The Skoda Karoq is the new, smaller SUV/crossover designed to slot in beneath the Kodiaq. In many ways, it serves as a replacement for the Skoda Yeti, but comes in a more conventional silhouette. Here we test drive the 1.5-litre TSI petrol model.
In the metal
If you were already a fan of the Skoda Kodiaq, then there's a good chance that you're going to like the Karoq. It has all the right proportions for a modern SUV. The wide grille and detailed headlights - which are emphasised by a thin strip of LEDs for the daytime running lights - give it a distinctive face. Black plastic lower bumpers and door sills provide enough visual ruggedness, but in truth, the Karoq will look as much at home in the office car park as it will at the bottom of a mountain bike trail.
The interior design has been well thought-out and is geared towards maximising space. The driving position is good, with decent visibility in all directions and the dashboard layout is intuitive to use. Whichever spec you go for you'll get a decently sized touchscreen infotainment system, and there's no lack of storage areas. This extends to a specific space for your smartphone and, usefully, there are two USB ports within easy reach on the centre console. There's also a smaller cubbyhole on the top of the dashboard, unless you've ticked the box to upgrade to the Canton stereo, in which case you gain an extra speaker. In the back, the two outer seats are certainly comfortable enough for adults on long journeys and the boot edges to the top of the cargo litre capacity scoreboard by a whole one litre. As you might expect in 2017, the boot door can also be electrically operated and opened by wiggling your foot underneath the rear bumper depending on options.
Pitched against its numerous rivals in the SUV/crossover segment, the Skoda Karoq has a chassis and driving performance that shines brightly. Complementing its agility is a new petrol engine option that is expected to become the most popular choice for Karoq buyers. The 1.5-litre TSI four-cylinder engine is smooth and its 150hp feels more than adequate for the car's size. Power delivery comes easy and it matches the 1.6-litre diesel with 250Nm of torque available from 1,500rpm.
Helping in the fuel efficiency stakes is Active Cylinder Technology (ACT), which shuts off combustion in two of the engine's four cylinders when it is not under load, such as cruising on the motorway. There's little way of knowing apart from the small Eco symbol that appears on the instrument display. Apply more throttle and the two dormant cylinders immediately fire back to life seamlessly.
The throw between gears with the manual transmission feels well-judged and requires little effort. Its location makes for a comfortable driving position, too, and the Karoq offers plenty of adjustability of the seat and steering wheel positions. Visibility is good, as well, thanks in part to an A-pillar that rarely feels like it is obstructing your field of view when cornering. Similarly, the side mirrors offer decent rearward vision, though once above 100km/h they do generate some wind noise. It is a touch more apparent with the quieter petrol engine, but doesn't get to intrusive levels.
The combination of the refinement exhibited by the Skoda's chassis setup and the 1.5-litre TSI engine is an impressive one. If you plan on sticking to the urban commute day in, day out, this is the engine to choose.
What you get for your money
In Ireland there are just two specifications to choose from, starting with the Ambition grade, which is priced from €27,715. For the 1.5-litre TSI tested here, its retail price is €29,165. With the Ambition specification, you get 17-inch 'Ratikon' alloy wheels, an eight-inch 'Bolero' touchscreen system, dual-zone air conditioning, rear parking sensors, Smart Link+ (enables smartphone connectivity) and a chrome finish for the roof rails and window surround.
For the more tech-conscious there is the higher Style trim, which has a starting price of €30,315. In addition to the Ambition spec, it gets 18-inch 'Mytikas' alloy wheels, 9.2-inch 'Columbus' infotainment system with satellite navigation and a sim card slot for the Skoda Connect package. There's also a good quality reversing camera, DAB radio and keyless entry and start. The 1.5-litre TSI at this grade costs €32,315. Currently, there is no automatic transmission available with this engine, but one is due to be introduced later in 2018.
From style to driving to practicality, the new Skoda Karoq gives little away. Among the current crop of SUVs and crossovers, the Skoda is one of the most complete packages on the market. Within the Karoq range, this 1.5-litre petrol engine has more than enough going for it to prise people away from diesel SUVs.