Skoda Karoq review – fit for purpose

Skoda’s new small SUV is certainly capable but lacks the character and spirit of its Yeti predecessor

PRICE: from $27,600
Excellent, well-sorted controls, thoughtful interior gadgets, compact dimensions
Fun factor is absent, similar SEAT Ateca is more affordable

The Skoda Karoq might not seem like it has much of a place on the website, normally a haven for driving thrills and a celebration of some of the most hardcore supercars. As a small SUV with nothing more potent available under the bonnet than a 2-litre diesel, we can certainly understand why you might be dismayed to see it here.

But that disregards the Karoq’s predecessor completely, because nine years ago Skoda released the rather brilliant Yeti. It might have been a quirky-looking, tall-riding, van-shaped creation, but its robust chassis made it feel undefeatable no matter how awful the road surface, yet there was masses of enthusiasm and spirit when you aimed it at a corner. It may not have had hot hatch-rivalling levels of excitement, even with its most powerful 1.8-litre turbocharged engine, but it was just as involving and as satisfying to pedal along at pace. The Yeti was a truly wonderful surprise to anyone who drove one.

The new Karoq has a lot to live up to, then. Sadly, its more conventional-SUV looks are matched by more conventional-SUV driving dynamics. It’s respectable, definitely. Very composed, undoubtedly. There’s a solidity and precision to its controls that are enjoyable, certainly. Yet its grip-over-fun chassis set-up means it isn’t as magical as the old car, the Karoq feels numb by comparison.

That’s not to say it’s without merit though, and the new Karoq remains one of the better cars in this class both as an ownership proposition and dynamically. It’s certainly a decent basis for the rumoured Karoq vRS, which should bring back a little of the spark missing from the regular model – though for matching practicality with entertainment, Skoda’s own Octavia vRS estate remains our pick at the Karoq’s price point.

Skoda Karoq in detail

Performance and 0-60 time – Depending on which engine is fitted to the Karoq its 0-100kph acceleration time ranges from a tepid 10.9sec to an adequate 8.4sec. 

Engine and gearbox – The Karoq’s selection of engines isn’t especially exiting; they’re all turbocharged, but you do get a choice of three- or four-cylinder motors and either petrol or diesel.

Ride and handling – Satisfying controls and sufficient grip make the Karoq sufficiently pleasing to drive, but it’s never particularly exciting no matter how hard you try.

L/100km and running costs – With official combined litre per 100 kilometres figures that don’t drop below 5.6L/100km, no matter what engine is fitted to it, the Karoq has the potential to be very cheap to fill.

Interior and tech – Solid and tough-feeling, with plenty of thoughtful touches to make any task you’d usually undertake in a car just that little bit easier.

Design – It’s small and compact, and it looks it. It’s particularly handsome on chunky 19-inch wheels, too. It’s not excessively heavy either, though 4×4 models are a bit porky.

The Skoda Karoq is available from $27,600 for the 1.0 TSI SE, but it can be specced up to over $47,000 if you opt for the 2-litre diesel engine with four-wheel drive and almost every option available. Most models are front-wheel drive, and you’ll need to spend $34,150 to get into the most affordable 4×4 model, fitted with the 2.0 TDI engine and SE trim.

If you’re not in the slightest bit excited by the Karoq, none of its immediate rivals are going to get your juices flowing either. The SEAT Ateca is its closest competition; not only is it based on the exact same platform as the Karoq, it’s also available with all the same engines. However, in what seems like a mistake on behalf of the Volkswagen Group, the cooler Latin SEAT with its sportier, sexier image is cheaper than the budget Czech Skoda as it’s available from $24,700. At its peak Ateca pricing rises above and beyond the $43,000 mark.

The Volkswagen Tiguan, like the Ateca, shares the same basic platform as the Karoq, but the VW’s wheelbase is 39mm longer than its two not-so-distant siblings. Because of its extra space and more premium badge, the Tiguan is a little more expensive, too, starting at $31,000.

Away from the VW Group inter-family feud, the Karoq’s other rivals are the Kuga from Ford, the Qashqai from Nissan and the Kadjar from Renault. If you find all of those too dull, you could opt for the challenging styling of the Toyota C-HR – the only one of the bunch to offer a hybrid powertrain in lieu of diesel power.

But in actual fact, the real thorns in the Karoq’s side – as well as in the flanks of all of its other SUV rivals, as far as we’re concerned – are conventional hatchbacks or small estates. Not only is a regular Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf, Skoda Octavia or SEAT Leon just as practical (or more if you opt for the estate versions) they’re better to drive thanks in part to their much lower centre of gravity. They’re also much cheaper as a rule, so you could either save yourself some money or spend the extra cash on the more exciting performance versions, the ST, GTI, vRS or Cupra, respectively.

