With Skoda India at the helm, the Volkswagen Group's new product offensive for the Indian market is SUVs. While Volkswagen India itself is set to launch the new T-Roc compact SUV this year, Skoda is also working on a new concept SUV based on the company's new MQB-A0 IN platform which is set to be unveiled at the Auto Expo 2020. Having said that, the production version of the new mid-size SUV is still a couple of years away, and in the meantime, the Czech carmaker is planning to launch a couple of new products, including the much-awaited Skoda Karoq, which is set to be launched in India next year.
Now, this is not a new space for Skoda, previously we also had its predecessor, the Skoda Yeti in India, which was truly a strong contender in this segment. However, despite some success in the global market, the Yeti failed to make a strong case for itself in the Indian market, mainly because it was too expensive and back then, Skoda was not really known for strong after sales service. Now, Skoda India's after sales service has extensively improved with offerings like - 4 years / 100,000 Km warranty and the Skoda Shield Plus that offers 6 years warranty, 6 years road-side assistance and 4 years maintenance package. And these features will certainly add to the value proposition of the upcoming Skoda Karoq.
Skoda recently invited us to its headquarters, in Mlada Boleslav, near Prague, where we got to spend a couple of hours with the SUV, and here are our first impressions.
The Way It Looks!
One look at the Skoda Karoq and you can't help but notice that the SUV is essentially a downscaled version of its bigger and more popular sibling, the Skoda Kodiaq. It's only when you place them face-to-face that you notice the difference in size and some of the intricate details that are unique to the Karoq. The Karoq gets a similar face with a signature butterfly grille flanked by a set of rectangular headlamps with Skoda's signature crystalline design and integrated LED daytime running lamps, along with a pair of trapezoidal foglamps positioned below. Also, the model we got to drive was the Skoda Karoq Sportline trim, which means all the chrome bits from the regular Karoq were replaced by glossy black elements, including the bumper which comes with body-coloured cladding with sharp black fins on either end.
There are other blacked-out elements across the SUV, including the ORVMs, roof-rails, side-skirts, and a set of handsome looking 18-inch Mytikas light alloy wheels, for which of course, which can be replaced with a set of 19-inch 'Vega' black polished alloys offered as an option. We also get to see the Sportline badging right where the A-pillar ends. The rear section, on the other hand, takes a much simpler approach in terms of styling with a clean and modest looking tailgate, in fact, it's only that C-shaped wraparound LED taillamps that truly stand out here. Like the front section, at the rear too the Karoq comes with body-coloured bumpers, with contrast black underbody cladding with an end-to-end chrome insert adding a premium touch.
The Way It Feels!
Step inside, and you will be welcomed by a sporty looking all black cabin instead of the dual tone beige and black cabin of the regular Karoq. The first thing you notice is the neat and well-equipped dashboard, which is the model we drove, featured the top-of-the-line 9.2-inch Columbus infotainment system that comes with features like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, gesture control, 64 GB storage, navigation and more. Given the short amount of time we had, we couldn't test all of it, but a couple of minutes of fidgeting around with it proved that the system is quite intuitive and easy to use. One element unique to this Karoq Sportline trim is the nice and sporty flat-bottomed steering wheel that comes with contrast white stitching, and right behind it was the fully digital instrument cluster. Yes, the virtual cockpit system is an optional extra. In addition to the basics like the speedometer and rev-counter, the display also offers other information like the driving mode, navigation, door ajar warning, and much more.
Skoda also offers sporty bucket style seats up front, which feel almost perfect in every aspect, offering great lumbar and under-thigh support along with enough room for your shoulders to move around. And for a big guy like me, that was of utmost importance. At the rear, the SUV comes with a bench style seat with 60:40 split that seems to be good enough for three average-sized adults, or just two if they share my large stature. In this Sportline trim, the seats come upholstered with premium fabric with contrast white cross stitching, and the rear seat also gets a foldable armrest for additional support. While the high-mounted rear window and the black interior might feel a bit claustrophobic for some rear passenger, but to counter that, Skoda has equipped the Karoq Sportline with a large panoramic sunroof that pours in a lot of natural light. And for that added comfort, you also get very effective rear AC vents.
The Way It Drives!
Now, the Skoda Karoq Sportline I was driving was equipped with a 1.5-litre TSI petrol engine that is only offered in the international markets and is likely to be introduced in India with the Karoq. The 1,498 cc motor certainly feels very refined. The four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine is tuned to churn out a maximum of 148 bhp, but the engine likes to be revved hard that means you have to push it a little more to attain maximum power, which in this case comes around 6000 rpm. Having said that, the motor also develops 250 Nm of peak torque, all of which is available from as low as 1500 rpm, going up to 3000 rpm, which means the motor has a strong low- and mid-range to keep you engaged in low revs as well. Given the short amount of time we had with the SUV, we could not test it, but the Karoq with the 1.5 TSI is claimed to achieve 0-100 kmph in 8.9 seconds, and that is fast, faster that is key rival the Jeep Compass.
While the engine does come with an optional 7-speed DSG automatic gearbox, the SUV we were driving was equipped with a 6-speed manual unit, which, I have to say, is very well calibrated. The gearshifts are smooth and precise and all you need to do is just offer a firm nudge and it slots in very well. The clutch too was pretty light, so there is no excessive pressure on your foot, and to make things more comfortable, Skoda has also added a dead pedal, which will certainly help during long drives. The steering too is a bit on the lighter side, but no way does it create a disconnect and offers good feedback as well. The cabin is also well insulated so there is not much of an engine or road noise seeping inside, however, a mild grunt of the turbocharged engine is audible, and instantly forgettable too. Similarly, the suspension too does a great job of handling some of the minor undulations that came our way, offering a comfortable ride. Initially, it does feel a bit stiff, but you soon get used to the felling and even enjoy it.
The Skoda Karoq certainly makes a strong case for itself. It's good looking, well-equipped, sufficiently powerful, and the ride and handling is as good as its bigger sibling the Kodiaq. While it's been present in the global market for almost two years now, the SUV still looks fresh and makes a lot of sense with regards to the features it has to offer. However, by the time the SUV arrives in India next year, the segment will be packed with some strong contenders like the MG Hector, Hyundai Tuscon Facelift, and even the Kia Seltos. Not to mention some of the existing players like - the Tata Harrier and the Jeep Compass. So, it all boils down to the pricing of the SUV, and if Skoda gets that right, say under ₹ 18 lakh (ex-showroom) it will certainly have a strong contender in mid-size SUV space.