Not much has changed, but then it didn’t need to – even in mid-life, the Karoq is still brilliant in almost every area
When Skoda replaced its popular Yeti with the Karoq in 2017 it was, at first, not universally loved. Where the Yeti had been clever, characterful and compact, the Karoq looked just like every other SUV. It was more ordinary, more run-of-the-mill – and undoubtedly less memorable.
But the thing was, it was good. Better than the Yeti, in fact. Pretty soon, initial reservations about the Karoq’s conventionality gave way to admiration for its all-round ability, with particularly strong showings as far as its well-designed rear seating and comfortable ride were concerned. “Straight to the top of the SUV class,” we said when we drove it in 2017.
Since then, a glut of new contenders arrived to challenge the Karoq’s superiority. Hyundai and Kia have fielded the Tucson and Sportage, whose extrovert looks stand in direct contrast to the Karoq’s anonymity. Ford, meanwhile, has given us a new Kuga, Vauxhall its Grandland.
Most importantly, though, Nissan has brought out its all-new Qashqai – and this, the best-selling car of its type, is a car the Karoq really does have to beat. So Skoda has given it a spot of mild fettling and a bit more equipment in a bid to fend off some excellent pretenders to its throne.
Comfortable and quiet
Surprisingly good fun to drive
Can be twitchy on some motorway surfaces
Not as cheap as it was
So what’s new? Well… um. No, hold on, it’s here somewhere… Ah yes, there – if you look really closely, you’ll see the headlights now have a little kink. The grille is more angular, too, and the rear lights have had a bit of a tweak.
The underside is now covered, and together with several other aerodynamic tweaks, this means Skoda has managed to reduce the Karoq’s drag coefficient by nine per cent, which doesn’t sound like much but should buy you one or two miles per gallon. Given the current state of fuel prices, that might save you enough to buy you a second Karoq.
Inside, there’s more to talk about, with new interior materials and upholstery options, one of which is particularly eco-friendly having been made from recycled plastic bottles.
Otherwise, things are much as they were before: three petrol engines and two diesels, but no hybrids – and, interestingly, not even a mild hybrid in sight. You might even say that, with all the noise around electrification, the Karoq’s engine range is starting to look a little old-fashioned.
Our test car has the 1.0-litre petrol, the smallest and least powerful of the lot, teamed with a slick six-speed manual gearbox. This SE L trim sits roughly in the middle of the range, but it’s the cheapest model with the clever rear seats as standard – and for that reason, it’s the one you want.
At a shade over £28,000 for this model, the Karoq isn’t the cheapest – like-for-like, both the Citroen C5 Aircross and the Karoq’s platform-mate, the Seat Ateca, undercut it. But then you’ll spend more getting hold of a Qashqai, a Sportage, a Tucson or a Volkswagen Tiguan, so this is still good value – especially when you consider what you’re getting.
For one thing, the Karoq is still very agreeable inside. Granted, it lacks the slick suavity of the Tucson or the gallic chic of the C5 Aircross, but it’s very Skoda: solid and substantial, yet unassuming.
The Karoq has not yet fallen foul of the VW Group’s touch-button fad, either, which means you still get rotary knobs for the climate control, lovely piano key switches for the rest of the ancillaries, and physical buttons on the steering wheel. The touchscreen still runs Skoda’s old software, too, which is a blessing in disguise given the latest system is riven with glitches and far less intuitive to use.
The seats are comfortable, with plenty of lower back support and lots of adjustment; after a long run you can climb out of the Karoq and still feel fresh. There’s lots of room, too, and you get a pair of Isofix mounting points on the front passenger seat, as well as on the outer rear seats.
It’s still the rear seats that are the Karoq’s most impressive asset, though. When in place they offer plenty of room for three adults to sit abreast in comfort; then you can slide, fold and tumble them forward, or even remove them.
All three seats are individual, too, so you can set them in a variety of configurations – remove one, fold one down and leave the other upright, if that suits you best. Just be careful of the electrical connections in the floor when they’re removed; they sit slightly proud of the carpet, so might be susceptible to damage if you’re sliding in a big, heavy box.
With all the rear seats in place and upright, the boot itself is a good size, too – not quite as large as a C5 Aircross’s , but when you remove the seats the Karoq turns into something akin to a van, with enough space to prop mountain bikes upright or two carry two, maybe even three bookcases without having to disassemble them.
