And you thought Yeti was a weird name for a car. This is the 2018 Skoda Karoq, which is essentially a replacement for the old oddball Yeti small SUV.
If you believe Skoda’s marketing campaign, this car was named by the people of Kodiak, Alaska - yeah, the same place the brand drew inspiration from for its larger Kodiaq SUV.
The spiel goes that Skoda asked Kodiakans to come up with the name for the new smaller sibling to the Kodiaq - and apparently, names like 'Chinook', 'Grizz' and 'Icebug' were in the mix. But Karoq was what won out, blending the word Ruq - a tribal name for an arrow, like on the Skoda badge - with Karaaq, an Alaskan tribal name for a car.
Enough about the name. What is the Karoq all about? And is it any good?
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?
With a list price of $29,990 for the manual version (or $32,990 drive-away) and $32,290 for the dual-clutch automatic (or $35,290 drive-away), the Skoda Karoq is playing at the base level for a mid-size SUV.
Most competitors start around the same level, although the Korean and Japanese makers tend to have automatic models below thirty grand. So it’s not as cheap as some of its competitors.
But it is quite well kitted out, with a lot of standard equipment including an 8.0-inch touchscreen media system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a reversing camera, USB input (only one, though…), Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, an eight-speaker sound system, dual zone climate control air conditioning, keyless entry and push-button start, and adaptive cruise control.
It also has 17-inch wheels as standard, plus roof rails, LED daytime running lights and LED tail-lights, auto headlights and wipers, and in addition to the rear camera, there are rear parking sensors with auto-stop (to avoid back-up bumps).
Inside there are cloth seats, a leather-lined steering wheel and gear selector, a reversible floor mat (carpet on one side, rubber on the other - great for wet or muddy clothes). Plus there are standard tablet holders for rear seat occupants that buckle on to the front headrests.
The safety story is pretty strong for the new Karoq, too - read the safety section below for more details.
Still not enough gear? You can option different packs on the Karoq to boost the equipment levels even further.
The first is the 'Premium Pack' ($3600), which adds full LED headlights, leather seat trim, front parking sensors, an electric tailgate, stainless steel pedals and 18-inch wheels.
The next is the 'Tech Pack' ($3200), which makes the tailgate handsfree operable, plus includes a drive mode selection system and personalised keys (three), upgrades the media screen to a 9.2-inch system with navigation and 10 years of map updates, and also adds DAB+ digital radio, a Canton premium 10-speaker stereo system, semi-autonomous parking, and wireless phone charging.
The 'Travel Pack' ($1700) adds lane keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, heated front seats, electric driver’s seat adjustment with memory settings, and auto dimming side mirrors with auto folding and memory settings.
And if you want all of that stuff in one pack, you could consider the 'Launch Pack', which adds $8900 to the price and includes everything except the Canton sound system, but also adds a three years of servicing. More on that below.
Oh, and as for colours? There are nine choices. Three are no-cost options - Candy White, Steel Grey and Energy Blue - while the six remaining choices all add a little more asking price: Moon White Metallic, Emerald Green, Magic Black, Quartz Grey and Brilliant Silver will set you back $700, while Velvet Red is $1000.
Is there anything interesting about its design?
In truth, this isn’t a direct replacement for the Yeti - it’s a bigger car, and its dimensions mean it’s pretty much smack bang between a Honda HR-V and a Subaru XV.
The length of the Karoq is 4382mm, and it spans 1841mm wide and 1603mm tall. So, is it a large small SUV, or a small mid-sized SUV? Well, Skoda says it’s the latter, naming rivals like the Mazda CX-5 and Hyundai Tucson as its targets.
Compared with the Yeti, the Karoq is longer nose to tail and has a longer wheelbase for better interior room (now 2638mm; was 2578mm), plus it’s wider, and it isn’t quite as upright, so its lower overall as well.
It’s not huge, then, but it has a big amount of road presence. It’s not quite a ‘mini me’ version of the Kodiaq, there are some fairly familiar styling traits - the creases in the metal along the side of the car and at the rear, around the LED tail-lights, are particularly prominent.
