Conforming to ŠKODA’s trademark left-of-centre blueprint, the sharply styled KAROQ SUV doesn’t quite fit the mould. Bigger than a small SUV yet more compact than Volkswagen’s closely related medium-sized Tiguan SUV, the Czech-built KAROQ defiantly marches to the beat of its own drum.
That particularly beat is something you could casually groove to, but also chill-out and relax with. Both subtly sporting in the way it drives, yet admirably comfortable when it needs to be, ŠKODA 's second SUV is defined by the tremendous job it does in packing so much space and clever storage into its usefully modest form.
WHAT DO YOU GET?
For an appealing $32,290 base price (not including on-road costs or options), the KAROQ 110TSI scores goals right off the showroom floor. That’s the price for the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, though a small number of six-speed manual KAROQ’s (with excellent gearshift quality, for a $2300 saving) remain in dealers.
On the table from the get-go is a generous chunk of safety gear (forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, manoeuvre braking assist, and a rear-view camera with rear parking sensors), as well as keyless entry and start, adaptive cruise control, dual-zone climate control with rear-seat air vents, one-touch power windows on all doors, ambient cabin lighting, an 8.0-inch multimedia system with smartphone integration, puddle lamps that shine the ‘ŠKODA’ logo from the outside mirrors onto the ground, Batman-style, and 17-inch alloy wheels.
But wait, there’s more … for a price. A Travel Pack ($1700) adds blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assistance, heated front seats, electric driver’s seat with memory and auto-folding mirrors. The Tech Pack ($3200) upgrades the multimedia system, among other things, while a Premium Pack ($3600) adds 18-inch wheels, leather, and other tempting trinkets. And let’s not forget 19-inch alloys with sticky 235/40R19 tyres ($700) and a panoramic sunroof ($1900).
ŠKODA’s calling card has long been interior utility and the KAROQ doesn’t disappoint. Not only does it have an edgier, more cohesive style than ŠKODA’s larger Kodiaq SUV, but it scores with superb seat comfort, bang-on ergonomics and a higher-quality cabin feel than any rival close to its price.
You can fit 1.5-litre water bottles in every door, both front seats feature lumbar- and height-adjustment, and the rear seat is mounted on fore-aft sliders to prioritise either legroom or boot space (which, at 479-588 litres depending on seat position, is huge for a car this size). There is terrific vision from back there too, enabling passengers to peer over the front buckets rather than stare at them.
Then there’s the stuff that makes life that little bit easier – proper grab handles on each door, a ticket holder in the A-pillar, a movable rubbish bin, a built-in umbrella under the front passenger’s seat, rear-seat tablet holders and a height-adjustable centre-front armrest. Cheers ŠKODA.
UNDER THE BONNET
Until more powerful variants arrive (with all-wheel drive) later in 2019, the KAROQ is currently one-size-fits-all. That means a 110kW/250Nm 1.5-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder driving through the front wheels.
This strong engine isn’t as refined in the KAROQ as it is in a base VW Golf – sounding intrusive and uninspiring when you ask for everything it can give – but there’s so much effortless torque that you don’t need to push the KAROQ hard to enjoy its performance. ŠKODA claims 0-100km/h from standstill in 8.6 seconds, which is way ahead of most SUVs in its price bracket.
While the fuel flap says this engine prefers 95-octane premium or higher, fear not. The KAROQ is incredibly fuel-efficient in real world, not just the figure on its windscreen. Based on its official 5.8L/100km combined fuel number, however, you could theoretically achieve 862km from a full tank.
ON THE ROAD
Riding on a marginally shorter wheelbase (by 43mm) than a VW Tiguan, there’s something really likeable about how chuckable the KAROQ feels when darting about the inner city. It feels like a warm hatch on stilts thanks to its keen steering, sweetly balanced handling and reassuring grip, supported by a chubby little engine. And that plays out on the open road too.
But not everything is peaches and cream. Unlike the pricier Tiguan, the KAROQ gets a cheaper torsion-beam rear suspension design that lacks the outright suppleness of the Volkswagen’s multi-link set-up, especially if you option 19-inch wheels. In that instance, there’s a lumpiness to the KAROQ’s ride on Australia’s inconsistent road surfaces that undermines its sophistication elsewhere. And in stop-start traffic, there’s some jerkiness in the KAROQ’s dual-clutch transmission until you learn how much accelerator input is required to keep things smooth.
Avoid the largest wheel size, keep your right-foot inputs nicely progressive, and avoid hammering the engine to redline and the KAROQ remains on its premium-focused course. But there’s room for improvement here.
It may not be as wilfully different as its Yeti predecessor but there’s still plenty of not-quite-normal thinking behind the ŠKODA KAROQ’s design and execution, and that’s what makes it better. It’s one of the few small-to-medium SUVs that’s as spacious as a small station wagon, with all the back-saving benefits of an SUV’s higher seating point.
The fact that it’s also handsome, fun to drive, and incredibly useful at playing a supporting role in a busy lifestyle makes this quiet little achiever rather clever indeed.