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Skoda's mid-sized SUV is smaller than some but goes big on practicality features and still offers both diesel engines and mechanical all-wheel drive

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The Skoda Karoq has become one of the greatest success stories of recent years for the Volkswagen Group's increasingly favoured, functionality-first Czech car brand. It's also a salutary lesson in what sells to the company’s notoriously no-nonsense customer base. 

Back in 2017, the Karoq replaced a car fondly remembered in enthusiast quarters for its quirky looks and cheery character - the Skoda Yeti. And yet, for Skoda, the Yeti never quite converted such warm sentimental feelings into commercial success. The Karoq, by contrast, is now Skoda’s third best-selling model globally, yielding only to the Octavia and Kamiq. In total, the number built at Skoda’s Kvasiny plant now comfortably exceeds half a million.

The car went through a major facelift in 2022, when its exterior design was significantly updated, its cabin technologies upgraded, and its engine range revised. That engine remains a broader one today than many of the Karoq’s competitors in the compact SUV have, retaining both petrol and diesel options. Electrification has yet to make a significant impact on the car, but it does offer clutch-based mechanical all-wheel drive.



skoda karoq review 2023 02 panning side

The steel-monocoqued Karoq is built on the same MQB platform as every other entry-level SUV in the VW Group stable and, if it has a major fault, it may be that you could so easily confuse it with several of them.

While Skoda’s exterior design changes for the 2022 facelift did what they could to add distinctiveness - by grafting on a wider, bolder radiator grille and more decorative headlights - the Karoq remains a car that looks a bit ‘designed by numbers’. That it came along just as compact SUVs were exploding in popularity, and every one of Skoda’s VW Group sibling brands launched a car very much like it, didn’t help. But even now, it’s questionable if this car would pass the test of being distinguishable, at more than 100 yards or so, from a Volkswagen TiguanSeat AtecaAudi Q3 or any number of other similarly derivative SUV designs from outside of Wolfsburg’s oversight.

At 4.4m in length, it’s a little smaller than many of the cars against which it sells, but is by no means a mechanical powder puff. Turbocharged petrol engines of either three or four cylinders range from 109bhp to 187bhp, and from 1.0  to 2.0 litres in cubic capacity. Beside them, there remain two four-cylinder, 2.0-litre TDI diesels on offer in the car, with 115bhp and 148bhp respectively. Clutch-based mechanical four-wheel drive is available on the 2.0 TSI and the higher-powered 2.0 TDI options. A seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission is fitted as standard on all four-wheel-drive models and is optional on selected others.

Suspension is by MacPherson strut at the front and, in Karoqs with two driven axles, a multi-link axle at the back (where front-wheel-drive Karoqs use a torsion beam rear axle instead). Pre-facelifted Karoqs could also be had in Scout-badged form, with extra off-road styling - but aside from having since been removed from the range, these models offered no advance on the 180mm ground clearance of any other Karoq 4x4. A Rough Road option pack, which adds an underbody guard to protect the car’s engine and stone guards elsewhere, remains available on the car.

Skoda also offers a Performance Package option, which adds Dynamic Chassis Control adaptive dampers and variable-ratio power steering to the Karoq, but it can only be had on 1.0-litre petrols or 115bhp diesels.


skoda karoq review 2023 11 dash

The Skoda Karoq is small by crossover hatchback standards on overall length, but the car’s wheelbase isn’t. That’s the first clue that Skoda aimed to make well-packaged practicality and versatility key strengths for this car – and it has achieved that aim very well indeed.

To look at the Karoq from the outside is to worry slightly if it’s another of those downsized pseudo-SUVs that isn’t really any more spacious or convenient than a conventional compact family car. But to sit in each of its rows of seating, to interrogate the ways in which those seats adapt and move, and to discover the car’s many distinguishing storage and convenience features is to be very pleasantly confounded.

Skoda offers ‘personalisation keys’ as an option, each of which pre-programs the car’s driver assist, climate control and infotainment systems to your own preference when you unlock the car

The car doesn’t have the most high-rised, jacked-up body, but it does have reasonably high-set seats and plenty of head room. Its driving position improves the more willing you are to crank up the seat cushion and sit increasingly bent-legged – and that also benefits visibility, of course.

In the second row, large adults will find adequate head and leg room, good under-thigh support, and plenty of foot space under the front seats. 

SE L specification delivers Skoda’s Varioflex back seats as standard (all three of which tilt and fold individually, and can also be removed completely, one by one or all together), and they add considerable carrying versatility to the Karoq’s armoury. 

Take all three back seats out and there’s room for more than 1800 litres of cargo, which is genuine van-like outright capacity. Leave them in, however, and your second-row passengers enjoy picnic tables, with built-in cupholders, that fold out of the seatback in front; tablet holders that can retain a device at eye level, attached to the front headrest anchorages; good-sized door bins; a 12V power supply at the base of the centre console; and even, in the case of our test car, optional heated rear seats.