Performance and 0-60 time

The Karoq doesn’t exist to smash acceleration records, set your hair on fire or sit in the outside lane of an Autobahn flashing its lights to encourage RS6s to get out of its way. As a result the double-figures 10.9sec 0-100kph time of the 1.6 diesel version, the slowest accelerating Karoq of the range, is no surprise, but nor should it really come as a disappointment.

Next up is the 1.0 TSI three-cylinder with 113bhp, which manages a top speed of 186kph and nips to 100kph a little quicker in 10.6sec, and does so with a bit more verve, an eagerness to rev, and a more interesting tone to its acceleration than the refined but unremarkable diesel. It feels quicker than the on-paper figures suggest.
Skoda Karoq - Front
The 1.5-litre turbocharged model, with 148bhp and just front-wheel drive, chases to 100kph in a more than adequate 8.4sec. It also has the highest top speed of the range with a vmax of – prepare yourself – 204kph. It’s no sweet revver though. In fact, it always feels a little more strained than the 1.4 TSI it has replaced across the VW Group’s portfolio, and gives up the redline race with about 1000rpm left on the 6000rpm tach – better instead to surf along on the mid-range torque.
That and the 2-litre TDI diesel, which just trails the 1.5 TSI with a 0-100kph time of 8.7sec, feel least troubled by the Karoq’s size and should be the best choices over longer distances or trips involving a full complement of luggage and people. The diesel in particular is effective in real-world driving, and there’s just enough performance here to begin to test the chassis, but it’ll take a full vRS model before any Karoq’s powerplant delivers actual excitement.

Engine and gearbox

The choice of engines in the Karoq isn’t vast; there are two diesel and two petrol motors to choose from. However, despite this quartet you only need remember two peak power outputs, since the smallest capacity petrol and diesel engines put out the same bhp while the larger units match on output too.

Lets start with the smallest engine and work our way up. The 3-cylinder 1-litre petrol engine produces 113bhp from 5000rpm and an impressive, given its small capacity, 147lb ft of torque at 2000rpm. It’s matched on power by the bigger 1.6-litre 4-cylinder diesel motor, but as you might expect the oil-burner has even more torque with 184lb ft.
Skoda Karoq - Engine
The other two engines, the 1.5-litre petrol and 2-litre diesel, each have four cylinders and both put out a maximum of 148bhp – the petrol at 5000rpm, and the diesel at 3500rpm. The diesel is more torquey with 251lb ft from 1750rpm, compared to the petrol’s 184lb ft at a slightly slower engine speed.
All engines are available with either a six-speed manual gearbox or a seven-speed DSG transmission. All come with just front-wheel drive as standard, and the 2-litre diesel is the only version that can be had with four-wheel drive – it’s a Haldex system that predominantly drives the front wheels but is able to engage the rear axle whenever necessary.
The DSG transmission’s breath of abilities is, as usual, impressively vast; it’s just as happy to smoothly and automatically shift between gears at low speeds as it is to swap ratios instantly when you pull the steering-wheel mounted paddles. But, if you opt for the dual-clutch transmission you won’t be able to relish the experience of operating the Karoq’s manual gearbox.

Ride and handling

Right from the very start, and after just a few metres down the road, the Karoq appears to be a very satisfying car to meander about in; all of its controls are so tight, so precise and are so completely slack free. All of the pedals are solid and the movement so smooth that just releasing the clutch feels like a rewarding action and the steering – although very light – is amazingly direct. The steering can be made heavier by engaging the Sport driving mode – that’s pretty much all the button does though, as the engine’s character remains the same, there’s no extra noise and, as the dampers are passive, the chassis doesn’t change. The extra weight doesn’t feel appropriate; the more delicate setting suits the other controls in the car.

The absolute highlight, however, is the gear change. The gate is close and you don’t need to move your hand sideways by much before you can slot it forward into first. The forward throw into a gear is a little longer compared to the lateral movement, but the path the lever takes is shorter than you’d ever expect in an SUV, and shorter than most performance cars. The quick shift is made even more gratifying by a smooth and beautifully defined action – you won’t miss or engage the wrong gear here, no matter how much you rush your changes.
A similar sense of accuracy can be felt in the chassis. It reacts promptly to your inputs, turning eagerly when you point the nose at a corner and there’s surprisingly little roll. The ride is pleasingly supple and controlled, too.
Skoda Karoq - Interior
But as you push the Karoq, you aren’t rewarded with any more excitement. Only the steering dictates the angle of the car, you can’t lift off the throttle early in a corner to change its attitude, pointing the front towards the apex. Even some aggressive trail braking doesn’t have much of an effect and the Karoq begins to feel a bit inert. The front-end does resists understeer well, it has to be said, but it is the first to relinquish grip when really pushed.
The four-wheel drive diesel can be coaxed into the tiniest amount of power-on oversteer out of tight, first or second gear corners – only if the electronic stability system is in sport. The ESC cannot be fully switched off, sadly.
The Karoq’s controls really are its highlight. That’s not to say the rest of the car is disappointing, it’s just not as memorable, as involving or as charismatic as what we’ve become used to from Skoda’s small SUVs. However, there are still some pleasingly useful Skoda style elements that make living with the Karoq just that little bit easier: not only is the cruise control not deactivated by changing gear, even in the manual version, it still works with the ESC as off as it will go.

