Parkers overall rating: 4 out of 5 4.0

Update 1: Introduction and spec

2019 Skoda Karoq red front

It’s not without slight trepidation that I’m here introducing my new Skoda, but only because Adam’s recently waved goodbye to one of the best all-rounders I’ve encountered since I began writing about cars over a decade ago. The Octavia Estate vRS 245 DSG – the big green dream machine – was so good in so many ways that it’s an incredibly tough act to follow.

But try to forget about that, because I’ve got the keys to a new Karoq SUV, and I’ll be spending six months trying to work out why you’d buy it over an identically priced medium-sized estate car.

That cost to buy outright? £32,535 once all options are included. The vRS mentioned above starts at £29,245.

This is the most athletic Karoq in the range, in Sportline specification with a 2.0-litre, 190hp motor, seven-speed DSG gearbox and all-wheel drive.

Skoda Karoq Sportline spec

  • 19-inch alloys
  • 8.0-inch infotainment system with DAB, Bluetooth, sat-nav, Android Auto and voice control
  • Rear-view camera
  • Cruise control with speed limiter
  • Dual-zone climate control
  • Panoramic, opening glass roof
  • Heated front seats
  • LED headlights, taillights, interior lighting and puddle lamps
  • Powered bootlid

On top of that little lot, which reads like a long list of luxurious features to me, I’ve gone for a couple of options. I spent £150 for a puncture-proofing space-saver spare wheel, and £550 for a speaker upgrade to the Canton system.

Skoda has yet to apply the velocity-focused vRS veneer to the Karoq, so for now if you want peppy performance this drivetrain is your lot. It’ll cover 0-62mph in 6.8 seconds, which means it’s a full two seconds quicker than the lesser petrol motor, the excellent 1.5 Evo that our testers preferred during the launch of the Karoq.

Personally, with the sorts of driving I do (25-minute commute, mainly A- and B-roads, relatively quick) I wouldn’t consider any of the diesel options these days. It’s far worse to drive and thanks to its demonisation by the Government costs are rising quickly when it comes to fuel and car tax. With this setup I’m promised average fuel economy of 33.2mpg, and a range of 484 miles between trips to the filling station. Will it beat that in the real world? There’s only one way to find out…

With its performance focus, this Karoq offers a different take on the small SUV compared with other top-spec versions in the line-up. The Edition offers a posher, more polished vehicle and the Scout is clad in plastic bumpers with a clear off-road bent.

However, I have gone for all-wheel drive. You don’t get a choice with my engine and gearbox, but I still wanted it because for reasons that will become clear over the coming months, I often find myself in the middle of fields, and sometimes they’re muddy. I don’t expect this Skoda to trouble any Land Cruisers in the off-roading stakes, but the confidence to leave the tarmac every so often will be very welcome indeed.

And so will the boot, which measures a useful 521 litres. The mathematicians among you will agree this is less than the Octavia Estate’s 610 litres, but the far higher loading lip in the Karoq redresses the balance somewhat. It’ll make hefting my heavy sailing kit a little easier, at least.

2020 Skoda Karoq boot

Despite the illusion created by a name like ‘Sportline’, I’m not expecting the Karoq to drive anywhere near as well as the Octavia. This is a tall car and doesn’t look particularly well suited to hammering around country lanes, whereas the vRS was an absolute joy on the right road. Will the little SUV surprise in the sporty stakes?

I’m curious to learn what life’s going to be like with the glass panoramic roof too, particularly when the weather is at its best. In the past I’ve found the cabin gets unfeasibly hot if left in the sun with no cover over the glass. Thankfully there’s an electrically retractable fabric sunblind installed, but whether I remember how to use it is another question altogether.

Anyway, suffice to say I’m looking forward to spending time with this car. In the few moments I’ve already spent with it I’ve noticed it’s already turning heads and people are stopping me to ask about it – something I truly wasn’t expecting – so I think it’s going to be a thrilling few months. I’d best go stick some miles on it!

