Price and positioning
The front-wheel-drive 110TSI kicks off the Karoq range from $34,590 before on-road costs, followed by the sportier and better equipped 140TSI Sportline from $41,290.
The Karoq is considered a medium SUV but its dimensions are similar to the Nissan Qashqai small SUV. So it’s not as spacious as a Toyota RAV4, but it’s bigger than a Mazda CX-30. That means both small and medium SUVs are considered rivals. The Qashqai, Subaru XV, Mazda CX-30 or CX-5, Kia Seltos, Hyundai Tucson and Peugeot 3008 are all in its crosshairs. The mechanically related Volkswagen T-Roc 140TSI (from $40,990) shares a platform and powertrain with the Karoq but the VW has more standard gear.
Our press car was fitted with extras including a $4100 Tech Pack, $2600 Travel Pack and $1100 premium paint, pushing the price to $49,090 before on-road costs. That puts it at the pointy end of the medium segment. Some features in the options packs should be standard, such as digital radio, wireless charging and heated seats.
The Karoq has a five-star ANCAP safety rating, scoring highly (93 per cent) for occupant protection.
The inside story
Skoda’s interior design is similar in look and feel to sister brand Volkswagen’s and that’s no criticism. Controls are well laid out and everything comes to hand easily. It’s not as clean and minimal as a Mazda CX-30 but it’s appealing.
The intuitive infotainment system is easy to navigate and quick to respond to inputs. As part of the Tech Pack, the screen increases from eight to nine inches and adds gesture control, allowing the user to swipe close to the screen to change a song or perform other tasks.
The perforated flat-bottom steering wheel adds to the sporty flavour, as do the supportive front sports seats. They offer excellent cushioning and are well bolstered, but only have manual adjustment.
The central storage compartment is shallow but can still swallow phones and other items, and it has a sliding top for better security. Large bottles will fit in the front door bins and, being a Skoda, it has clever touches like a small waste bin in the door storage panel.
Second-row seats are a little firmer than the front seats. Head room is substantial in the rear, while knee and toe room are more than adequate. Two adults fit comfortably in the rear but three would be pushing it. The rear has knee-level air vents, a 12-volt outlet and heated seats – although they are fitted as part of the optional Travel Pack.
Other useful Skoda touches are found in the cargo area, like the deep storage nooks next to the wheel arches, a small tray on the driver’s-side wheel arch, cargo netting to keep items in place when driving, levers to lower rear seats, a 12-volt outlet and good lighting. It’s these thoughtful touches that set Skoda apart. The seats fold 60/40 and there’s a central ski port.
The Karoq has a big boot, swallowing 521 litres of cargo with all seats in place, expanding to 1630 litres with the second row folded. It’s bigger than the Mazda CX-5 (442 litres) and Nissan Qashqai (430 litres) but can’t match the slightly larger VW Tiguan (615 litres). The Karoq has a space-saver spare wheel.
On the road
Under the bonnet is Volkswagen Group’s ubiquitous 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine also found in the VW Golf GTI hot hatch (albeit in a different state of tune). Paired with the Karoq, it makes 140kW of power and 320Nm of torque – exactly the same as the VW T-Roc 140TSI.
It’s a cracking engine, offering responsive performance from a standing start thanks to linear power and torque delivery. The seven-speed dual-clutch transmission changes gears smoothly, but occasionally holds higher gears. The idle-stop system that saves fuel by shutting the engine off at idle isn’t responsive. Other manufacturers – Mazda for example – do it better. We switched it off every time we got behind the wheel.
The Sportline comes with a ‘sound enhancer’ that pumps a growly engine noise into the cabin. It’s gimmicky, but you can switch it off through the drive-mode settings. Drive modes include Normal, Eco, Individual and Sport – the latter adds more growl, more weight to the steering and better throttle response.
The suspension damping has been tuned for dynamic driving. Our test car was fitted with optional adaptive dampers which means you can select between a more comfortable ride or a firmer tune through the drive modes. Sport sharpens up the ride a little, which means you’ll definitely feel speed bumps, but it’s never jarring.
The Karoq revealed itself to be an entertaining drive on some twisty back roads. It’s not as planted as lower-riding passenger cars like the VW Golf GTI or Skoda Octavia RS, but it exhibits surefooted handling and cornering ability that puts many of its SUV rivals to shame. The front-biased all-wheel-drive system kept the SUV in check on uneven and unsealed road shoulders.
We drove the VW T-Roc 140TSI a couple of weeks before the Karoq and thought the latter was the more dynamically engaging of the two cars. The VW has the edge when it comes to value for money, however.
Steering is precise and nicely weighted, and the small turning circle is great for tricky parking manoeuvres.
It’s not the most hushed cabin, with road noise creeping in, especially on coarse-chip surfaces.
After a couple of months with the Karoq 140TSI Sportline, our final fuel figure was 8.5 litres per 100 kilometres, a bit more than Skoda’s claim of 6.9L/100km. The Sportline requires 95 RON petrol because it has a petrol particulate filter.
Spacious, packed with smart features and just a little different, the Karoq outperforms many of its rivals. But be careful ticking those options boxes.