Keen appetite for Skoda's latest

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The Karoq is a vital new medium-sized sports utility that is a replacement for the quirky Yeti. Photo: supplied

BIG wins and small are being celebrated by Skoda's distributor.

The first is a vaunted contract: If you haven't heard the one about the elite taxi service that has bought big into the largest Skoda sedan, then this is how it goes.

The client is Corporate Cabs, which until now has only had eyes for Australia's classiest large cars. With the previous primary choices long-wheelbase models from Ford and Holden no longer being produced, the standard-setter for quality cab service has turned to Skoda. In selecting the Czech crowd's largest sedan, the Superb, they've also set in motion the company's largest Kiwi commercial contract, with 400 cars being delivered between now and 2022. That's a big deal, right?

Actually, so is the small one. That's the Karoq, a vital new medium-sized sports utility that is a replacement for the quirky Yeti and very much a mini-me rendition of the Kodiaq that holds the current New Zealand Car of the Year title.

The line is modest _ a 1.5 litre TSi turbo-petrol Ambition Plus, a $4000-dearer Style and a 2.0-litre Style turbo-diesel (same power as the petrol but another 90Nm torque) _ but aspirations are high.

The car, which like Kodiaq has a name linking to Alaska, is expected to be Skoda's new sales leader within a year, mainly because Kiwis' enthusiasm for crossovers and SUVs is huge.

Key selling points include the generous interior room and luggage capacity and the manner in which those aspects are maximised by a neat design feature; Varioflex seating. This is a flexible arrangement of three separate rear seats that can be removed, one-by-one or all together, to expand boot capacity, ultimately to 1810 litres. It's a fuss-free exercise, not least because the chairs are quite light, at least for adults to cope with.

Even with the back seats folded down rather than taken out, capacity is still impressively above-average, at 1630 litres. Without the seats folded, capacity is 521 litres: Again, that's very good in this category.

Varioflex _ which, incidentally, isn't a Skoda idea (it first popped up in the Renault Megane Scenic in the 1990s) _ is so obviously useful you'd think it would be standard. Skoda New Zealand believes it should be.

Astoundingly, the factory doesn't. It's listed as an option in Europe so has to provision that way here, too. Yet don't be surprised if you see it, because Skoda NZ has taken a punt on the popularity and had it put into the first shipment of cars. From thereon you can spend $1750 and have it implemented individually (in the factory) or have it configured into the diesel Style as part of a plus pack.

It's a shame Varioflex has to come this way; anyone who doesn't take it and instead has a car with fixed back chairs will be kicking themselves, regardless that in the base format the seats still tilt and fold.

Still, options are what car brands use to lift their bottom line. With Karoq you can also spend extra for a panoramic sunroof ($2500) as another range-wide fitment, while the base editions require extra spend to win the electric tailgate and hands-free auto opening feature given the Style. Adaptive cruise control is an extra for Ambition Plus.

But set all that aside for the moment and consider the car as a whole, taking note that while not unlike the platform and tech-sharing five-chair VW Tiguan in profile, it is slightly shorter.

Driving-wise ride is a little firm, but it handles tidily. The diesel will win lots of South Island support but, overall, the turbo-petrol is likely to be the stronger choice nationally.

It's a new VW Group powerplant and Skoda gets to debut it. One intriguing feature is that it can cut down to two cylinders for super-economical driving when conditions allow. I achieved this on test and was impressed by the ongoing smoothness and lack of change to the engine note.

Typically for Skoda, the specification is strong. Even the entry edition has autonomous braking including pedestrian recognition, cruise control, Lane Assist, Blind Spot Detect, Rear Traffic Alert, front/rear parking sensors with camera, keyless entry/start, LED headlights and touch-screen with phone projection.

The Style adds in adaptive cruise, drive-mode select, power tailgate with Virtual Pedal, three-key personalisation, dual-zone air conditioning and more comprehensive cargo-compartment fitout, including partition net screen and Velcro cargo elements.

Meantime, Skoda NZ's strong and fast-paced growth has been noticed by head office, which is so keen to ensure the good times keep rolling that a high-up here for the Karoq launch was suggesting special protection for product supply.

Supportive comment is timely, as Skoda is in a period of record-breaking sales internationally and needs to build more cars. However, its plants in the Czech Republic are at full capacity.

New Zealand will not be left wanting because it has become one of Skoda's fastest-growing export markets.

Keen appetite for Skoda's latest
At a Glance

SKODA KAROQ

SPECIFICATIONS
Prices: $38,990 to $48,490
Engines: 1498cc four-cylinder turbo petrol, maximum power 110kW@5000-6000rpm, maximum torque 250Nm@1500-3500rpm; 1968cc four-cylinder turbodiesel, maximum power 110kW@3500-4000, maximum torque 340Nm@1750-3000rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed direct shift gearbox
Brakes and stability systems: Front and rear disc brakes, ABS, EBA, ESC, TC
Safety: NCAP five star
Wheels and tyres: Alloy wheels, 225/45 R19 (base)
Fuel and economy: 5.2 (diesel)/5.6 (petrol) litres per 100km, capacity 50 (petrol)/55 (diesel) litres
Emissions: 123g (petrol)/131g (diesel) of CO2 per km.
Dimensions (mm): Length 4382, width 2025, height 1603.