Update 2: Performance and Handling

2019 Skoda Karoq red side

Since taking delivery of the Karoq I’ve really been racking up the miles, both on and off road. Over the past few months I’ve used it as a support car for two big events I was covering with my day job on Motor Cycle News – the Devitt MCN Festival of Motorcycling, which took place just over the road from the office at Peterborough Showground, and the Goodwood Festival of Speed 160 miles away down in Sussex.

I was camping at both venues, which is why this Skoda’s off-road credentials have come to the fore. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve not exactly been scaling Everest – but on grass and mud it’s been an exceptional companion. It might be in Sportline specification, but actually there’s decent ground clearance thanks to the amount of space between the 19-inch wheels and the bodyshell. Around the flat grass of Peterborough’s salubrious sun-drenched Showground it was unstoppable.

Couple that clearance with the superbly smooth twin-clutch DSG gearbox, with its seven ratios and simple operation, and you’ve got a formidable ally when things get slippery. And at Goodwood, it rained. A lot. This was the first time since taking delivery of the Karoq that I felt the 4x4 system was essential. Our campsite was on a serious slope, and within minutes of the heavens opening the entire area became a quagmire with a gradient; exactly the scenario where a two-wheel drive car would start to suffer with wheelspin.

2019 Skoda Karoq red front grille

Would a front-driven Karoq have managed to extricate itself from the mud? Probably, with very careful driving and a favourable wind, but I wouldn’t have wanted the job. Instead, the Karoq’s four driven wheels bit with such confidence that I was able to drive off like the rain had never happened.

Back on the road I’ve loved life with this small Skoda SUV. Its subtle styling belies the fact it’s packing 190hp of 2.0-litre turbo engine, so when you want it to the Karoq can really get on with it. A 0-62mph time of 7.0 seconds shows it’s not slow, but it never ceases to entertain when an overtake looms and I can make use of all that in-gear torque.

And do you know what? It actually sounds good too. Sure, the noise is absolutely synthesised, which becomes amusingly obvious when you switch to Sport mode and the noise increases instantly, but they’ve done a decent job here. It doesn’t sound anywhere near as fake as some modern cars.

Another surprise, given the tall stance mentioned earlier, is its handling. The steering is extremely responsive when you’re pressing on, but there’s none of the wallow you might expect from a car like this. It leans more than an Octavia, but with entirely predictable composure. Thanks to the 4x4, its nose doesn’t push on in bends either, as torque is sent to the rear when needed to pull the tail around.

I’m going to say something I really wasn’t expecting to: I really like driving this car. It’s shaping up to be one fantastic all-rounder.

Oh, and a final note on festivals for now – we’ve been using the Skoda as event support, which means going in and out of gates showing passes every time. The Karoq’s clear plastic car park ticket holder on the right-hand side of the windscreen is the ideal tool for the job.

2019 Skoda Karoq ticket holder

An elegantly intelligent solution? Skoda calls these sorts of features – an ice scraper in the fuel flap, an umbrella under the passenger seat - Simply Clever. Who am I to argue with that?

  • Mileage: 2,476
  • Fuel economy: 30.1mpg

Update 3: Flat tyres and fantastic tech

Skoda Karoq spare wheel being put on

It’s been a tumultuous few months for the Karoq and I. The car remains excellent, but after years of rolling around on reliable rubber, I’ve suffered a pair of punctures within the space of 14 days. Naturally this afforded me the opportunity to test how easy it is to fit the spare wheel, which lives in the boot underneath the false floor. Remarkably, it’s a £150 optional extra, though I’d expect any dealer worth their salt should be chucking it in for free.

But it’s a good job I’ve got a spare, because puncture number two – a rapid deflation caused by a large piece of plastic going right through the middle of the tyre – probably couldn’t have been fixed using the foam Skoda will provide otherwise.

Fitment of said space-saver was easy thanks to the tools the Karoq carries. Not only do you get a scissor jack to lift the car and a wrench to remove the hub bolts, but said bolts have caps and there are plastic tweezers to take those off too, saving you from getting your fingers covered in brake dust.