I think it looks really good. It’s a little bit angular and aggressive, a lot more conventionally attractive than the Yeti, and not nearly as hatchbacky as some of its rivals. I can’t support Skoda’s decision to fit halogen headlights as standard, though… they dull yellow beam really detracts from what is otherwise a really attractive car.
Thankfully, you can get LED headlights to match the LED daytime running lights. And the Karoq comes as standard on 17-inch alloy wheels, but you can option up to 19s if you want, and there are several other option packs to choose from, too - read the review for all the details.
How practical is the space inside?
If the Honda HR-V is the king of the smaller SUVs for cabin practicality, the Karoq could be the challenger to the throne. In fact, it may have just bump the crown off the king’s head, because the Karoq is the most thoughtful SUV in its class.
That’s because the Karoq has a brilliant flexible seating system, known as VarioFlex, which was also offered in the the Yeti. Essentially, you can slide and tilt the back seats to allow for more boot space or rear passenger comfort, depending on what the priority is. That means the difference between an already-excellent 479 litres of cargo capacity, and that number growing to 589L (bettering plenty of large SUVs).
But that’s not the end of it: you can fold the seatbacks down, then tumble the seats forward to alleviate up to 1605L of boot room. And the final trick? You can completely remove the seats for van-like cargo capacity of 1810L.
Admittedly the floor isn’t flat like a van in that configuration, but it is undeniably brilliant… provided you have somewhere safe and dry to store the seats when they’re out of the car. And you have the option of making it a three- or four-seater if you want - the outboard two seats can be shuffled inboard for the four-seat layout, and the seatbelt clickers are integrated into the seats.
It’s seriously clever, and Skoda has even managed to find a spot for a space saver spare wheel under the boot floor, and every Karoq comes with a removable LED torch, as well as three cargo nets, a reversible boot liner (rubber on one side, carpet on the other) and there are movable shopping bag hooks. And yeah, because it’s a Skoda, you get an umbrella, too!
It may be one of the smaller mid-sized SUVs, but it doesn’t feel small inside. There’s excellent space, and of course there are some really thoughtful touches like rubbish bins in the door pockets, big bottle holders in all four doors, a pair of cupholders up front (but two large takeaway coffees won’t fit side by side), a covered centre console section, and a dash-top hideyhole.
As standard, the Karoq gets a crisp 8.0-inch touchscreen media system with sat nav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. So, you’ll be able to keep connected on the move. There’s a 9.2-inch screen with in-built navigation as an option, but I actually prefer the 8.0-inch one, because there are volume knobs rather than touch controls.
In the back seat there is pretty good space for adults or kids alike. With the driver’s seat set in my position (I’m 183cm tall) I had enough space to sit comfortably for a while. The knee room could be better, but headroom, shoulder room and foot space is very good.
Children are catered for with a pair of ISOFIX child-seat anchors, and three top tethers, too. Plus the standard-fit rear air-vents will keep backseat bandits happy on hot (or cold!) days, but there’s only a 12-volt outlet in the second row (a USB port or two is becoming the standard, these days).
As for rear storage, there is no flip-down centre armrest - instead, you have to fold the entire middle seat down for a set of cup holders, but there are map pockets.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?
There’s just one drivetrain option at launch for the Karoq - a 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine, which is available with a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. It’s front-wheel drive only, but a powered-up all-wheel drive model is expected sometime before the end of 2019, and a diesel could be on its way, too.
The outputs for the little turbo engine are pretty good, especially if you’re considering it against small SUV rivals. It has 110kW of power (5000-6000rpm) and 250Nm of torque (from 1500-3500rpm). And it’s such a new engine from the Volkswagen Group that not even VW has it available in any of its offerings yet, and it won’t even be offered in the 2019 Volkswagen Golf update.