In the boot, you’ll find several separate storage cubbies to contain smaller loose items, as well as a pair of sliding storage hooks mounted on rails on each side of the cargo bay just below window-line height. The latter are very handy indeed for securing smaller bags. There’s also Skoda’s customary removable boot light-cum-torch, as well as a load bay cover that, being secured to the bootlid rather than the boot sides when closed, is never in your way when loading or unloading.

Among other ‘simply clever’ functional inclusions is an ice scraper for the windscreen carried inside the fuel flap; an umbrella you’ll find under the passenger seat; and, as an option, a powered tailgate that’s clever enough to recognise a downward tug as a sign that it should motor close rather than fight to stay open.

They complete a picture of thoroughly attentive practicality for the Karoq the likes of which few cars in its class can really approach.

Skoda Karoq multimedia

Skoda offers three touchscreen infotainment systems across the Karoq range. Entry-level cars get an 8.0in Amundsen system as standard. This comes without gesture control (which we don’t much like anyway) but retains knobs for volume and map zoom (which we do like – and which is missing from the top-of-the-line Columbus system). It looks good and is easy to use.

The Amundsen system includes navigation as standard, and you can add Virtual Cockpit digital instruments and wireless device charging by upgrading the Amundsen Plus system (£640). The squarish-aspect screen is easily big enough to relay mapping at useful scale and in detail, and the system is easy to program and to follow. Generally, it accepts a voice-commanded destination at the first time of asking.

Upgrading to the 9.2in Columbus system costs £1485 on mid-spec SE L cars (or £900 on an upper-level Sportline), and it comes with 64GB of on-board flash memory, DVD playback, 4G data connectivity, a wireless hotspot and music streaming.


skoda karoq review 2023 24 engine

We have, over the course of this car’s model cycle, tested 1.0 TSI, 1.5 TSI, 2.0 TSI and 2.0 TSI versions of it – and the engines we rated highest among those might not be the obvious ones. None of these engines deploys any meaningful hybridisation, although the 1.5-litre TSI is of the Volkswagen Group’s ‘1.5 TSI Evo’ family and does have active cylinder shutdown. 

At the bottom of the range, the Karoq’s 109bhp 1.0-litre TSI engine makes a perfectly decent fist of moving the car along. That it can only be paired with a six-speed manual gearbox is a bit of a shame, because it’s a pleasingly refined engine with adequate accessible torque, and it would make for a particularly quiet, low-effort kind of drive if partnered with Skoda’s two-pedal dual-clutch gearbox. Also, being clearly quite light in the nose of the car, it evidently makes for gentler suspension rates, the influence of which we’ll come on to shortly.

This car is rated to tow up to 2.1 tonnes on a braked trailer – up to 400kg more than any of its closest VW Group platform relations. I’d love to know how Skoda achieved that.

Above that, the Karoq’s 148bhp 1.5-litre TSI Evo engine is more of a mixed bag. It has more torque than the 1.0-litre and gives it a more authoritative outright turn of speed; but it’s also noisier and a little thrashy when revving hard, and isn’t quite as economical at a cruise.

The 187bhp 2.0-litre TSI petrol at the head of the engine range is a curious find in the car market of 2023 and makes for more than a modicum of pace and driver appeal in the Karoq – in the rare event you may be looking for that. Sure, it makes an unconvincing imitation V8 noise if you use Sport driving mode, but once you know to avoid that, it’s a pleasingly muscly powerplant that you can still stretch out to decent fuel economy when you need to.

The Karoq’s 2.0-litre TDI four-pot diesel engine is probably the smallest and slightest motor of its kind that you might seriously consider in a car for which you have regular towing or a bit of light off-roading in mind. That’s principally because you might reasonably expect a broader spread of accessible torque and better drivability of it than you’d see in the more highly tuned, smaller-capacity engines - now mostly petrol - that are becoming increasingly common in such cars.

It feels stout enough in its supply of mid-range torque to handle a decent-sized caravan or trailer, or to haul itself up a muddy slope, when it’s on boost. But it’s not quite as flexible in its power delivery as you might hope for, feeling notably unresponsive if you let the rev counter drop much below 2000rpm in a higher gear, and getting surprisingly obstreperous and impotent above 4000rpm. 

The diesel certainly obliges you to make regular use of the Karoq’s slightly notchy manual gearshift and to be in a well-chosen gear whenever possible, as does the 1.0-litre TSI petrol. With the 1.5- and 2.0-litre TSIs, flexibility is a little better.

The Karoq’s four-wheel drive system, meanwhile, seems to find ample and sure-footed traction even under sudden throttle applications and in slightly slippery road conditions. It’s standard on the most powerful models while, on the lesser-powered ones, what traction there is at the front axle is typically enough for road driving.

