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Czech Mate! Skoda Karoq

Czech Mate! Skoda Karoq

Remember Sarah Palin the attractive former governor of Alaska who ran for the vice presidency in America from the republican party, well she was more famous for the gaffes she made displaying her geographical ignorance than her political prowess, she even said that Afghanistan was a neighboring country to the United States. Now it is to this state of Alaska that VW  the owners of Skoda ventured to conduct a competition to name their latest SUV the Karoq. The name Karoq was picked from the votes of the populace of the Alaskan Aleutian islands and the locals voted for the name Karoq, not because their former newswoman governor loved karaoke singing but because in their Aleutian language it meant car and arrow, which incidentally are the symbols adorning the Skoda badge. VW and the Czechs would be peeved and regret their Alaskan adventure, if one day Sarah claims that Skoda is an American car by virtue of its Aleutian name.

Not many of the younger set of our motoring fraternity too would be familiar with the Skoda brand, though the name would resonate well with the Rally enthusiasts. In 2017 Skoda won the world rally champion title and four other world rally titles and thirteen national titles, consolidating their dominance in long term endurance rallying. I recall in the early seventies when Skoda was still under the control of the Czech Republic we had models like the Octavia and the 1101 and the 1201 and a few of the more desirable convertibles on Sri Lankan roads.

Skoda is one of the longest running auto makers in the world having commenced its production in 1895, however its biggest successes’ were achieved after its acquisition by the VW group in 1998. Since then Skoda has improved in leaps and bounds and their designs and models have won numerous accolades from the motoring world. Currently Skoda sells its cars in 102 countries with annual sales of 1.21 million units and is the second most profitable brand in the VW group after Porsche.

The Karoq is Skoda’s small SUV and is all new. Since demand has grown and outstripped production capabilities in the Czech Republic factory, that plant is undergoing expansion, and production will also take place  in VW groups Osnabruck factory in Germany till 2020, a factory where the VW Tiguan and Porsche’s 718 Cayman is made. The Karoq is based on VWs MQB platform which basically means transverse, front engine, front wheel drive/all wheel drive and is the one used from the VW Golf to the Porsche Macan and a myriad of VW Group models in between.

 

Exterior

The styling is absolutely fresh and chic and looks like a real European tailored suit. Beautiful lines, and lovely proportions all around, no unnecessary flamboyance or unnecessary bling. From every angle the Karoqs powerful sharply sculpted lines give off a purposeful look. As for features it just renders me speechless, as I have never seen such an abundance of well thought through and practical features, which only the Germans could put together so cohesively. Its got as many options as a north Korean generals’ medals on a parade day.

Is it any wonder that this car has won so many awards all over the world from best SUV(Motor trend), UKs most dependable brand, Car of the year 2018 (What Car), Golden steering wheel in Germany, just to name a few. Our car dealers who abuse the phrase “full option” will be smacking their lips in delight and popping champagne corks if and when they lay their hands on this baby as its got gongs and trappings like no SUV before.

 

Mech & Tech

The Karoq comes in a range of four engines and the one imported by Ideal automobile to meet market price points is the one litre three cylinder turbo charged unit, with 115 BHP and 145 lbs/ft of torque. Due to the peculiar duty bands in operation, which currently favour small capacity engines, the larger 1.5 litre was not considered. I can see the readers look of partial disappointment with this engine choice, but just wait for the driving impressions section to be amazed and surprised.

The gearbox is VW Group’s renowned 7-speed DSG and the front wheels are driven (all wheel drive is available in other markets). Braking is via all-round discs and the steering is an electric rack.

 

Driving Experience

Contrary to my expectations the little three cylinder fired noiselessly with one slight press of the start button in the keyless entry arrangement and idled without any vibration, and slotting the very tactile gear shift to drive, I expected a sort of ponderous strained take off for this rather largish SUV, but it was not to be. Skoda have tuned the maximum torque of this engine within 2,000-4,000 rpm and when the turbo comes on song in between, the engine just creams away without any hesitancy, due to the low kerb weight of 1,265 kgs. It’s a beautiful engine combined to a fabulous dual clutch seven speeder which shifts imperceptibly. There is absolutely no turbo surge and its extremely difficult to discern when the turbo kicks in as it is so smooth.

