What is it?
The Skoda Karoq replaces the previous Yeti model in the enormous compact SUV marketplace battle.
Spacious, practical, value for money
The all-new Skoda Karoq is more than just a replacement for the popular (at least in the UK) Yeti. In fact, it’s almost an anti-Yeti. Gone are the squared-off proportions, left-field styling and general feeling of character. In their place is an accomplished and far more mainstream model.
The Karoq feels like it has absorbed the good points from most of its rivals in the compact SUV marketplace and combined them into one package. The only problem (depending on how you look at such things) is that it’s almost entirely unmemorable in every way.
If you don’t actually like cars and just want something to get you from point A to point B with comfort and practicality, and without breaking the bank, it’s pretty much perfect.
Another week, another compact SUV arrives in UK car showrooms. This week, it’s the Skoda Karoq joining the party. It replaces the Skoda Yeti, although it’s a very different sort of creature.
The compact SUV (or compact crossover, if you prefer) is the 21st-century version of the family hatchback. Two adults up front, two-and-a-bit kids in the back and enough boot space for a week’s worth of shopping or a weekend’s worth of luggage. Every manufacturer worth mentioning now has at least one of these vehicles in its line-up, and sometimes more if it’s trying to segment different demographics.
Skoda previously had the Yeti in this market. Although it wasn’t the first compact crossover in the shopping centre car park, it was certainly around a few years before most others jumped on the bandwagon. The Yeti’s identity befitted a new and unusual type of vehicle, a left-field choice compared to something like a regular Skoda Octavia hatch or estate. It was tall and square, with oddball headlights and a distinctive appeal. It wasn’t as wacky as the best-forgotten Skoda Roomster, but it certainly stood apart from the pack. And that summed up Skoda at the time – sharpening up its act but still drumming along to its own beat.
Now, however, things have moved on. The small-medium crossover market is no longer a niche; it’s the default choice for a family car. And Skoda is no longer a niche player, either. Over the last decade, the brand has gone from bargain bin to family favourite, and the decidedly different Yeti became rather out of step with the rest of the range. A mid-life facelift smoothed out the looks a bit, but it still had limited appeal in the fastest-growing market segment on the planet.
The Skoda Karoq, therefore, epitomises where the brand is right now. It’s a bit bigger than its predecessor, but that’s normal in the automotive market. What’s really changed is that the Karoq is a far more mainstream offering than the Yeti, which is one of the reasons it has picked up a new name. This is not a New Yeti; in fact, it’s almost an anti-Yeti. The styling is smooth and rather bland (although the front end, like all Skodas, is overly fussy), and dimensions are good to excellent in every direction compared to the class average.
Under the skin, the Karoq shares its platform and mechanical bits with the SEAT Ateca and Volkswagen Tiguan – plus a myriad of other vehicles based on the Volkswagen Golf underpinnings. On the surface, however, Skoda seems to have absorbed all the best bits from its very many rivals in this market and assembled them into a Karoq. Does that make it the best of its kind? Well, yes and no.
Buying and owning a Skoda Karoq
Like the rest of the Skoda family, the Karoq offers a lot of value for your money. The range consists of four trim levels, including one aimed specifically at fleet customers, plus two petrol and two diesel engines. In particular, the entry-level SE and mid-spec SE L models include a very competitive level of kit compared to similar vehicles from other manufacturers.
The top-spec Edition models include almost everything you could ever want in a family car, but the price is getting close to £30,000 for petrol models and beyond that for diesel models (although the diesel models do come with four-wheel drive, whereas the petrol models are only available as front-wheel drive).
The fleet-spec SE Technology won’t generally be available from dealerships for retail customers, although presumably they’ll pop up as used cars after a year or two. These models are probably the best value of all, as the price is the same as the regular SE but you get satnav, adaptive cruise control and front & rear parking sensors thrown in. Plus fleet buyers won’t pay anywhere near the retail price anyway, so company car drivers are getting the pick of the range and the best pricing.
Petrol engines consist of 1.0-litre and 1.5-litre options, producing 115 and 150hp respectively. Both are available with a six-speed manual or (for an extra £1,300) seven-speed automatic transmission. The petrol models are expected to be the bigger sellers of the Karoq range, especially with the current anti-diesel sentiment created by Skoda’s evil-empire parent company, Volkswagen. If you do want a diesel engine, there’s a choice of a 1.6-litre producing 115hp and a 2.0-litre with 150hp, with the same choice of gearboxes.
