Skoda Karoq SE L: long-term test review

Final report: Our versatile Skoda Karoq SUV has starred with all-round ability during time on fleet

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.5 out of 5

Karoq might not be a household name across the country yet, but rest assured it’s now a pretty popular one in ours. The Skoda SUV does everything a family car should at an affordable price.

Mileage: 4,345Economy: 37.5mpg

Hatchbacks were once the jack-of-all-trades family cars of choice for UK buyers, but increasingly that mantle is being shared with the mid-size SUV. Although Focus, Golf and Astra remain household names, they’re being joined by the loftier shapes of cars such as the Qashqai, 3008, Kuga and Karoq.

We’ve been getting to know the Skoda Karoq, our 2018 Mid-sized SUV of the Year, over the past six months, just as thousands of car buyers up and down the country will have done. It’s fair to say we’ve tested its abilities as an all-round family car pretty thoroughly in that time. The Karoq brings similar dimensions to the traditional family hatchback, together with the trappings that have fuelled the SUV boom.

• Best SUVs 2019

Overall, Skoda’s effort has confirmed what we thought we already knew: that it has very few weak spots when it comes to coping with family life. In that typical Skoda way, the Karoq is a little bit unexciting to look at, but the more you use it, the more you appreciate its underlying quality and the thought that’s gone into the design.

As a driver with a couple of young children, I find the Karoq a good size with plenty of rear legroom and a very generous boot. It can easily cope with holiday luggage, pushchairs and kids’ bikes – although not all at the same time.

The Varioflex rear seating system in our mid-range SE L model works a treat, adding the option of sacrificing boot space for more rear legroom by sliding the seats individually. We’d have given up some more boot space for a little bit of extra room in the back, because young children in booster seats did struggle a little bit for space behind a tall driver. Still, the system feels very sturdy and easy to use.

A means of folding the seats from the boot would have improved matters even further; perhaps catches on the outer seat shoulders rather than the fabric pull-downs where seatback meets base.

The reversible boot floor mat that forms part of the £120 family pack is well worth having in the interests of keeping the load space clean, but the £660 powered tailgate with ‘virtual pedal’ could probably be left on the options list without too much hardship.

We didn’t get much use out of the tray tables in the seatbacks that are standard on all Karoqs, because they feel a bit flimsy, and there just isn’t the room to use them with child seats in place. Beyond that, the Skoda’s taller SUV shape has its own practical advantages when compared with family hatchbacks. Getting kids strapped into their seats is less of a strain and many people will prefer the higher driving position.

The Karoq definitely gives you all the practical advantages that have underpinned the rise of the SUV as a whole, yet on the road it also manages to avoid many of the drawbacks. It drives with real composure for a car in this class, unfazed by quick changes in direction and refusing to lean too much in faster corners. The low-speed ride is probably a little on the firm side – particularly at the rear end when you encounter potholes or step off speed humps.

Overall, though, the Karoq is enjoyable from behind the wheel, reacting promptly to steering inputs and with the 148bhp 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine proving smooth and responsive.

In our experience, the model’s WLTP combined cycle economy figure of around 40mpg is pretty close to the mark. Skoda published its WLTP returns mid-way through our time with the Karoq, and they’re certainly far more realistic than the 51mpg average the same car achieved under the old NEDC regime.

We’ve averaged a consistent 37.5mpg over the course of our test, which has even included frequent trips through the dreaded London traffic. It’s perfectly possible to top 40mpg on a long run.

Nothing about the past six months with the Skoda Karoq has suggested it wasn’t a worthy winner of our 2018 Mid-sized SUV of the Year crown. It’s a thoroughly talented family car with few flaws and even in this increasingly crowded segment, it stands out.

Third report: Skoda Karoq

Our Skoda Karoq is proving to be the perfect appliance for everyday family life

Mileage: 2,714Economy: 37.3mpg

Comparing cars with white goods is a venerable motoring writer’s cliché, usually derogatory shorthand for models that are all about low cost, long equipment lists, long warranties and little else. Without much in the design or driving experience to raise an eyebrow, the idea is of cars plucked from the catalogue on the same basis as a new fridge or washing machine, with no emotional input on the buyer’s part.