Using the paddles which are very rapid in their engagement you can drive this SUV quite spiritedly in a most enjoyable way. The power delivery is absolutely smooth and not strained the noise suppression is fabulous, the exhaust tone is very muted and one can make rapid progress listening to the stereo as you would in a luxury car. The zero to 80kmh range is the little engine’s armour suit and it excels in this very useable range. I am not joking here; this is a very well made SUV and has all the hallmarks present from the VW group’s ample portfolio. The suspension is a bit firm and on the sporty side, but not extreme and rode the bumps and ridges and potholes i threw at it, even at speed without any fuss in exemplary fashion despite some  high pre delivery air pressures in the 18 inch Michellins. The car is so well screwed together there were absolutely no squeaks or rattles. The test car was not AWD and yet, it cornered in absolute neutral fashion, with hardly any body roll and torque steer, even on hard acceleration post corner steering tug was nonexistent. The only foible I can even talk about is that on very hard acceleration off the mark the front tyres tend to scrabble a wee bit for grip due to the excessive torque lower down in the rev range, but it’s of no consequence as you merely have to keep your foot planted to the carpet and the engine and gear box does the rest, and I might say adds a bit of drama to the exit. The driver ergonomics are great, the seat is very comfortable and offers plenty of head, shoulder and leg room and the seat back adjustment is the infinite millimeter rotary adjustment, so you can really fine tune your seat position. As small SUVs go this is probably the best I have had a close encounter with, it rides, handles, drives and brakes with so much composure I can hardly find fault with it, and would make a great companion for the daily grind.

Don’t get me wrong it is certainly not a tarmac scorcher and neither will it make you a traffic light grand prix winner with its modest 10.5 sec acceleration for the 100kmh sprint, but puts you squarely within the sights of bigger engined runners on the highway, especially with its 186kmh top speed. The way its seven speed gear ratios are positioned, it would be a great highway cruiser and would run happily all day at 100kmh with the engine in its torque curve of around 2500 rpm, sipping fuel modestly. Don’t be fooled by preconceptions, this small one litre turbo lump is really a treat; just take a test drive to be convinced. Small is indeed beautiful.

 

Living with it

In typical German fashion the interior is top grade and compares with any premium VW product for fit, finish, quality and materials. The seats are a sports variety in full leather with quilting and contrast stitching, and the steering too is a small diameter sports version with multi functions and covered in hand stitched leather with thumb grips as in the more premium brands in the group. The gear leaver is aircraft inspired AMG style. Every conceivable electric accoutrement is on offer, electric folding wing mirrors, and electric windows with one touch on all doors etc. The 9.2 inch infotainment screen is so user friendly, and touch sensitive and has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto that enable you to link your Smarphone to the infotainment system seamlessly.

The Columbus satellite navigation with integrated WiFi and SD compatibility and Skoda Connect app (not forgetting good ol’ Bluetooth) give you unlimited connectivity whilst the Canton stereo system, will lend the best to Meghan Trainors “All about the Bass”. This whole shebang is absolutely over the top for a system in this segment of car, but I am not complaining.

It will be a great small SUV for a family as it has a surprising amount of space both in front and at the rear with plenty of head and leg room even for tall adults. The space utilization and creature comfort features are absolutely top class from seat back aircraft style foldable tables with integrated cup holders (ideal for the kids to use their laptops or tablets), to the deep door pockets that can take in large bottles of water or beverage, to the deep central bin with wireless phone charging, are all what one would want as a family.

The rear seats are a 40/20/40 split and each piece can be adjusted, removed or rolled on a rail to configure cargo space and shoulder room as you wish via the vario flex system. It’s a one man job and when all the seats are removed you can liberate a humongous 1,820 litres of space enough to transport your refrigerator if you are moving house. Each cup holder has a slotted bottom to lock in the slots of the water bottles so that one can untwist the stopper with one hand without the bottle rotating, clever isn’t it. The boot is huge and has a reversible rubber coated mat to carry soggy stuff or your pets, and has little removable partitions to keep rolling stuff like gas cylinders or rugby/footballs in place. There are rails with hooks to hang your siri siri bags or cloth bags for the environmentally conscious of us and to lock them in place.

