Cheapest option in the range is refined, pleasant, well equipped and packed with practicality
The facelifted version of the Skoda Karoq, the Czech marque’s compact SUV, impressed us with its functionality, space and ease of use earlier this year, but much less so with its price (which, in the case of the range-topping 2.0 TSI Sportline we tested, exceeded £40,000 after fitted options). So, to gauge how appealing this Nissan Qashqai rival might be at the more affordable end of the showroom spectrum, enter this entry-level petrol version: a Karoq with a 109bhp three-cylinder petrol engine, a manual gearbox, front-wheel drive and a price that only marginally exceeds £25k. Might it make a better case for itself as a no-nonsense family car in these value-orientated times of ours?
The short answer is you betcha. The Karoq now comes in three trim levels, and with a choice of five engines in all (two of which can be had with a DSG automatic gearbox, or four-wheel drive, or both). You might imagine that the very cheapest 1.0-litre TSI manual in SE Drive trim would be meanly equipped – but it’s actually got loads of added-practicality features as standard, all of the infotainment functionality you’ll be likely to want, and a gratifying quiet, comfortable, refined and unpretentious dynamic persona.
Unlike the bigger Skoda Kodiaq, the Karoq retains a moderately compact outward footprint, but inside it has an airy cabin, and room for adults of average height in the back seats as well as growing kids. Up front, there are loads of useful storage areas; elasticated retention straps in the door pockets to keep your drinks bottles from rattling around; a handy lined rubbish bin in the driver’s door; and even an umbrella hidden inside the driver’s door itself.
In the second row, there are fold-out picnic tables and tablet holders on the front seatbacks, as well as individual reading lights and good-sized door pockets, and even a 12V power socket at the base of the centre console. More than enough to help keep the kids entertained on long touring trips.
In the boot, more delightful sensible touches abound. You’ll find sliding bag hooks, Velco-bottomed loadbay dividers, and several storage nets. As standard, the car offers a generous-looking 500-odd litres of carrying space under the loadbay cover, but option up the VarioFlex back seats (which come for no extra cost anyway on mid-range SE Drive models) and you get 40:20:40 seat folding, extra individual seat adjustment, and the option to either flip up or remove each back seat entirely to boost cargo capacity to a whacking 1810 litres as a maximum.
This is Skoda delivering big with so many of its trusty ‘simply clever’ practicality features, for a fairly small price – and when you take them all in, you can’t help but wonder why every car isn’t so perfectly designed for life.
The Karoq’s driving environment is pretty simple and easy to interact with. It’s presented with only a sparing amount of style or material flourish, but there’s enough to catch the eye and to give the car the odd bit of visual intrigue in places. You sit medium high in a medium-sized but comfortable, fairly adjustable front seat, in front of supremely readable analogue instruments, and with chunky, physical secondary controls for the air conditioning, door locks and parking sensors on the lower centre stack.
The standard-fit Amundsen infotainment system is well presented and easy to navigate and it offers wireless smartphone mirroring for Apple and Android handsets, too. You can use the left-spoke steering wheel cursor controls to interact with it if you don’t like a touchscreen interface. Alternatively you can use natural-speech voice control although be warned: the system’s standard wake-up command is ‘Okay Laura’, which could make for frustrating journeys if you’ve already got one of those in your family.
On standard 17in wheels and fitted with that 109bhp three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, the Karoq does refined, laid-back, cost-efficient family motoring very well. You can have one with sportier variable-ratio steering and adaptive dampers if you want, but you’ll need neither to end up with a car that has a supple and isolated ride, mature, predictable and easily manageable handling, creditable real-world economy, and decent performance and drivability.
The engine makes a healthy 148lb ft of torque through the meat of the rev range and pulls with a boosty-feeling responsiveness in everyday motoring, so while the Karoq isn’t the kind of car to hurry around for the sake of it, it doesn’t feel underpowered, either. The manual gearbox has a fairly short throw and decent shift quality, and even when the engine’s revving hard, it remains pretty smooth and withdrawn. Drive it more normally and you’ll close in on 50mpg on longer trips.
The Karoq is a car that, with the right engine and trim level, clearly offers a great deal to those who want affordable, sensible, comfortable, economical and super-functional family transport. It’s neat enough to look at, and both pleasant and easy to drive, too, with a pragmatic and understated charm that eschews superficial affectations – and it is all the more likeable as a result.