Skoda Kushaq first drive review: Confident foray into mid-size SUV space
Skoda has taken its own sweet time to enter a fiercely competitive yet extremely lucrative space it ought to have forcefully barged into some time back. The Skoda Kushaq then has a long task of not just making a name for itself but be the fulcrum on which Skoda Auto India expands its ubiety in the market.
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After all, a Rapid alone at one end and the likes of Kodiaq, Octavia and Superb at the other end of the price spectrum may not be able to help the Czechs grow firmer, longer roots.
The rapid (no pun intended) rise in popularity and demand for sub-compact and mid-size SUV segments has been a) meteoric and b) here to stay. There are multiple options and some very, very entrenched players but because there is so much scope still there for the taking that a new entrant like a Kushaq could well flex muscles. But does the latest from Skoda does punch and punch hard? Does it have what it takes to woo and wow prospective buyers, sway them away from the Korean camps and take note? Read on for this extensive first drive review of the all-new Skoda Kushaq, an SUV designed and developed specifically for the Indian audience.
In Vision, In Focus:
Did you know that Skoda had revealed the Vision IN SUV at Auto Expo 2020? Kushaq is the production version of that same concept vehicle that did generate a fair bit of buzz. And subtle changes aside, Kushaq's exterior design highlights mostly do carry forward what was initially showcased on Vision IN.
Skoda claims that a close and concentrated effort was made on how Kushaq appears from the outside. It just needed to get more than a second glance. I can clearly see that there is an effort that has been made. Here is an SUV that isn't flashy but it isn't understated in the looks department. Walking the middle path isn't always easy and while looks are always subjective in the automotive world, Kushaq's design language sure is pleasing to the eye.
The face has the blackened chrome grille that is also seen on the larger Kodiaq SUV and it has a prominent chrome outline on all sides. On either side of the grille are LED headlights with integrated DRLs which sit just above the fog lights which come with cornering functionality. The front diffuser is done in silver while the bonnet has a touch of butch but with svelte vertical lines meeting the Skoda logo for a nose.
Move to the side and it is clear that Kushaq isn't going to be the tallest in the segment. And yet, there is appreciable levels of ground clearance with the SUV standing on very smart looking 18-inch dual-tone alloy wheels. There is a prominent black cladding stretching between the wheels, on the lower end of the doors and while I have mixed opinions about this, there is hardly any denying that the silver roof rails up top, the Skoda fender garnish and the strong character line stretching from here and all across the doors and till the tip of the rear lights lend a certain credence to the side profile. And speaking of the rear lights...
Kushaq gets LED tail lights that appear like a modern rendition of a stone axe. Skoda describes it as crystalline tail lamps and it does look smart on the over all rear profile of the SUV. Add a dash of chrome and big Skoda lettering on the tail gate, a topping of shark fin antenna in black and a big splash of rear diffuser in silver again and it completes a careful al dente of automotive design recipe.
|Kushaq dimensions (in mm)|
|For purpose of comparison, Hyundai Creta is longer, wider, taller but Kushaq has longer wheelbase.|
The car I received for the test run was in the Honey Oragne colour but there are four other hues to choose from - Candy White, Reflex Silver, Carbon Steel (Grey) and Tornado Red.
A Tale of a Classic Cabin
Step inside the Kushaq and it becomes amply evident that this car right here is all about getting the basics right. No, there is only regular sunroof in place here and no, there is no AQI display. And no, there isn't a sound system from a well-known premium audio brand. And yet, the Skoda sound system sounds just fine to the discerning ears.
Skoda doesn't go overboard with either the feature list or the styling inside the Kushaq but instead, manages to offer a space that is well appointed and pleasing to the senses. For most parts anyway.
The 10-inch infotainment screen is perfect in terms of its placement and response to touch. It offers large 3D navigation, showcases vehicle statistics, can be used for audio controls as well as to access apps that Skoda is offering free - four for now. Piano black finish on parts of the dashboard and on the center console bring up the premium quotient.
There is support for wireless phone charging, USB type C ports and wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
The semi-digital driver display, however, looks a bit mismatched and slightly outdated considering what is on offer in cars even in lower segments.
Similarly, the ventilated front seats in the Kushaq are a great addition but cannot be controlled electronically, not even in the top end.
The materials, for most parts are par for the course and while there are hard plastics on the side doors, these are rather inconspicuous.
There is superb levels of kneeroom for the passengers at the back, under-thigh support and headroom is about adequate and while foot space under the front seats is rather restrictive, the seats all around offer good levels of cushioning. Thoughtful touches like a slit in the back of the front seats to place a mobile phone is crafty and there are rear AC vents and two USB type C ports on the back of the center console.
Kushaq has large windows, gets an armrest with cupholders and while three abreast may not be very comfortable, the seats do fold in 60:40 ratio to add to the 385 litres of boot space.
On the move - Czech Forward Attack
Kushaq is initially coming to the market with a three cylinder 1.0-litre petrol engine which produces 115 Ps and is mated to a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic gearbox.
And because the more powerful 1.5-litre TSI engine - is scheduled for next month with option of manual and DSG, it is the 1.0-litre unit with manual transmission that I drove in and around the city of Mumbai.
And through the constant rains, there was one thing that shone bright in the Kushaq - a steady, stable drive characteristic that offers a reassuring calm. The TSI engine has made quite a name for itself and its positive traits continue to shine inside the Kushaq. Power builds gradually but around the 2,500 RPM mark, there is a semblance of rush that helps the SUV push clean on open roads and yet meander around in tight city roads as well.
What also helps the Kushaq is a nicely weighted steering wheel that remains steady even at triple digit speeds. The vehicle may not seem absolutely pleased about being thrown into tight corners - there is noticeable body roll in the second row, but keep the enthusiasm levels under check and Kushaq will reward you with its 'good-boy' demeanour.
The Skoda vehicle's suspension is a tad stiff but thanks to a well-insulated cabin, NVH levels are under strict control even when pushing forward.
Kushaq is clearly a manifestation of Skoda minutely examining the mid-size SUV space and then preparing a list of priorities. With decent looks, a capable drive, good rear seat space and essential features in the cabin, Kushaq may still be priced extremely well when launched on Monday (June 28). If Skoda is able to convince new customers of providing a stellar post-sales network, this car here could be a serious challenge to the more established players that it will compete against. Underestimate Kushaq but at your own peril.