Like trying to pick out one movie at a Blockbuster (remember those days), or only one beverage from the long aisles of Dan Murphy's, Australians looking for a medium SUV now have a new addition to their multitude of choices. From the catalogue of the Volkswagen Auto Group and hailing from the Czech Republic, there's an updated Skoda Karoq.
In particular for this review, we have the 2020 Skoda Karoq 140TSI Sportline 4x4.
What’s a Karoq? Other than being another entrant in Australia’s most popular new-car segment, the name is a portmanteau of Alaskan terms ‘Kaa'Raq’ (car) and ‘ruq’ (arrow). And for some nice commonality, you’ll notice Skoda’s logo is, in fact, an arrow adorned with three feathers.
You can get your Karoq in two flavours: entry level is the Karoq 110TSI, which has a 110kW/250Nm 1.4-litre engine that powers the front wheels. Asking price? From $32,990 before on-road costs or currently available at $35,990 drive-away.
Our tester is the more expensive 140TSI Sportline 4x4. The widely employed and well-loved 2.0-litre turbocharged EA888 engine is employed here making 140kW at 6000rpm and 320Nm at 1500–4100rpm. Like the 110TSI, it prefers to drink the good stuff: premium 95RON petrol is recommended. Peak power is decent, without feeling excessive. Torque, however, feels nicely accessible and broad.
With a seven-speed wet-clutch DSG automatic gearbox powering all four wheels, (the 110TSI has an eight-speed torque converter auto and front-wheel drive), the 140TSI is good enough for a claimed 0–100km/h sprint of 7.3 seconds. Claimed fuel consumption is 6.9 litres per 100km on the combined cycle.
With more grunt at the ready, this Karoq 140TSI Sportline comes in with a price of $39,990 before on-road costs. However, with a couple of option packs ticked, our tester has a before-on-roads price of $47,790.
It’s not just the engine and driveline being different between specifications. The Sportline gets LED headlights, while the cheaper model makes do with halogen. The 140TSI also gets heated and folding mirrors, paddle shifters, different driving modes, and an ‘engine sound enhancer’ through the audio system.
However, it’s not all gains: the 140TSI misses out on the ‘Varioflex’ sliding second-row functionality that the 110TSI gets. Presumably, it’s a packaging issue with the four driven wheels.
Let’s run through the options we’ve got. The Tech Pack brings a 9.2-inch ‘Columbus’ infotainment unit, which has native navigation, digital radio and smartphone mirroring. The pack also includes wireless charging and 10-speaker Canton sound system. Standard infotainment, for reference’s sake, is 8.0 inches in size, and only has smartphone mirroring. Rounded out by an electric tailgate, with gesture opening, the Tech Pack costs $4100.
The Travel Pack has also been ticked, which gives the 140TSI Sportline lane-keep assist, blind-spot detection, traffic jam assist, emergency assist, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive damping and steering, as well as heated front and rear seats. The Travel Pack has an asking price of $2600.
So, while the starting price of $39,990 does sound compelling, the as-tested price of $47,790 (which includes the $1100 red paint) is a bit less of a bargain, and only $3900 behind a top-spec Volkswagen Tiguan 162TSI Highline.
With these options, the Karoq’s interior looks smart and premium, with a healthy dose of sharp technology. There’s little colour and garnishing, but materials feel mostly good. The steering wheel in particular is nice, with an abundance of stitching and perforations.
Comfort is good: cloth 'Thermoflux' seats offer good manual adjustment, and although they look quite sporty, they’re plenty comfortable for day-to-day usage.
Second-row space is surprisingly good, as well. Forward visibility gets stunted by the integrated headrests, but there is enough leg room for a big rearward-facing seat and an adult up front. Not all medium SUVs can say that. Air vents and heated seats for the second row are nice, and there’s a 12V outlet for power.
The Karoq’s boot, measuring in at 521L, has a low loading height and small lip, and made more useful with thick elastic netting and deeper bins on each side. There’s also a trick torch that doubles as a boot light, and a space-saving spare under the false floor.
