PACK SMART

ROOMY AND FLEX­I­BLE SKODA KAROQ ADDS CLEVER TECH TO SLICK STYLING

Mercury (Hobart) - Motoring - - FRONT PAGE - JOSHUA DOWL­ING

Skoda, the younger, brasher cousin of car gi­ant Volk­swa­gen, has been in Aus­tralia for 11 years sell­ing cars that are slightly cheaper and bet­ter equipped than the VWs they com­pete against — and whose un­der­pin­nings they share.

They also come with a five-year war­ranty for

added peace of mind, ver­sus three years’ cover for Volk­swa­gen. To en­tice buy­ers, Skoda be­lieves it needs to over-de­liver but it has been a tough road so far — its cars still only sell at less than one-tenth the rate of VWs in Aus­tralia.

How­ever, with SUVs such as the clever Ko­diaq seven-seater, our reign­ing Car of the

Year, and the lat­est ar­rival, the un­usu­ally named Karoq mid-size SUV, Skoda’s for­tunes may be about to change.

The Karoq puts Skoda in the thick of the ac­tion, join­ing one of the fastest grow­ing seg­ments of the mar­ket. As with many of its peers, the Karoq is front-drive only. An all­wheel drive will be added next year.

The range starts at $32,990 drive-away for a six-speed man­ual and $35,290 drive-away for a seven-speed twin-clutch auto. The Karoq es­ca­lates to $47,000 drive-away with all op­tions added, line-ball with peers that have all-wheel drive in this price range.

The ar­rival of the Karoq means buy­ers now

have more than two-dozen mid-size SUVs from which to choose — and there’s good rea­son to put the Skoda on the short­list. As one of the last to join the cat­e­gory it shouldn’t be a sur­prise that it’s one of the best dressed.

Stan­dard fare in­cludes radar cruise con­trol, au­ton­o­mous emer­gency brak­ing, rear cam­era and sen­sors, a large touch­screen with Ap­ple CarPlay and An­droid Auto, push-but­ton start, dual zone air­con, elec­tric park brake and dig­i­tal speed dis­play. The list goes on.

Clever Skoda touches in­clude a park­ing ticket holder on the wind­screen, tablet hold­ers be­hind the front head­rests, an um­brella un­der the front pas­sen­ger seat, an elas­tic cord in both

front door pock­ets to se­cure bulky items, a bin for the driver’s door and large ad­justable cargo hooks in the boot. As in the Ko­diaq, the cargo area light can be re­moved and used as a torch.

The Karoq’s big­gest party trick is the abil­ity to ad­just or re­move each of the three back seat­ing po­si­tions in­di­vid­u­ally. They can slide for­ward to cre­ate more cargo room, slide back to pro­vide more knee room, or be taken out al­to­gether by press­ing two red tabs on each seat.

It means the Karoq can be a five, four, three or two-seater. It is the only car in its class with re­mov­able sec­ond-row seats and in two-seater mode it has al­most as much cargo space as a small van.

It’s not the first Skoda with re­mov­able seats (the Yeti per­formed the same feat). The Peu­geot 5008 seven-seater’s back row can be re­moved.

Bumper-to-bumper the com­pact Karoq is marginally shorter than ri­vals — among them the Mazda CX-5, Toy­ota RAV4, Hyundai Tuc­son, Honda CR-V, Kia Sportage, Holden Equinox, Ford Es­cape and VW Tiguan — but has com­pa­ra­ble width and cabin space.

With the rear seats for­ward, it has the big­gest boot among its main­stream ri­vals. Slide them rear­ward and it ei­ther matches or ex­ceeds the oc­cu­pant space of most oth­ers in the class.

Every Karoq has seven airbags, au­ton­o­mous emer­gency brak­ing (crash mit­i­ga­tion at free­way speeds and a com­plete stop at city speeds), radar cruise con­trol, and rear AEB (in Skoda-speak, Manouevre Brak­ing As­sist).

More ad­vanced safety aids such as blind zone warn­ing, rear cross-traf­fic alert and lane­keep­ing as­sis­tance are part of a $1700 “Travel Pack” bun­dled with heated front seats, elec­tri­cally ad­justable driver’s seat and aut­o­fold­ing side mir­rors.

A pow­ered tail­gate, leather seats, front park­ing sen­sors, 18-inch wheels and a hand­ful of other ex­tras are part of a $3600 “Pre­mium Pack”.

The $3200 “Tech Pack” adds a larger cen­tral touch­screen, dig­i­tal ra­dio, built-in nav­i­ga­tion,

10-speaker pre­mium au­dio and wire­less phone charg­ing.

The $8900 “Launch Pack” adds the best of all three packs — which com­bined would add up to an ex­tra $8500 — but in­cludes five years of free sched­uled ser­vic­ing val­ued at $2088.

This pushes the price to $44,190 drive-away be­fore metal­lic paint is added — the higher end of the mid-size SUV class but a few thou­sand dol­lars shy of all-wheel drive petrol mid-size SUV flag­ships from Mazda, Honda, Hyundai and Kia.

You can spend in ex­cess of $47,000 with the ad­di­tion of a sun­roof, metal­lic paint and 19-inch al­loy wheels.

To fur­ther en­hance the Karoq’s ap­peal, Skoda would do well to bun­dle key fea­tures such as a power tail­gate, front sen­sors, built-in nav, blind zone warn­ing and lane-keep­ing as­sis­tance into one af­ford­able op­tion pack — or make them stan­dard. For now, buy­ers can’t cherry-pick from the op­tions lists.

ON THE ROAD

The Karoq has sur­pris­ingly sharp re­flexes for a mid-size SUV. It feels like a nim­ble high-rid­ing hatch­back rather than a com­muter car des­tined for a life in shop­ping cen­tre car parks.

The re­spon­sive­ness from the chas­sis is

largely due to the Karoq shar­ing much of its un­der­pin­nings with the highly re­garded VW Tiguan. We tested a car on 18-inch wheels and sporty Miche­lin tyres, with slightly lower pro­file rub­ber than the stan­dard 17s.

The ride feels taut over bumps — at cruis­ing or sub­ur­ban speeds — but it’s not bone jar­ring or un­com­fort­able. It’s a fair com­pro­mise for ag­ile han­dling.

The 1.5-litre four-cylin­der turbo feels a touch lazy on take-off but per­for­mance is brisk once it starts to ac­cel­er­ate through the gears.

There can be a slight pause from the twin­clutch auto when mov­ing from rest but it’s more re­fined than some other VW-Skoda twin­clutch au­tos and not as jerky in stop-start traf­fic.

Vi­sion all around is ex­cel­lent thanks to the large glass area and wide-view mir­rors on both sides of the car, al­though the op­tion of a 360de­gree cam­era would be wel­come for park­ing in tight spots.

The sporty flat-bot­tomed steer­ing wheel and driver’s seat po­si­tion have am­ple ad­just­ment, from hot-hatch low to SUV high.

The flex­i­bil­ity of the rear seats is re­mark­able and could well be a de­cid­ing fac­tor for many buy­ers. The clever ad­justable cargo hooks are also ge­nius. Over­all, it’s a smart pack­age.

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