Taking the alloy off and replacing with the space saver takes no longer than five minutes, which I was very pleased about given puncture two was in pouring rain… you need to keep your speed down to 50mph and drive no further than 50 miles on the smaller spare, but frankly this is an emergency solution and fixing it should be a top priority. A fitter came to my work to change it, which was nice and easy.

It’s not all been all doom and gloom, either. I’ve been spending time getting to know the Amundsen multimedia system that comes standard on Sportline Karoqs, and it’s one seriously impressive setup – particularly coupled with the optional (£550) Canton speakers, which sound like a far more expensive upgrade in terms of punch, richness and volume. I’d strongly urge anyone looking at a Skoda to look this way too.

But back to the multimedia itself. Phone wise, I’m a Google Pixel user. So the existence of Android Auto is a massive bonus. It means I can navigate using Google Maps, which I’ve come to prefer to crowd-sourced traffic-dodging Waze. I like Google Maps because it offers you alternative options, seems incredibly accurate and learns your regular routes, which means you have oft-visited locations suggested. And the inclusion of Spotify means I can make best use of those speakers.

I’ve also been using Google Assistant a lot to tie it all together – the voice control system built into my phone but controllable through the car. It’s been learning too, and now I can speak casually to my smartphone without ever having to look at it, let alone touch it. We truly are living in the future.

Skoda Karoq with space-saver spare wheel

Except for one thing, in fact. The Karoq was one of the last Skodas launched with Android Auto that requires hard-wiring (plugging a cable into phone and car). The new Scala can be ordered with a wireless version, and if you opt for a wireless charge pad too, all I’ll need to do is put my phone on the pad and everything else will work seamlessly, in theory. I hope I get the chance to test that at some point soon.

  • Mileage: 4,657
  • Fuel economy: 29.9mpg

Update 4: A trip to the Lakes

Sitting outside my house in Northamptonshire, I fired up Android Auto and Google Maps told me it’d take 4h45 to reach my destination: Windemere in the Lake District. The Karoq was packed to the gunwales with kit for a trip to see two close friends tie the knot, and my wife and I couldn’t have been more excited.

However, that anticipation was tempered by the fact that I knew this should only have been a 3h30 drive. Clearly there was some traffic somewhere along the optimum route, because Google, in its infinite wisdom, thought the best way there was a jaunt north on the A1, hanging a right at Scotch Corner and through the Pennines on the A66 before dropping into the Lake District and our final destination. The more direct way there is via the A14 and M6 – two of the most notoriously tempestuous road systems in the country – so it wasn’t really a surprise that my mapping system thought an alternative was a better bet.

2019 Skoda Karoq long-term lakes

We still hit a load of traffic en route, but the Skoda retained its excellent composure for the duration. Those sports seats in Sportline models really do keep you comfortably cossetted for long distances, and the seven-speed DSG transmission has almost flawless mapping, which keeps gear changes smooth and appropriate to the speed you’re travelling. No complaints here.

As we left the A66 and approached the Lakes, the roads improved dramatically for those who like driving. Undulating curves abound, it was 7pm and there was hardly a car to be seen, so Sport mode was engaged and I began to unlock the Karoq’s potential as a genuinely entertaining steer – something you wouldn’t necessarily expect from a small Skoda SUV.

Carving my way through the hills, the steering weighting in its chunkiest setting, I started employing the paddles on the back of the steering wheel to command the DSG ‘box to stick in the gear I wanted. This allowed me to flex the muscles of this brilliant 2.0-litre turbo petrol motor, which pulls stronger than its 190hp would suggest is possible. It sounds great while it’s doing so, too, and when it’s time to change gears the Karoq does so with a reserved but sporty trump from the exhaust. It’s impossible not to grin just a little bit.

The nearer we got to our hotel, the thinner the roads became, but again this Skoda shrugged it off with ease. You’re able to thread this car through remarkably small gaps, which can feel strange given it feels like a large vehicle when you’re going 70mph on the motorway.