The 140TSI Karoq has a 1900kg braked towing capacity, but be wary of the 75kg towball mass limit. The Karoq has a 75kg roof load limit as well, if you’re thinking about some additional storage on the top floor.
Although proudly wearing black 4x4 nomenclature, the Karoq Sportline has less running clearance than the 2WD: 164mm. Another small difference is the fuel tank. The Sportline gets an extra 5L for 55L total. Based on our fuel economy numbers of between 8.7L and 9.2L/100km, you’ll get around 600km to a tank.
Four driven wheels come through a fifth-generation Haldex set-up, which uses a multi-plate clutch pack on the rear differential controlled through an electro-hydraulic system. This means it’s front-wheel drive, with the rear end coming in ‘on demand’.
Most of the benefit of this driveline is through the seemingly inexhaustible supply of grip the Karoq has through corners and bends. It’s controlled through an electro-hydraulic set-up also mounted at the pinion of the rear differential. It’s lighting quick, and often very pre-emptive in its application, feeling mostly seamless from behind the wheel.
For example, full-throttle acceleration on wet bitumen yielded no wheel spin whatsoever. Less refined systems would exhibit a few rotations of front wheel spin before hooking up the rears. This does not, and that’s a good thing.
It gives a huge sense of sure-footedness through corners, making eventual understeer not easy to achieve. Remember, similar Haldex systems are used on a wide variety of sports cars, SUVs and semi-offroaders to good success.
Combined with the wet-clutch DSG gearbox, the Karoq can feel slightly crunchy at low speeds, around town, and through slow, tight bends. It seems to lock wheels up a little too strictly or quickly at times, and you can feel the wheels scrabbling through the steering wheel. Not scrabbling for grip, but rather against all of the grip on offer, with front and rear drive locked up.
At speed, the gearbox is a gem. Gear changes feel sharp and responsive, making for a rewarding dynamic coupling to the flexible, gutsy engine. And while a dual-clutch gearbox will never be as seamlessly easy in situations like reverse-parallel parking and low-speed manoeuvres, my experience with the Karoq showed it to be decent.
Buyers looking at a Karoq 140TSI need to be aware that a dual-clutch gearbox is characteristically different to a torque converter, and might need to get to know it a little bit.
Further examples of technological trickery are the adaptive damping and steering, which are not standard for the Karoq Sportline. The combo is worth considering, however, because it makes a noticeable difference to the Karoq’s on-road demeanour. You can take or leave the sporty modes in my opinion, which do tighten up suspension and body control.
What I love is the waftiness of comfort mode. Speed bumps, road joins and potholes get soaked up wonderfully, despite the fact that 19-inch wheels have precious little rubber surrounding them. It might even be too soft for some tastes, but I like it.
The Karoq is surprisingly competent through bends and corners, giving kudos to the ‘sport’ in Sportline. The steering feels fast and accurate in its gearing and response, without being too busy. Engage sport mode, and the combination of heavier steering and noticeably firm suspension gives definite sporty vibes.
Along with a five-year and unlimited-kilometre warranty, the Skoda Karoq comes with the option of two pre-paid servicing packs: three years and 45,000km worth of coverage is $800, while five years and 75,000km is $1400.
From 2017, the Karoq gets a five-star ANCAP safety score. And when your options are ticked, there are plenty of safety and assistance acronyms to pore over. Most importantly, autonomous emergency braking is standard across the range.
There’s no real area where this Karoq puts a foot wrong. For the important areas of expertise in this segment (size, comfort, safety and practicality), the Karoq is solid without feeling like a class leader. It’s easy to live with, and has enough interesting design features and points to help it feel a little less than homogenous.
It can be perceived as being expensive when optioned up like our test unit, but you are getting good bang for your buck: adaptive dampers and steering, 9.2-inch infotainment display, digital instrument screen, and plenty of driving aids mean the additional spending doesn’t feel frivolous. It’s still cheaper than a Tiguan 162TSI Highline, for example, but the Skoda has a few features not mirrored by the Volkswagen.