Skoda retake: New Karoq aims to replace quirky but practical Yeti
With the might of the VW parts bin and Skoda's quirky heritage behind it, the Skoda Karoq is entering a very crowded compact crossover market. Tom Wiltshire puts it to the test.
What is it?
We're getting pretty bored of introducing yet another compact crossover, but if anything has the potential to be a bit different, it's the Skoda Karoq.
It's the replacement for the Czech brand's quirky but brilliant Yeti, and incorporates the best the VW Group has to offer, peppered with 'Simply Clever' touches.
It has all the ingredients for success - a practical and comfortable interior, sharp but discreet styling, and a wide range of VW-sourced petrol and diesel engines. Can it mirror the success of its bigger Kodiaq brother?
The Karoq is an all-new car for Skoda, ditching the old Yeti's bespoke platform for the ubiquitous MQB underpinnings that can be found under so many VW Group vehicles.
That does mean the oily bits are all very well-proven, though, with the majority already racking up hundreds of thousands of miles underneath numerous VW Tiguans, Seat Atecas and Audi Q3s.
Inside is a similar story, with the refreshed cabin new to Skoda - but familiar to anybody who's sat in a modern car from the German brand.
What's under the bonnet?
Buyers can choose from a number of petrol or diesel engines, starting from an entry-level 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol to a range-topping 2.0-litre diesel in a variety of power outputs.
We spent a week with what's expected to be a real volume-seller - the 2.0 TDI tuned to produce 148bhp. It comes mated as standard to a six-speed manual gearbox, but our car had the optional seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.
We're familiar with this combination, and the engine is decent - smooth and refined, with enough power for easy overtaking.
The DSG 'box is less successful. It's great on the open road, offering super-quick shifts, but it's laggy at slow speeds and hangs when setting off from a standstill. It quickly becomes irritating in stop-start city traffic.
What's it like to drive?
The Karoq feels like almost everything based on the MQB platform - it's clearly a quality product, and there's a reassuring solidity to all the controls.
Skoda has tuned the Karoq differently to its Seat Ateca sibling though, aiming for comfort rather than dynamic ability.
Our model was equipped with four-wheel drive, and offered safe and steady handling. Push the Karoq a bit too fast into a bend and it does understeer, but stick within normal limits and it remains safe and inert, with body roll well controlled.
There's no fun to be had though, no matter how hard you push it. Where this pays off is in the Karoq's ride, which is compliant around town and cushioned at a cruise. With good refinement elsewhere, it's a relaxing car to do long distances in.
How does it look?
The old Yeti's looks were a real talking point, but the Karoq won't attract nearly so much controversy. Where the old car stood out, the new one blends in, with a generic silhouette only broken up by Skoda's now-trademark sharp styling lines.
It's far from ugly though, and looks every bit the Kodiaq's smaller brother. As for the Skoda badge, any perception that it's just Volkswagen's poor sibling has been washed away. No, it doesn't bring admiring glances in the same way an Audi Q3 would - but it's certainly a cut above a Nissan Qashqai.
What's it like inside?
The interior is a real success story of the Kodiaq. It's the ideal combination of roomy, premium and clever, and is likely to be a hit with family buyers.
There's a comfortable amount of room for four 6ft adults, and if you spec the optional VarioFlex system the rear seats slide and recline individually to help balance boot space and legroom.
Best of all are the 'Simply Clever' touches Skoda hides. There's an optional wireless phone-charging mat ahead of the gearlever, while little additions such as the sealed bin in the door pocket and tablet holders mounted on the front headrests are well-thought out - though these are options.
However, it's lost the Yeti's sense of sheer practicality, losing the boxy roofline for one more fashionable.
What's the spec like?
All models come decently equipped, with entry-level SE models offering 17 inch alloy wheels, autonomous emergency braking, automatic lights and wipers, rear parking sensors and cruise control, while inside dual-zone climate control and a raft of touchscreen connectivity come as standard.
'Our' Karoq came in Edition trim, which tops the current range. It's fitted with LED lights, 19-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery, and those excellent VarioFlex seats as standard. You'll want for very little, but the £30k+ price tag of our test car isn't such a bargain as models lower in the range.
The Karoq is another strong showing from Skoda, following the launch of the Kodiaq last year, and it's a clear indicator of the path the manufacturer wants to do down.
It's decent to drive, well-equipped and has a great interior. It's not as quirky (i.e. boxy) as the Yeti; some people will find that a massive bonus, others will hark back to the Yeti's distinctiveness.
Overall, however, even though it may not stand out from the crowd as much as its predecessor, it is much more in tune with the demands of the modern SUV market.