And when I had cause to leave the open road altogether and creep up a farm track, the all-wheel drive system meant I didn’t even think about getting stuck. It’s no proper off-roader like this, though:

2019 Skoda Karoq long-term with 4x4

Drawbacks to using the Karoq for a long weekend away? The fuel economy isn’t brilliant. I’ll get 32mpg on a cruise, but considerably less than that when taking full advantage of the motor to have fun. That also means the Lakes weekend was a two-tank trip, whereas I’d have done it on one in many other cars of this size. I’d still prefer petrol to diesel, though.

  • Mileage: 7,659
  • Fuel economy: 32.0mpg

Update 5: Verdict

2020 Skoda Karoq rear

Given the car enthusiast buried deep within my soul dislikes ‘soft-roaders’ like the Karoq rather vociferously, I’m startled to say I’m very sad this smart Skoda’s no longer on the drive. They pretty much had to wrestle the keys away from my bare hands. And it wasn’t just me who was upset. My Wife, who’d spent more time in the car than anyone except me, wasn’t at all impressed with its disappearance.

To say that’s a ringing endorsement of the Karoq’s talents is a true understatement, but this really is a fabulous all-rounder. The list of things we liked about it after half a year is almost as long as the spec sheet, so in this round-up article I’ve distilled it into a list of my top five, with a little explanation on each.

That engine/gearbox combination

Let’s not beat around the bush here. The 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine (shared with legends like the Golf GTI, Golf R, Octavia vRS and many more cars in the VW empire) is a thing of great amusement in a small SUV. It sounds great, has more performance than most will need and delivers it in a punchy, predictable way.

2020 Skoda Karoq inside

The seven-speed gearbox is also brilliant, swapping ratios almost inperceptably in Comfort mode, but shoving you forward aggressively in Sport. It’s a combination that encourages you to use the drive modes to their full advantage. This transmission feels very well matched to the motor.

Sure, the fuel economy could have been better, but if you’re not doing starship mileages all the time then the grin factor could easily out-weigh the wallet hit. It’s a handling hero, on and off the road.

With the VW Group’s Haldex-branded all-wheel drive system, this Karoq feels absolutely glued to bends. You can push as hard as you like and it’ll remain friendly and approachable, with chunky steering weight in Sport mode to provide that little extra feedback. But it was my trip to Goodwood, and its notoriously muddy car parks, that showed just how versatile this car could be. It brushed off the quagmire forming after a heavy rainstorm on my way out of the show, where lesser cars will getting stuck left, right and centre.

Sporty looks, but it isn’t uncomfortable

Big wheels, bodykit, sports seats: sound like a recipe for a Karoq-ey ride? But actually, this Skoda does a great job of marrying athleticism with a modicum of comfort. The seats are worthy of special note alone – they’re soft and well sized, but supportive where they need to be as well.

2020 Skoda Karoq driving

I loved the build quality on show as well. A few years back you’d be forgiven for accusing Skoda of playing second, third or fourth fiddle to VW when it comes to interior finishing, but clearly something’s changed. Styling aside, the materials in the cabin felt more Waitrose than Lidl. It all adds toward this car feeling like a great value buy.

Interesting Infotainment

What did we even do before Android Auto? I’ve used the system so much that I’ve almost forgotten life with a ‘normal’ sat-nav. It’s a wireless connection away from perfection, in my eyes, taking care of streaming, mapping, traffic, weather and even messaging – all through voice control.

That optional £550 Canton sound system helps too, its rich and punchy sound quality adding to the experience. It’s the little things.

2020 Skoda Karoq infotainment

Skoda’s marketing folk say it’s called ‘Simply Clever’. I’m going to have to agree. There are numerous light functions on the Karoq that make day-to-day life that little bit easier. Things like the parking ticket holder, ice scraper or hideously practical modular boot design. It feels like this is a car company that really cares about its customers, and that’s no mean feat in this world of faceless multinational corporations.

So there we have it. I’ve waxed lyrical about a car I wasn’t expecting to be much of a fan of. What a refreshing change to start something cold and wind up so enamoured. If only that was the case with every car I drive…

  • Mileage: 8912
  • Fuel economy: 32.1mpg