But if we take a little dive into the closely-priced competitor set of mid-sized SUVs, those numbers are strong compared with the likes of the front-drive, non-turbo Hyundai Tucson Active (121kW/203Nm), Kia Sportage Si (114kW/192Nm) and Mazda CX-5 Maxx (115kW/200Nm).
But they aren’t quite as healthy compared with the Ford Escape Ambiente (134kW/240Nm) and Holden Equinox LS (127kW/270Nm), both of which also feature 1.5-litre turbos.
How much fuel does it consume?
The official claimed fuel consumption for the Karoq is 5.7 litres per 100 kilometres for the manual version, and 5.8L/100km for the dual-clutch auto. It features clever cylinder deactivation technology that will allow it to run on just two cylinders under light loads - and it works really well, and more readily than you’d expect.
That’s good for the mid-size class. Let’s consider those five direct rivals mentioned in the engine section: Tucson Active - 7.9L/100km; Sportage Si - 7.9L/100km; CX-5 Maxx - 6.9L/100km; Equinox LS - 6.9L/100km; Escape Ambiente - 7.2L/100km.
We saw 7.3L/100km on our test drive, which included some Sydney traffic, flowing highway and twisty tarmac driving.
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?
The Skoda Karoq scored the maximum five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating when it was put through its paces in 2017. ANCAP hasn’t released a score for the Karoq.
It comes loaded with safety stuff, including seven airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain and driver’s knee), a reversing camera, rear parking sensors with auto stop, auto emergency braking with pedestrian detection, driver fatigue monitoring, tyre pressure monitoring, multi-collision braking (which will stop the car continuing to move if involved in an accident), ABS, ESC, adaptive cruise control and more.
Optionally available is blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and lane-keeping assist.
As mentioned above, there are dual ISOFIX child-seat anchors, and three top-tether points as well.
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?
Skoda offers a good five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty program, which is better than a few of the mainstream competitors.
Plus Skoda offers a choice of service plans that you can pre-purchase when you drive off the dealer lot (and bundle the cost into your finance… win!) - all require 12-month/15,000km maintenance visits. The costs for services are a bit European, but not exorbitant: the first five years/75,000km, if you go by the book, will cost: $288, $363, $427, $583, $427.
What's it like to drive?
The Skoda Karoq is based on the same platform as the VW Golf, so in theory, it should drive pretty well… in practice, it’s even better than that.
It is a blend of being comfortable, composed and considered - something that many rival SUVs can’t nail.
The way the Karoq rides over patchy city streets is particularly impressive, whether you’re in one with 17- or 18-inch wheels. The front MacPherson struts and rear compound link suspension may not feature an Australia-specific suspension tune, but during my time in the Karoq I found very little to complain about, particularly on the smaller wheel package.
The steering - a rack-and-pinion system with electromechanical power assistance - is very good. It has nice weighting at low speeds, meaning parking moves are simple, while offering good resistance at highway pace, offering excellent assuredness.
It is quiet on the open road, suppressing a lot of road roar that you might typically find exhibited by low-profile tyres on coarse chip road surfaces, and makes for a very comfortable long-distance cruiser with its adaptive cruise control system taking the hard work out of highways.
It’s not all rosy, though. The dual-clutch auto can stumble at low speeds (that’s a bit of a trait for this sort of automatic transmission), and that - combined with some low-rev turbo lag - can result in a bit of lazy going at low speed.
At higher speeds the transmission does a solid job, cutting between gears crisply, and helping maintain pace up hills or when overtaking. The engine isn’t a powerhouse, but it certainly offers up easy progress, and gets away pretty smartly if you pressure the right pedal. Skoda claims a 0-100km/h time of 8.4 seconds for the manual and 8.6sec for the auto, which is better than the non-turbo entry-level mid-size models listed above.
I was particularly impressed by the cylinder on demand system, which can cut it to two-cylinder mode under light loads. You can tell when it happens (even if you’re not looking at the driver information screen where it shows up) because there’s a bit more rumble from under the bonnet, but it’s not loud by any stretch of the imagination. And the change from two back to four cylinders when you apply more accelerator is smooth.