If the styling without is uninspiring, then it is no reflection on what is going on within. And once you get it out on the road, too, the Karoq impresses.
The 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine might have only 108bhp but it’s what it does with it that counts. Its lack of power might make you think it’s lethargic but as we’ve found in other models, it really punches above its weight.
At really low revs it takes a few ticks before the turbo spools up to speed but when it does you get a lovely dollop of torque that keeps the engine spinning eagerly to the red line.
That means there’s plenty of punch for overtaking. If you’re feeling in the mood, it rewards you for holding on to each gear, the three cylinders singing happily as the revs climb. It’s a fun, characterful little engine – and no wonder, given it’s the same you’ll find in Volkswagen’s peppy Up GTI.
The Karoq is still as comfortable as ever, too. It doesn’t smother bumps in pillowy softness like the C5 Aircross does, but then that car can get caught out by sharper ridges; instead, the Karoq takes the sting out of imperfections both large and small, sharp and soft, to such an extent that, while you can tell they’re there, you aren’t bothered by them.
In fact, the only chink in the suspension’s armour comes over concrete slab sections of motorway, where there’s a little bit of vibration and the steering can feel oddly twitchy too, as though the front wheels are tramlining. But the rest of the time the Karoq feels remarkably composed whether you’re driving around town or at speed.
It’s still fun, too – more so than you’d give it credit for at first glance. The front end turns in surprisingly eagerly for such a high-riding car, and there’s plenty of feel so you can really tell what’s going on at the nose.
Body lean is kept neatly in check and there’s lots of grip, and pretty soon you grow confident enough in the Karoq’s responses that you find yourself bowling it into bends with a big grin on your face, leaning on the outside front tyre which carries you into the corner.
You can floor the accelerator on the way out too; the 1.0’s dearth of power means it won’t upset the front wheels’ grip on the road, though there’s still enough punch to haul you away from the bend.
And if you do push it too far, a gentle lift of the throttle is all that’s needed to bring the nose back into line – the Karoq is pleasingly vice-free, meaning that it should feel stable and assured in an emergency manoeuvre.
If you’re in the market for a family SUV, and you can live with the fact it looks a bit dull, then my advice is simple: buy this one.
Buy it in this form, too. The 1.0-litre engine is punchy enough to feel eager and energetic, yet frugal enough to suit these straitened times, and this SE L specification includes those
marvellous rear seats and plenty of other equipment besides. It’s great to drive, too, and not at the expense of comfort.
The Karoq remains, in short, a terrific all-rounder – and one that’s hard to shake from the top of the tree. It might be a bit boring at first glance, but dig deeper and you won’t find a better SUV for a small family.
On test: Skoda Karoq 1.0 TSI 110 SE L
Body style: five-door SUV
On sale: now
How much? £28,090 on the road (range from £26,255)
How fast? 118mph, 0-62mph in 11.2sec
How economical? 45.6mpg (WLTP Combined)
Engine & gearbox: 999cc three-cylinder petrol engine, six-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel drive
Electric powertrain: n/a
Electric range: n/a
Maximum power/torque: 109bhp/129lb ft
CO2 emissions: 140g/km (WLTP Combined)
VED: £230 first year, then £165/year
Warranty: 3 years / 60,000 miles (mileage unlimited during first two years)
Spare wheel as standard: no (optional extra)
136bhp, 44.2mpg, £30,275 on the road
It’s still Britain’s favourite car of this type, but there’s a slight whiff of “that’ll do” about the latest version – while it drives well enough and feels OK inside, it lacks the Karoq’s versatility and solidity, and neither is it quite as enjoyable to drive. For all that, the Qashqai looks smart, and its punchy engine has the legs over the Karoq’s. It’ll cost more to buy, though.
128bhp, 45.6mpg, £27,325 on the road
The big, comfy C5 Aircross runs the Karoq close; it, too, has five individual rear seats that slide and fold (though they don’t tumble or come out completely) and its boot is even bigger. Inside, it’s smart and stylish after its recent facelift, while the soft ride means it’s very comfortable. But it’s quite stodgy in bends, and its fiddly entertainment system lets it down.
148bhp, 42.2mpg, £29,690 on the road
The Sportage is more expensive than the Karoq, but then you do get around 40bhp more, not to mention an extra four years and 40,000 miles of warranty. The Karoq is still our pick because it’s more rewarding to drive and more versatile – but if your priorities lay with reliability and value for money, you’d be justified in thinking the Sportage a better bet.
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