The Skoda Karoq has arrived and is ready to stake its claim in the hotly-contested mid-size SUV segment. Available in Australian showrooms initially in one front-drive, petrol grade, the clever Czech uses everyday innovations and technologies to woo buyers. The Karoq is priced from $29,990 (plus on-road costs) and, on face value, it makes a compelling case.
Better late than never
In the same way George Clooney is considered a man’s man, Skoda’s new Karoq could soon become the tagline of the modern high-rider. The SUV’s SUV, so to speak.
In the Czech marque’s shiny new offering, convenience has taken on new meaning. It is central to the Karoq’s appeal, a calling card in a segment already defined by everyday practicality.
Available in Australia from July 2 in a solitary front-driven, petrol-engined configuration, the Karoq makes a play in the tightly-fought mid-size SUV market – not by re-writing the innovation rule book, but by adding a few extra pages.
It arrives, albeit late to the party, to take on the Mazda CX-5, Hyundai Tucson, Toyota RAV4, Kia Sportage and Honda CR-V, among others -- some of the most popular new vehicles on sale.
Priced from $29,990 plus on-road costs, the Karoq is all about being ‘simply clever’, according to Skoda Australia. On first impression, it succeeds.
The spec sheet
The five-seat Karoq replaces the polarising Yeti within Skoda’s Australian line-up, and sits one rung below the seven-seat Kodiak.
In exterior terms, the Karoq is notably smaller than key rivals, measuring 4.38 metres long and 1.84 metres wide. However, effective packaging along with a wheelbase measuring 2638mm means the diminutive Czech offers respectable proportions inside the cabin, including a sizeable 479-litre boot. More on that shortly.
The Karoq subscribes to the brief of a typical ‘soft-roader’ by offering 183mm of ground clearance and a 19.9-degree ramp angle – enough to garner owners prime parking position at a local football match, if nothing else. Braked towing capacity? A useable 1500kg.
And while that entry pricing is about $1500 up on the likes of Mazda’s perennial favourite, the Karoq is loaded with standard technology and safety.
In its most basic form, the newcomer offers 17-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry and start, 8.0-inch colour touch-screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, eight-speaker stereo, alarm with interior monitoring, dual-zone climate-control, LED daytime running lights and interior lights, and electric parking brake.
This suite will be expanded later in the year when Skoda introduces a fully digitised instrument cluster not dissimilar to Audi’s clever ‘virtual cockpit’ display. Pricing for that upgrade is yet to be revealed.
On the safety front, the standard offering includes adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking (city), seven airbags, driver fatigue detection, reversing camera and rear parking sensors with braking assistant.
There are loads of optional packages at an added cost – as outlined in our pricing and specification story.
Additionally, the Karoq purportedly does away with preconceptions over European cars and maintenance costs, offered with a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty and capped-price servicing which averages about $360 annually. Safety is like-wise five-star.
Now, the mechanical stuff.
Employing a 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine, the Karoq 1.5 TSI sends drive through the front wheels via choice of a six-speed manual ($29,990) or seven-speed automatic ($32,490).
Power is rated at 110kW and torque at 250Nm, while fuel use is claimed to number 5.8L/100km in automatic guise using 95 RON premium unleaded.
While compact, the front-drive Karoq can turn around a 0-100km/h time of 8.4 seconds in manual form, or 8.6 seconds in automatic guise. A more powerful all-wheel drive version tipped to land in 2019 will bring that time down considerably.
Your correspondent’s initial impression of the Karoq isn’t delivered from the driver’s seat, but from one of the outboard rear pews. Skoda’s minders have extended a favour, offering a ride from inner Sydney to the beginning of the launch at Sydney Airport.
With the product presentation still some hours away, I was left to simply marvel at some of the everyday conveniences scattered throughout the cabin. There are clever front seat-mounted phone/tablet holders capable of entertaining little ones on road trips, on-board rubbish bins, a removable torch, double-sided boot mat (one side rubber, the other carpet). Even an umbrella. Simply clever is understating it.
This positive first impression is supported by ample rear legroom (respective to this class), ISOFIX child anchor points, rear air-vents, decent door pockets and a healthy outward view.
Gripes? No USB charging points for the rear bleachers just about covers it.
The detailed product overhaul later reveals the Karoq’s biggest masterstroke: clever ‘VarioFlex’ seats that enable occupants to completely remove the three rear seats from the cabin.
With a regular five-seat configuration in place, the Karoq offers a credible 479 litres of luggage space; this opens up to 588 litres with the rear pews pushed forward.
This space is liberated further to 1605 litres with the rear seats stowed flat, and 1810 litres with the rear bleachers completely removed. In the latter configuration, the Karoq’s cavernous rear appears more like a mini-van than a high-riding hatch.
Up-front passengers are similarly well accommodated, with ample head, shoulder and leg room, comfortable chairs and a strong array of incidental storage.
We particularly liked the layout and functionality of the car’s 8.0-inch central display, which offers crisp images and access to loads of clever infotainment functions.
With said presentation now delivered and the worst of Sydney’s snarling traffic out of the way, it is time for a steer in Skoda’s Yeti replacement.
The Karoq quickly reveals itself as a strong, surefooted candidate in a mix of conditions, with levels of steering, body control and handling commensurate with a European car, together with the refinement and comfort typically required from a five-seat SUV.
The engine makes the most of its small outputs, offering peak torque from 1500rpm to deliver useable reserves of forward shove.
Initial response is tempered slightly by the odd hesitation from the car’s seven-speed dual-clutch automatic and, under heavy acceleration, some breaking of traction from the front wheels.
But from that point on, forward progress is liberal and refined, the 1.5-litre revving cleanly to its redline.
With two people and a couple of bags on board, the compact engine makes ample work of the Karoq’s 1353kg heft, though we suspect a full family and their belongings could ask questions of the petrol. We’ll reserve judgement on that until a more thorough assessment.
Another likely blight on the resourceful four-pot is real-world fuel use. At launch, we averaged 7.2L/100km, making use of cylinder de-activation technology and the like. More weight is likely to balloon that figure.
Elsewhere the Karoq adopts a sporty bias in its overall ride and handling mix. On smooth roads, only the occasional harsh bump manages to thud through the cabin, though thankfully there is never any crashing via the car’s 17-inch wheels.
The cabin is otherwise well protected from road noise and wind noise – a fitting tribute to the Karoq’s European origins.
Steering and body control is first-rate for this class, the Karoq feeling well acquitted during quick changes in directions and higher speed corners alike. Light steering and a nippy turning circle will serve drivers well during inner-city jaunts.
The SUV’s SUV?
The Karoq doesn’t necessarily re-invent the wheel for Skoda but it does bring some welcome convenience touches and clever packaging to an already-crowded SUV segment.
Our first impression is positive, pending a more thorough test of its engine. Otherwise, the Czech newcomer is simply impressive. There’s not much else left to say.
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