Let’s be clear: to liken our Skoda Karoq to your new dishwasher would be to seriously undersell the car, although there is definitely something of the domestic appliance about our 2018 Mid-sized SUV of the Year.

There’s no doubt it’s short on flair. In the now-familiar Skoda way, the Karoq drives well and looks smart enough, but rivals such as Peugeot’s 3008 go to greater lengths to appeal emotionally. What the Karoq offers is an intense focus on the family car task at hand and a distinct lack of the kind of foibles and annoyances that crop up elsewhere. It just works, like a particularly well-executed tumble dryer, if you will.

So you get the point. It’s the Skoda Karoq’s straight-laced efficiency that invites the white goods comparison. Our SE L car also happens to be Moon White metallic (a £595 option) and that seemed reason enough to get the old fridge out of the shed.    

What does it all mean for the Karoq and its prospective buyers? I would say it’s a car that some drivers in this class are in danger of disregarding because its handsome but unremarkable lines don’t make much of a statement and its solid interior is a pizzazz- free zone. Give it time, as we have, though, and the rewards become apparent.

The Karoq is good to drive without pulling up any trees. The supple suspension controls body roll quite well and still serves up a decent ride that’s not quite as cushy as it was now that I’ve properly inflated the tyres; it will crash over bigger bumps, particularly at the rear. Noise from the 1.5-litre TSI petrol engine is well controlled and performance is strong enough to make it an accomplished motorway car. No complaints about the driving position, either, except the kids are a little squashed in the rear if I have the seat as far back as I’d really like it; I’m six feet tall.

The control layout couldn’t really be clearer, with large, well-marked physical buttons and a similarly user-friendly menu system for the eight-inch touchscreen. The instruction manual has never been out of its case, because even more obscure functions can be located with a little logic and patience.

Build quality in the cabin generally is top class and you can trace the roots of Skoda’s design back to the Karoq’s Volkswagen sister vehicles. VW itself isn’t known for pushing the boat out with bold interior treatments and the fact that Skoda has its wings clipped by the need to operate one rung down the prestige ladder from VW partly explains why things are a little visually dull in the Karoq. At least the part- leather seats add a hint of luxury on our car.

Better still is the rear, where the 588-litre boot is bigger than in many far larger SUVs. The seats slide fore and aft or fold down to create a 1,810-litre load area that’s brilliantly practical. We love the tough load floor mat with one side carpeted and the other rubber (part of the £120 Family Pack), while the seat mechanisms are light and easy to operate.

If we were going to split hairs, we’d probably sacrifice some of that giant boot for slightly better rear legroom. Although adults can be comfortably accommodated in the back, space is a little tighter with taller front-seat occupants in place, even when the sliding rear seat is set back.

The tray tables can’t clear the knees of kids in car seats, so we have to either fold or deploy them before strapping the children in. Meanwhile, Skoda’s otherwise neat seatbelt clips are designed to spring back flat to the seatbase when not in use, but they keep disappearing underneath the child seats, making getting the kids in the car slightly more problematic than it could be.

These are all small issues, however, and if anything, that underlines just how well Skoda has done in making the Karoq short on serious gripes.

Second report: Skoda Karoq

Bump at the rear hasn’t dented SUV’s appeal

Mileage: 1,617Economy: 36.5mpg

CLANG! Our Skoda Karoq has picked up a battle scar. A Ford S-MAX driver at an adjacent fuel station pump carelessly swung a door open and left a small round dent on the rear passenger door of our Skoda. It’s one of those you’d never spot if you didn’t know about it, but since we know it’s there the little dimple is forever catching the eye.

That mishap aside, it’s been plain sailing for the Karoq. The 1.5 TSI petrol engine is being installed in more and more models from across the VW Group empire and with good reason: it does a fine job of replicating some of the flexibility you get from a diesel while staying impressively hushed and responsive from low revs right through to the red line. It helps make our front-wheel-drive, manual Karoq a lively companion on B-roads with the easy, slick gearchange also adding to the experience.

