By Jonathan Crouch
For years, Skoda has been getting serious about SUVs. Early proof of that came back in 2017 in the form of this 'Qashqai-sized' Karoq model, a strong contender if you're looking for a spacious five-seat 'C'-segment SUV in this class from the 2017-2021 period. It got all the latest Volkswagen Group technology, including a hi-tech MQB chassis and cutting-edge safety and infotainment features. In theory then, there's everything you might want from a modern family-sized Crossover of this kind.
One size fits all. It's a good concept, but it isn't always an ideal long term strategy. Back in the 21st century's earlier years, Skoda used to offer one car, the Yeti, for anyone who wanted any kind of compact SUV. These days though, the brand has specific models for specific areas of this growing segment. And if what you need is a Qashqai-class family hatch-based 'C'-segment SUV, what the Czech brand hopes you'll want is this model, the Karoq.
It's a half-size bigger than the Yeti was, making room for the smaller 'B'-segment supermini-based Kamiq SUV to slot in beneath in the range in 2020, creating a much more complete collection of Skoda crossovers. That line-up culminates with the bigger 7-seat 'D'-segment Kodiaq model, which lent not only its 'K' and 'Q' naming theme but also much of its look and feel to its only slightly more compact showroom stablemate. If you're interested, the name 'Karoq' comes from the language of the Alutiq, a tribe native to Kodiaq island in Alaska who commonly use the word 'Kaaraq' for 'car'. The last section of that word, 'raq' (or more commonly in Alutiq 'Ruk') apparently describes an arrow, a symbol central to the Skoda brand logo.
So the name is logically-derived. And so is the marketing justification for the design it designates. While the larger Kodiaq is something of a niche player in the SUV sector, the Karoq was targeted right into the heart of its fastest growing segment. So how does this Karoq stand out? Skoda told us that ride quality, versatility, value and practical family-friendliness were its core attributes and they should stand it in good stead on the used market. Plus there's the kind of up-market technology and infotainment connectivity that you might not expect from the brand. The Karoq was subtly updated in mid-2022, but it's the earlier 2017-2021-era versions we look at here.
What You Get
If at first glance, you mistook this Karoq model for its larger Skoda Kodiaq stablemate, you're in good company: at first, we found ourselves doing that too. Get to know the styling of this more mainstream SUV a little better though and the differences between the two designs begin to become more readily apparent. For a start, it's a substantial 315mm shorter than a Kodiaq and significantly narrower and shorter too - though you'll find it much bigger in all these dimensions than the brand's previous Yeti model if you're graduating up from one of those.
Behind the wheel, the design team delivered another very smartly turned-out Skoda cabin, the interior being beautifully put together, smartly designed and easy on the eye. Distinctive brand touches start with the grey-ringed instrument dials you view through the smart three-spoke wheel. And continue with the way that the cabin abounds with plenty of the company's famed 'Simply Clever' design features, there to make life a bit easier. Take the 'Jumbo Box' between the seats which incorporates a neat reversible tray that flips over to reveal cup holders, cubbies and ticket storage slots. And what other family car provides you with an umbrella beneath the front passenger seat? Infotainment's up to scratch too, courtesy of a classy glass-fronted monitor, supplied in 8-inch form on most models but also available in a larger, more advanced 9.2-inch 'Columbus' guise. Whatever your choice, there's standard 'Smartlink' smartphone-mirroring and the option of Skoda's clever 'Infotainment Online' and 'Care Connect' media connectivity packages.
Enough on what it's like at the front of this Karoq. What about the rear, accessed through wide-opening doors. If you're trading up from the company's previous Yeti compact SUV, this is where you'll notice the biggest practical differences over what went before. As you might expect, there's a lot more leg room than there was in that previous model, though taller folk may still find their knees brushing against the front seatbacks.
The real cleverness here though, lies in something Skoda's particularly proud of, it's 'VarioFlex' seating system. The 'VarioFlex' package replaces the usual rear bench with three separate seats that can individually slide, recline or be removed altogether. If you only need space for two, the centre seat can be removed, allowing the two outer chairs to then be pushed up to 80mm further in towards the centre of the cabin, creating limousine-like levels of shoulder room. The total space you'll actually get will depend on whether the variant in question has been equipped with the 'VarioFlex' seating package we were just talking about. If it hasn't, you'll get a 521-litre boot.