Outright braking power is good, with adequate pedal feel that suggests slowing and stopping a moderately heavy trailer with smoothness would be easy enough.


skoda karoq review 2023 25 cornering front

The Karoq is an entirely dynamically competent car to drive, with few immediately obvious or serious compromises or shortcomings save, perhaps, for a slightly tetchy, stiff-legged ride gait, although that depends very much on the particular engine and option specification. Typically, it doesn’t emulate the wieldiness or ride composure of a well-sorted family hatchback as uncannily as a Seat Ateca, Nissan Qashqai or Toyota C-HR can, but it seldom genuinely offends, either.

The chassis develops plenty of lateral grip, but not quite the handling precision of some of its competitors. It will carry as much speed as you’re likely to want it to on the road, and take a secure and obedient line through any corner.

But it will also roll a little farther and faster than some when you really press it, and has enough vertical body movement on choppier UK back roads as to just begin to feel restive and unsettled – and ultimately to undermine its directional stability if you encounter bigger bumps mid-corner.

The two caveats here relate to the entry-level Karoq 1.0-litre TSI model - by far the gentlest, best-riding and lightest-on-its-feet in the range - and to any car fitted with optional DCC adaptive dampers, which do improve the car’s slightly fidgeting ride notably. DCC can significantly dynamically improve even Sportline cars on their 19in alloy wheels. Where you can, it’s well worth having.

Off the Tarmac and on both gravel and grass, the Karoq 4x4’s axles and driveline combine to create plenty of traction and good low-speed control. The car’s damping is robust enough, and suspension travel long enough, that you can treat a medium-sized pothole with the same lack of concern you might apply to a sleeping policeman on the road. In both cases, however, you’d think twice before carrying too much speed.

Soft and a touch overly permissive is how the Karoq’s suspension feels when you really begin to throw the car around. This, we must remember, may be because it was the best dynamic compromise possible in order to allow the Karoq to cope off road, in four-wheel-drive trim, without mechanical running-chassis specification tweaks having been made.

What it means is that, up to a point when cornering, the car is a bit vulnerable to body roll but still stable, drivable and under control – as long as its vertical composure isn’t disturbed. 

Beyond that point, and particularly if mid-corner bumps are involved, the suspension allows enough pitch and roll to take grip away from the unloaded wheels – at which point handling can become untidy and the car’s electronic stability control, which generally works unobtrusively, has plenty to do.


skoda karoq review 2023 01 cornering

Skoda Karoq prices aren’t quite what there were at launch in 2017, when a little over £22,000 was enough to get you into an entry-level car.

Today, a ground-floor 1.0-litre TSI SE Drive costs a little over £28,000 (though it comes better equipped than it used to be six years ago); a mid-range 1.5 TSI SE L automatic is a little under £33,000; and you can spend more than £40,000 on a top-of-the-range Sportline 4x4 diesel, before options.

Prices like those don’t give this car an obvious bargain positioning but one closer to the middle of the pack. But when you start to take into account the equipment that the Karoq comes with, and its particularly versatile and well-furnished cabin - and also, that you needn’t splash out on the more expensive engines to get a refined, capable car - the value for money it represents becomes more apparent.

The Karoq’s 2.0 TDI’s fuel economy, 38.0mpg at test average and 47.1mpg on our touring run, is pretty standard for a crossover of this size. It wouldn’t be a selling point in a class in which we’ve seen touring returns of better than 55mpg from other options.

Indeed, you could expect better from the 1.0-litre TSI, while the 1.5-litre TSI averages around 50mpg on a moderate motorway cruise, and more like 45mpg in day-to-day use.


skoda karoq review 2023 27 static

Six years ago, some mixed first drive impressions of various versions of the Skoda Karoq made it a difficult car to pronounce on. What we’ve learned since, however, is that there are better dynamic prospects to be found within this car’s model range, if you know where to look for them; and, moreover, that the car’s true strengths aren’t much to do with how it drives in any case.

Few compact SUVs are as cleverly kitted out or versatile in their cabin layout as this. The Karoq is a car that makes a lot out of a fairly little footprint. A usefully large boot can be expanded to commercial-grade size if you take out the car’s removable back seats. A brace of kids can be kept very happy in the unusually well-provided second row. 

Trailers can be towed and light off-roading managed in the right-spec car or, alternatively, just pleasingly refined and gratifyingly economical everyday family motoring conducted. And it’s all very straightforwardly delivered, without pretence, hybridisation or gesturing towards superfluous driver appeal.

Many of us wouldn’t consider driver appeal superfluous, of course. Others might only see a slightly tawdry, derivative-looking mid-sized SUV clone here that lacks particular character or charm - not to mention the kind of bargain price that Skoda might once have given it.

But for those with no greater expectation of a smallish family car than to be functional, versatile and well suited to daily life, the Karoq should exceed their hopes with room to spare.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Skoda Karoq First drives