If there’s one thing Skoda’s are known for, it is their tank-like build quality and with our lunar landscape passing off as state highways, it’s no secret why this Czech brand has become so popular in India.
The brand hasn’t had a lot of SUVs in its Indian portfolio barring the quirky Yeti and the full-size papa bear, the Kodiaq. But this, the new Karoq is the perfectly sized urban SUV that almost looks like a baby Kodiaq, seemingly with no compromise on the quality front. Imported as a CBU, the Karoq we get in India is essentially the same spec as the European car so fit, finish and equipment list is of high order, tempting us to take a closer look. It’s design is sharp, bold and very modern with tail lights that are second only to the Lamborghini Huracan maybe! It doesn’t divide opinion and is a crowd pleaser no matter how you look at it.
Whistle for the bells
The sharp-looking exterior is matched well by the clean and tidy interior. Unlike a lot of cars these days, it appears that it was designed by the same team, with the same attention to detail and high-quality bits. From the soft-touch plastics to the thin sliver of ambient lighting and generous use of chrome to lift things up, it’s a cabin for mile-munching alright. The all-digital instrument cluster is similar to Audi’s virtual cockpit and is customisable to your heart's content, whether you like maps, media, trip info or vehicle stats, in one dial format or two...it’s all possible. Four different views can be selected for the overall look of the virtual cockpit and should be enough for even the pickiest tech-heads. The volume scroll wheel on the steering is a nice touch, as are the paddle shifts, which only make the drive more engaging. There is a voice button too but it isn’t activated for the Indian market.
The 8in touchscreen is well integrated with the dashboard design and it’s super responsive and quick. It also has a Green Score card if you wear your conscience on your sleeve and want to use as little fuel as possible. Its intent is further supported by the cylinder deactivation tech that can shut off two of the cylinders during coasting.
On the media side, there’s the usual Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, though no wireless charging. Interestingly enough though, the cooled glovebox does get two SD-card readers, a carry over feature from the European market that holds little relevance in India now. The controls are easy and ergonomically laid out for the two-zone climate control, the powered driver's seat with memory and even the little touches in the boot that Skoda is famous for. Things like a magnetically attached torch in the boot, Velcro brackets to hold things from floating just go to show how Skoda tries (and succeeds) at differentiating itself from other VW group brands.
The audio quality from the hi-fi system isn’t the best though and while there is a grille for a midrange driver near the door opening latch, on the test car it was just a dummy speaker grille with no speaker driver inside, but you still get a tweeter on the A-pillar and a woofer lower on the door panel. Sound is just about acceptable and in this day of Bose audio offered even in cars half its price, it seems kind of an omission that Skoda didn’t choose to bring the available Canton audio option to this variant of the Karoq. There is no deep bass to speak of and even the highs get brittle and sharp at the top end, forcing you to keep the volume levels at lounge levels, not rock concerts.
Winner winner, TSI dinner
Get behind the wheel though and it all falls into place. The superb 12-way electrically adjustable seats get you into the perfect driving position, the quite cabin that just cocoons you from the outside world so well and the fuss-free ride all hint at its European roots. The ride is a bit firm but never unsettling, absorbing sharp cracks on the road while letting very little filter through the cabin. Find a good patch of road though and that silky smooth TSI Evo engine shows off its engineering pedigree. Packing in a potent 150bhp and 250Nm of torque are healthy numbers and yet what impresses you the most is its absolutely silky and free-revving nature that makes you want to take the longer route home just to open the tap. There is a perceptible lag if you mash your foot to the floor, but past 2000rpm it finds its wings and loves to soar all the way to its 6200rpm redline without any protest. It’s so smooth, it makes you wonder how you lived with another kind of engine before and just amazes with its responsiveness and power delivery. The 7-speed DSG gearbox is quick shifting at speeds and even fun with the paddle shifters offering more manual control. In stop-go traffic and darting through the two-wheel clutter, it sometimes gets jerky and confused but nothing that overshadows its brilliance in the overall scheme of things.
Coupled with the huge panoramic sunroof, light steering (too light for enthusiasts) and great visibility all around, this may just be the easiest SUV to drive around town in utter comfort. Dynamics are sharp too as long as you don’t treat it like a Porsche Macan, with body roll under control and a planted ride into triple digit speeds. More than anything though, it’s the effortless driving experience that makes it such a fun car to be in all day long. And even though it’s a FWD-only variant, at least it’s ground clearance is high enough to clear the scariest speed bumps on our streets. It’s front and rear parking sensors ensure that it’s also easy to park in the tightest spots and while the rear seat isn’t the most spacious, it’s also not uncomfortable by any measure.
As a family car, the Karoq ticks every box, including safety, with 9 airbags and ISOFIX mounting points on the seats. For the driver, it rewards with a drivetrain that’s probably the best combination in this segment and for the technology-inclined, it’s all-digital instrumentation is as crisp and quick as they get. It does miss out on some attractive features that even lower priced competition offers such as wireless charging, ventilated seats, branded audio and such, but it also makes up for it in a winning engine+gearbox combo and a tough as nails build quality that is wrapped in the best quality plastic and leather. It may be more expensive than the T-Roc but while the sibling’s order books are close, the Karoq is still in stock and probably the more sensible choice for a family since it’s larger and more luxurious. Barring its high cost of ownership that costs it a star in an otherwise 5-star package, the Karoq could just be the best city SUV out there.