Best SUVs 2018

You might want a little less body roll and more direct steering in this kind of driving, but Skoda has done the right thing in prioritising comfort in its small family SUV. The ride is supple and the Karoq isn’t thrown off its stride by bumps or undulations, while the major controls work with a deft lightness that reflects the composure the car offers. From a driving point of view, it’s a really well-judged package.

We’ve done just over 1,600 miles in the Karoq so far and it’s been hovering around the 37mpg mark. You’d probably gravitate towards the (£600 more expensive) 113bhp 1.6 diesel if you were doing lots of miles, but our 148bhp 1.5 is superior in terms of performance. It really is a fine engine that brings an extra sparkle to the Karoq driving experience, so we’d say try it before you buy.

First report: Skoda Karoq

Mileage: 477Economy: 37.0mpg

We know the Skoda Karoq is good. Not just good in fact, it’s our Best Mid-Size SUV for 2018. It’s blitzed our road tests and faced off against some highly talented rivals to drive away with the big award in what is one of the most competitive sectors of the UK car market today.

What we don’t know yet is what the Karoq is like to live with for an extended period. Will the sheen on Skoda’s all-conquering crossover be dulled once it comes into contact with a few oily bikes, wet dogs and kids’ crayons? That’s the next stage in our ongoing evaluation of the car and the unsuspecting guinea pig that’s set to get both barrels from the Walker family is the new Skoda Karoq SE L that has joined our fleet.

Skoda Karoq 1.6 TDI diesel review

It’s a £25,000 car as standard with the lively 1.5-litre TSI 150 petrol engine in the front. With 148bhp, you’re looking at a 0-62mph time of 8.4 seconds and a 126mph top speed, not that the latter even matters. Officially, average fuel economy is 51.4mpg, but it’s always best to take these official numbers with a pinch of salt. The 37mpg figure I’m getting in mixed driving is respectable, and I’m hoping that this will improve further as the Skoda puts on more miles and the engine and transmission loosen up that little bit more.

Our Moon White Karoq isn’t standard because we felt we should try out some of the more popular options for you. That metallic paint shade is an extra £595, and we’ve also gone for Lane Assist with Blind Spot Detection to improve safety for £850; an important factor in any family crossover.

The electric boot with ‘Virtual Pedal’, which allows you to open the powered hatch by wiggling your foot under the rear bumper, is £650, and looks costly at this early stage.

What seems better value, though, is the £120 Family pack that includes heat-insulating glass in the side windows, powered child locks, a little rubbish bin in the front door pocket and a double-sided protective mat for the boot floor. Every Karoq should have one.

With all the options factored in, we have a £27,494 Skoda that includes the impressive (but prone to collecting smudged fingerprints) eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system, leather and Alcantara upholstery. It also has LED headlights and the ubiquitous Skoda umbrella stashed beneath the passenger seat, plus an ice-scraper in the fuel filler door. Clever practical touches.

First impressions are that this is yet another tidy, solid and unfussy Skoda that’s extremely difficult to find serious fault with, unless it’s on the basis that you’d rather drive something with a bit more wow-factor.

There’s no doubt that Skoda plays it safe from a design point of view, but those chiselled exterior lines are unlikely to offend anybody, and inside the fit and finish is first class, while the plush Alcantara seating does bring an element of luxury to the Karoq. On the road the 1.5 TSI petrol engine is refined and punchy when you want it to be, offering strong low-down torque and therefore plenty of flexibility.

The six-speed manual gearbox has a really slick shift action, too, which actually makes the Skoda surprisingly good to drive. It’s helped by the supple and controlled ride, which translates to good body control when cornering, meaning the extra height of the SUV bodystyle isn’t really felt.

However, now that we’ve welcomed the Karoq to the Auto Express fleet, the car’s toughest challenges lie ahead. We’ll see just how accomplished it is as a crossover that needs to take everything life can throw at it in its stride.

If the Karoq has distilled the DNA of the larger Kodiaq into a smaller but no less usable five-seat package, then it’s set to be a sure-fire winner. That’s what I’m looking forward to finding out during my time with our Best Mid-Size SUV.

*Insurance quote from AA (0800 107 0680) for a 42-year-old living in Banbury, Oxon, with three penalty points.

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