chassis control dampers are at work here. In its own words: ”Shock absorbers are regulated by a control unit that adjusts the damping according to a control algorithm”.
Similarly, the variable ratios on the steering rack allow for a more responsive drive experience, reducing steering angles and making for a pleasant time behind the wheel.
The 140TSI SportLine is a characterful crossover, with enough sporting bent to make for a fun and engaging drive. The thrumminess of that engine combined with its sure-footedness on the road is commendable. So, too, the suspension and damping that suffers nothing despite sitting on lower-profile rubber on 19-inch alloys. It’s quiet and cossetting when you need it to be, yet provides plenty of feedback, not to mention roadholding ability when you want.
The price for all this sportiness comes at the bowser, however. Skoda claims the 140TSI SportLine uses 6.9L/100km of premium unleaded. Yet, having covered the exact same route as I did in the 110TSI the previous day, the 140TSI returned an indicated 8.0L/100km. That may be down to driver input (insert smiley face), because that 2.0-litre four begs to be driven with gusto.
Skoda covers the Karoq with its standard five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, while servicing packs are available for either three years/45,000km ($800) or five years/75,000km ($1400).
The Skoda Karoq will form an important part of Skoda’s future. With the company revealing that it will sell more SUVs than cars in 2020 (a first for the Czech brand), its smaller, urban-focussed SUV will need to do some heavy lifting.
The good news is the Karoq continues to represent decent value from the challenger brand. With its ‘clever’ packaging, quirky features and engaging drive experience, the Karoq fulfils a brief that is increasingly the norm for consumers.
Which variant would we recommend? It really depends on your needs. If you’re looking for an SUV that is frugal on fuel, great around town, and with just enough performance to put a smile on your face, it’s hard to go past the 110TSI, especially with some of those optional packs thrown at it.
But, if you want some genuine sportiness cloaked in a package that looks sharp and distinctive, and more premium than its pricepoint suggests, opt for the 140TSI SportLine. Either way, you’ll end up with a characterful and fun little crossover in your driveway.