The diesel models might have identical power statistics to the petrol equivalents, but they produce more torque for carrying a full car-load of passengers and luggage, plus they have theoretically better fuel consumption and emissions. Of course, this is Volkswagen we are talking about so you can’t really trust their numbers…
If you want or need four-wheel drive, you need to have the 2.0-litre diesel engine. This makes it considerably the most expensive choice of Karoq.
Safety-wise, it’s good news all round. The Skoda Karoq comes fitted standard with autonomous emergency braking (which Skoda and other Volkswagen brands insist on calling Front Assist) to help reduce collisions, and it was awarded five stars from Euro NCAP for its safety systems and crash-test performance. Edition models get additional accident-avoidance safety tech that is optional on lower models, like lane-keeping assist and blind-spot monitoring.
Inside the Skoda Karoq
If the outside of the Skoda Karoq is impeccably drawn, solidly-built yet largely bland, the interior is much the same story. Materials are of good quality, it’s all well screwed together and the layout looks thoroughly conventional. There’s none of the quasi-futuristic look of a Peugeot 3008, and thankfully none of the dodgy plastics of some of its lesser rivals.
Everything is laid out very well, following the current trend for eliminating as many buttons as possible and throwing everything into a large central touchscreen. Despite the fact that touchscreens are still not well suited to driving, everyone’s going that way and Skoda is no different. The base-level eight-inch screen is actually easier to use on the move than the higher-spec nine-inch unit found on the Edition model, as it has a proper volume knob (although placed on the wrong side of the screen, away from the driver) and better virtual button placement either side of the screen.
All models get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility as standard (note to BMW: stop charging nearly £300 for this!). The sound quality is decent from the regular system but definitely better if you cough up another £400 for the optional ten-speaker Canton sound system.
The seating position and level of adjustment in both the front seats and steering wheel is very good, visibility is much better than most cars since the Karoq is not pretending to be a sports car or private jet, rear-seat passengers have plenty of room and the boot is reasonably large and well-shaped for family kit-shifting requirements.
Driving the Skoda Karoq
Our drive route on the Skoda Karoq launch went from Lincoln to Grimsby and back, so there wasn’t a lot in the way of hills and valleys. There was a good combination of motorway, A-road and windy, crumbly B-road driving, however, so we got to give the Karoq a good workout in varying conditions.
We drove the 1.5-litre 150hp petrol engine in both manual and automatic forms, and it is a great option for most family customers. It is zippy in city traffic and will hold its performance well with a load of passengers and cargo. If you don’t want a diesel but you still have to carry stuff around, it’s the best engine in the range.
The automatic transmission is smooth and efficient, happily working its way through all seven gears as needed to give you either performance or economy as needed. The manual gearbox is light and easy to use, and a lot more enjoyable than the auto if you’re not stuck in stop-start traffic every day. The steering is light and lifeless, like almost every car in this segment, but the Karoq responds well to your directions.
The ride is generally very good, but it’s actually the cheaper models (SE and SE Technology) that feel comfier due to their smaller wheels and taller tyres. If you want to sacrifice comfort for style with the 18-inch wheels and lower-profile tyres on the SE L and Edition models (and optional for the lower models), there’s not too much to worry about as the more blinged-up Karoq models still soak up most bumps, potholes and speed humps without trouble. Handling is not especially exciting, but the Karoq goes pretty much exactly where you want to with no fuss or bother.
The seats are both comfortable and supportive, so a three-hour first leg followed by another 90 minutes after lunch was no problem at all. Noise levels from the petrol engine were good – the diesel is likely to be a bit noisier, but if you have the stereo on or are chatting to your passengers, you probably wouldn’t notice.
All in all, it’s extremely competent without raising your pulse – perfect if that’s what you’re looking for.
In almost every objective way possible, the Skoda Karoq is a very good vehicle. It does exactly what it says on the tin, with no surprises (unless you live under a rock and haven’t seen a Skoda since about 1997). For a family with a couple of kids, it ticks all the boxes.
The only downside is that, within half an hour of driving the Karoq, nothing especially memorable comes to mind. It was very good at everything and bad at nothing. Actually, if you want to pick nits, the standard-spec cruise control buttons on the indicator stalk are fiddly to use. The optional (£300) adaptive cruise control gets its own stalk and it’s much easier to operate. But that’s really about it.
So if you’re simply looking for a comfortable, practical family car that offers good value for money, the Skoda Karoq should probably be at the top of your shopping list. If you want to enjoy throwing your smallish hatchback-based crossover down a B-road like a sports car, or if you want to stand out from the crowd, this is not that sort of vehicle. If you don’t really like cars and just want one that does the job of moving you and your loved ones from here to there, this is quite possibly it.