Even the boot light doubles up as a removable torch, what amazing minute details. Unfortunately due to price pressure the agents have deleted some options but there is absolutely nothing that is not on offer, like electric boot opening and foot actuated virtual opening are all available as options. If you thought the Rolls Royce Cullinan was first to market with the electric foldable tow hook, well you are wrong as the Karoq offered it in 2017.

This SUV is equipped with the full screen front and rear/ side camera and a traffic warning system that is fail safe and would be a boon to lazy drivers who don’t want to move their torsos when reversing. The screen view can be changed by a hand gesture which is an unimaginable luxury in this segment of car. Even the doors have little retractable door protectors that pop out when you open the doors and there is an umbrella under the front seat and a slot to clip your parking ticket or revenue license, amongst the multitude of practical options on offer.

 

Safety

Safety is assured and the car has a five star rating on the euro NCAP, hence airbags, EBD, ABS, seat belt pre tensioners, pedestrian protection and the rest of the safety alphabet are all ticked.

There is a choice of thirteen colours with some attractive blues and a red and a choice of alloys from 17 to 19 inch diameters to satisfy all tastes. Moms will also be happy that their manicured nails will be well protected with the one push attachment for baby seats via the ISOFIX system and the provision of illuminated powder mirrors. Traditionalists will love the full sized Michellin spare wheel which is a rarity now, in European cars.

 

Fuel Economy & Price

The Karoq is priced at a 7.8 million rupees, which seems like good value for whats on offer in a relative sense of the prices prevalent in the market for SUVs. It is a European offer with European build quality and driving dynamics, so it has a distinct advantage over the Japanese even though there are not many brand new jap SUVs in this price range. The Chinese built MG which was featured in our May issue is very south of this on price and there are a few grey market versions like the Toyota CH-R (also tested in this issue) that could be likely competitors. The Peugeot 3008 is also within firing range, so it is indeed punching in a ring full of competitive pugilists.

The manufacturer quoted consumption figures and not tested by us are 6.2 litres /100 km for the urban cycle, 4.7 litres/100km extra urban and 5.3 litres/100 km for the combined cycle. At current fuel prices of Rs 148/litre of 95 octane at the pumps a kilometre would cost Rs 7.84 which is tremendous compared to current Tuk tuk and Nano cab rates.

 

Final Words

The SUV is marketed by Ideal automobile ltd and those in the market for an SUV would be well advised to include them for market mapping, and do take a peak and insist on a drive and do a coconuts to coconuts comparison before you decide.With such an incredible array of useful options and tit bits, a fabulous punchy best in class engine returning a miserly consumption, one could be hard pressed not to shake hands with one and offer it some real estate in one’s garage.

 

All good, but what about after-sales?

All Skodas will be serviced and maintained at the state of the art, modern and spacious workshop of Ideal automobile at Ratmalana.

I have personally visited the multi brand workshop which is equipped with all the high tech modern computerised equipment needed to service and maintain high end European cars like BMW, Mercedes ,Audi and even Ferrari (which they have experience with)! They also have a fully equipped body shop with water based painting booths and special dry sanding rooms, which are all state of the art  The facility is manned by factory trained personnel and you would be assured of a high level of professional services.

 

Tech Specs

Engine

999cc 3-cylinder

115bhp @ 5,000rpm

200Nm @ 2,000-3,500rpm

 

Transmission

7-speed DSG

Paddle Shift

Front wheel drive

 

Suspension

MacPherson / Independent

 

Brakes

Disc, ABS, EBD

 

Misc.

Length: 4,382mm

Width: 2,025mm

Height: 1,603mm

Kerb Weight: 1,265kg

Fuel Tank: 50L

Boot Space: 521-1,810L

 

Performance

0-100km/h in 10.5s

Top speed 186km/h

(manufacturer claims)