But if, as we'd recommend, you do make sure that this feature is included on the Karoq you consider, you'll get a cargo bay that you can vary in size between 479 and 588-litres, depending on the position of the sliding rear bench. If you completely flatten the backrest, a 1,605-litre stowage area is revealed.
What to Look For
Skodas generally do pretty well when it comes to used-car quality but we have come across a few Karoq issues. One customer who'd bought a 1.5-litre petrol model experienced 'kangaroo-ing' when setting off in 1st gear and found the engine occasionally dying at junctions. Another owner found his electric tailgate stopped working, someone else had a problem with the auto main beam and in another case the car locked itself. There have been reported problems of the satnav losing its position, so check that all the screen and navigation features work properly. There have also been some reported issues with the Mirrorlink aspect of the infotainment system, so make sure that the screen pairs properly to your smart phone. One owner had a central locking key failure with no warning. And another found that the Front Assist system kept failing. We've heard reports of suspension knocking and squeaky wipers, so look out for that on your test drive. Otherwise, it's just the usual things - look for kids' damage in the interior and check the alloys for scratches. And of course insist on a fully stamped up service book.
(approx based on a 2018 Karoq 2.0 TDI excl. VAT) A pair of front brake pads are around £26; rears are around £17. A pair of front brake discs sit in the £53-£92 bracket; rears are around £64-£83. An alternator is in the £281-£310 bracket. Air filters sit in the £7-£18 bracket. Oil filters cost around £5. A starter motor is around £170. A fuel filter is around £6-£16. A shock absorber is around £73.
On the Road
On the move, there's nothing 'sporty' about the Karoq, but its ride and handling combination is truly impressive. The only rivals that can equal this car's supple suspension feel can't match the way it can attack the bends with confidence and even a few occasional flashes of enthusiasm. On the highway, refinement is impressive. In town, it's manoeuvrable and easy to park. And when you're pushing on, the drive dynamics are very difficult to tell apart from those of an Octavia family hatch. Buyers are offered a choice of 6-speed manual transmission or a 7-speed DSG auto.
Engine-wise, the range is propped up by a 115PS 1.0-litre TSI petrol powerplant, but most will want the perkier 150PS 1.5-litre TSI petrol unit. Diesel folk get to choose between a 115PS 1.6-litre TDI unit - or the 2.0-litre TDI variant, which most will want in this 150PS guise. You'll need the 2.0-litre TDI engine if you want to get 4WD and if you go for that, you'll also get more sophisticated multi-link rear suspension. Plus an extra 'Off-road' mode that focuses all the car's electronic systems for 'off piste' use. The 4x4 set-up is the usual 'on-demand'-style system that keeps the car front-driven until a lack of traction brings the rear wheels into play. That maximises running cost efficiency, allowing the 2.0 TDI 150PS 4x4 variant to return 56.5mpg on the combined cycle and 131g/km of CO2.
If you find yourself approaching this car a little cynically, then we'd understand. At first glance after all, it might be easy to dismiss it as just another quite forgettable European mid-sized fashion-orientated SUV. A necessary addition to the Czech brand's model range perhaps. But not the kind of product that could be in any way uniquely 'Skoda'. Surprisingly though the Karoq turns out to be more than that. In the endearingly comfortable way that it drives and handles, it's a very recognisable ambassador for its brand. And the same is true when you come to examine the versatility and practicality of its class-leadingly-spacious cabin. The VarioFlex seats in particular are a design master-stroke that would really sell us this car.
In short, what we have here is a class act in a market full of try-hard rivals and a car that strikes an appealing chord between practicality, quality and fashion. It builds on the cool but understated image that made its Yeti predecessor so appealing, a car that like that model somehow transcends lifestyle snobbery. For many then, a Karoq could represent will be a compelling mix of competence and desirability. It's a family car that doesn't shout 'family'. And a Crossover you could be genuinely pleased to own.