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‘This focus on comfort doesn’t come at the expense of agility, and the Karoq can be hustled effectively through a series of corners. The electrically assisted steering is direct and naturally weighted, while there’s decent grip at the front end. The combination of high ride height, modest rubber and, in the diesel models, hefty engines means the nose will wash wide when pushed, but you do have to provoke this behaviour with aggressive inputs.

L/100km and running costs

There isn’t a Karoq available whose combined L/100km figure is below 5.6L/100km; the 1.5-litre petrol version with the DSG transmission just about sneaks above with 5.6L/100km. That’s even with the 1.5 having Active Cylinder Deactivation (ACT), which effectively allows the Karoq to run on two cylinders during light throttle applications, helping to cut fuel use. 

If you want to be as frugal as possible you’ll need the 1.6-litre diesel DSG version, with an official combined figure of 4.4L/100km. Achieving that in the real world will be more of a challenge, but in our experience it’s still possible to extract impressive economy figures from most VW Group engines. We have a sneaking suspicion though that the 2.0 TDI might be better in the real world than the 1.6 unless driven particularly gently – that extra torque makes for fewer downchanges to keep pace with traffic.

The Karoq’s relatively low consumption is reflected in relatively low CO2 figures which in turn mean palatable VED costs. 1.0 TSIs manage 119g/km, manual 1.5 TSIs are 123g/km, 1.6 TDIs come in at 120g/km, and the 4×4 2.0 TDI with the manual gearbox has a CO2 figure of 131g/km. That means, respectively, VED bills of $218 in year one and $185 thereafter for the first three cars, and $270 in first-year VED for the 2.0 TDI and $185 thereafter.

Interior and tech

In typical Skoda form the Karoq is stuffed to the gunwales with useful pockets, holders, cubbyholes and gadgets to make any task that you might perform in the car, other than driving, as easy as possible. There’s a clip on the windscreen to hold parking tickets, a removable torch in the boot and an umbrella under the rear seats as standard.

A few extras can make it even easier to live with, like a bin with a liner in the door pocket, a heated windscreen, a boot that opens if you wave your foot underneath the rear bumper, as well as foldable tables and tablet holders for the rear passengers.
Skoda Karoq - Interior
The interior is definitely functional, and it looks it. There’s very little decoration or embellishment on the inside of the Karoq, but it’s far from offensive and it’s pleasant enough space to spend time.
You do get a good range of adjustment in the seats and steering wheel, and there’s a definite VW Group logic to the placement of all the controls, whether major or minor. Some may find the seats themselves a little too firm, but they’re also well-shaped so long journeys can be undertaken comfortably. Skoda’s infotainment system is easy to fathom too, even if it’s not quite at the cutting edge of the market.


The Karoq is a fine looking car. It’s relatively compact, and its proportions, thanks to short overhangs, are well balanced. Its details are chunky and purposeful too, yet they’re subtle enough that the Karoq doesn’t have an overt and inappropriate sense of adventure about its styling.

There are very few of the clichéd 4X4 design cues that shout about an offroad ability it simply doesn’t have. It’s an honest look for an SUV, one that’s more trainers, jeans and a down jacket than full Gortex, walking shoes and trekking poles; an appropriate guise for its natural environment, the suburban school run.
Skoda Karoq - Front
It’s rare that we’d recommend the largest wheel option on a car; ride and handling aren’t often improved by bigger wheels and lower profile tyres. However, the 19-inch Crater wheels are a nice, solid design and look great on the Karoq, plus the ride isn’t badly impacted when they’re fitted.
Under the skin the Karoq’s engineering is fairly conventional. The body is a five-door steel monocoque, with MacPherson strut front suspension and, depending on the model selected, either a torsion beam rear end or (on 4x4s) a multi-link setup. Steering is electrically-assisted rack and pinion, while kerb weight varies from 1265kg in the 1.0 TSI to 1516kg for a 2.0 TDI with the DSG ‘box and four-wheel drive.
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