The Skoda Karoq will draw people in to Skoda dealerships until the India 2.0 cars are launched. But will people be driving out in them?
I have been waiting a while for this. I drove the Skoda Karoq last year in the Czech Republic and came away thoroughly impressed. But it is one thing driving an unfamiliar car on unfamiliar European roads. It is quite another driving it on roads you know like the back of your hand, where you have a whole repository of data in your head of what cars behave like on said road. I recalled what my verdict of the Karoq was from the last time I drove it. “The Karoq screams shrunken Kodiaq, and that can only be a good thing,” I wrote. Well, time to see if I got it right. Straight up confession though, I drove the diesel-engined Karoq last year assuming that would be the engine that made it to India. However, the 1.5 TSI is what is under the hood here, so this SUV is as new to me as it is to you.
There was a lot of anticipation building up to this day. I was excited to experience the 1.5-litre TSI Evo engine — not only because it shares a name with this magazine, but also because that this is an engine that is going to become a mainstay for VW in India alongside the 1-litre TSI. It’s already here in the T-Roc and now the Karoq, and will also make an appearance on the more powerful variants of the Taigun and Vision IN, as well as other cars from the India 2.0 Project. But I was also excited to experience the Karoq on familiar roads. Skoda just launched three new cars and while enthusiasts have been clamouring for a review of the Rapid Rider, the Karoq deserves as much attention too. It is an all-new SUV, and will keep people walking in to Skoda dealers until the Vision IN, or whatever it will be called in India, arrives.
Climbing in to the Karoq, the first impression I had was the same as the last impression I left it with the last time round — shrunken Kodiaq. The dash layout of the Karoq draws heavily from the Kodiaq — it gets the same layout on the centre console, same gear selector, virtual cockpit and steering wheel. The Kodiaq feels a little more regal with the large wood (or Piano black, depending on the variant) inlays in the dash, while the Karoq does away with that for a cleaner, simpler, dare I say more youthful, design. But like the Kodiaq, it feels solidly put together and really high quality. The Virtual Cockpit is a breeze to use, as is the infotainment screen and the rest of the controls around the dash.
The Karoq bears resemblance to the Kodiaq on the outside as well. Unless you’re really clued in to cars, you’d be hard pressed to tell the face apart at first glance. We were at a Skoda dealership three days earlier shooting a walkaround of the Karoq, and even Rohit, who literally looks at cars for a living, says it looked exactly like the Kodiaq. There are subtle differences — the headlamps, fog lamps and the DRL elements are of a slightly different shape. The SUV doesn’t look as imposing because it isn’t as big, obviously, and rear looks sharper. That rear end is actually my favourite angle of the Karoq — Skoda has replaced the badge with lettering and the taillamps look sharp, and purposeful.
Fire her up though, and the Karoq idles nearly silent. Before I even went near the accelerator pedal, the refinement of the engine made itself apparent. Ten seconds later, I was rolling down the road with nothing but the noise of the tyres filtering in to the cabin. Another 10 seconds later, I was shoved in to the back of my seat with a pint-sized ferocity so unique to these small turbo-petrol engines. And that sort of encapsulates everything you need to know about this engine — it is refined, but it packs a proper punch. 148bhp and 250Nm are reasonable figures and they are deployed through the 7-speed DSG rather effectively. The engine revs freely and doesn’t feel throttled by the strict BS6 emission norms it complies with. The mid-range is punchy, but there is very apparent lag before it gets on to boost. The DSG, for the most part, ensures that you’re not left hanging. It has tiny, plasticky paddle shifters behind the steering wheel too, and while I wish they were more prominent and a little more expensive-feeling, I’m honestly just happy they exist.
What really drew me in to the Karoq, was how the chassis compliments this engine. Yes, we’re constantly singing praises of these MQB-underpinned SUVs, but the Karoq manages to push the bar even higher. The shorter wheelbase and more compact dimensions lend it agility that the larger SUVs simply cannot manage. It feels quick to turn, reacts very predictably to inputs and has very good body control for a car so tall. The ride quality is impressive in the sense that it feels tied down while you’re at speed, absorbing smaller humps and bumps in a manner that you barely notice in the cabin. And at lower speeds, it will take on bad roads. It isn’t what I would call plush, but it is well set up for someone who enjoys spirited driving. One grouse I do have is the steering is far too light. This will be great for pottering around town but it feels a bit disconnected and vague at speed. The Karoq, unlike the Kodiaq, doesn’t get drive modes that help weigh it up a little more so you’re stuck with it in one default setting. The combination of the zingy engine and enthu chassis makes the Karoq proper fun in the corners. I was nowhere close to its limits with how much it was rain, but come dry roads, the the Karoq will be ready to thrill.
But we need to talk about the space and practicality of this SUV too — it is a genuine concern, so allow me to give you some sensible advice. Space inside the cabin is adequate, but not great. The Karoq isn’t too wide and it gets apparent with how close your passenger sits to you. This means three abreast in the back is a squeeze. As for the rear bench, you get just about enough knee room though thigh support is a bit lacking. But the light interiors and the massive panoramic sunroof do give you a sense of space. The cabin is sensibly designed — bottle holders, cup holders, cubby holes are all within reach. There’s a large boot as well, but there’s no electrical opening and closing. I must point out though, that if space is of concern to you, an SUV like the Hyundai Tucson provides far more room inside the cabin.
The question I saw myself asking myself as the day went on was this — do I stick to my original verdict about the Koraq being a mini Kodiaq? Yes, and no. The Karoq borrows parts of the Kodiaq that we love — its build quality, its styling, the sophisticated ride quality. But the Karoq also carves out its own identity, and separates itself from the preconceived notions you may have built of it from the Kodiaq. The simplified interior design, it gives you the sense that the Karoq takes itself less seriously. The compact dimension make it fun to chuck around. And the engine is what really transforms its character. The Kodiaq felt slightly ponderous — the diesel engine felt a bit underwhelming at speed. The new engine, coupled with the lighter, more nimble chassis of the Karoq give it a sprightliness that the Kodiaq never had.
The elephant in the room, though is the pricing. Rs 25 lakhs isn’t particularly affordable. You need to remember that this is a CBU, which explains why it costs so much, despite it being exempt from homologation. Does it justify the price? Unless you prioritise the driving experience over everything else, I would find it hard to recommend. You will find SUVs that give you nearly everything you get here that are more affordable, and you will also find SUVs that give you a lot more at this price point. But if its a smile on your face that you want, the Karoq will deliver and how.