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Skoda Kushaq first drive impressions

S Muralidhar | Updated on January 25, 2021

Will the first vehicle off the specially developed platform for India be worth the wait? We drive the pre-production model to find out

Many of you must have often wondered why there aren’t more hatchbacks or mass-market cars from the VW group, after all they have quite a few in their European portfolio. The reason boils down to this slightly vague term called ‘platform’ - the basic structure and underpinnings on which a range of vehicles can be built. And, which, in the Indian market context needs to be inexpensive, so that the vehicle built on it eventually can be priced competitively.

The Skoda-VW combine will attempt to do just that this year, when as part of its INDIA 2.0 project, at least three spanking new vehicles will roll out; all built on the MQB-AO-IN architecture. The shared platform, which itself is a version of the Modular Transverse Matrix of the group, will spawn vehicles in the A+, B and B+, and C segments, including various body styles within them. This will include the AO-NB, ‘Skoda speak’ for the notchback that will replace the current Rapid later this year. Of course, the first to roll out will be Skoda’s spanking new mid-size sports utility vehicle that has already been christened ‘Kushaq’, the Volkswagen Taigun will come right after.

Design

Specially developed by Skoda Auto and 250 of its engineers to suit Indian conditions and buyer preferences, the Kushaq is said to be the result of extensive market research. The final production version of the Kushaq will be unveiled in March this year, with the official launch expected by May. But earlier this month, a small bunch of motoring journalists were allowed to test drive a heavily camouflaged version of the pre-production model in Goa. Here are my first impressions of the Kushaq.

The covered drive involved just a couple of stickered and extensively padded pre-production models of the Kushaq - one each of the turbocharged one-litre and 1.5-litre TSI engine variants. The name ‘Kushaq’ (officially pronounced with a little stress on the ‘a’) has been derived from the Sanskrit term for King with a Skoda twist at the end. Skoda’s entire India line-up now starts with ‘K’ and ends with a ‘Q’. The name may be a bit polarising, but from the bit I got to see of its exterior design, I can say that this one’s going to be quite the looker. I was given a quick glance at an image of the final production version and the Kushaq has a strong SUV flavour with equally distinctive Skoda design elements at the front. Two-layered LED lighting, the classic butterfly grille and a mildly clamshell style bonnet. The front fender has been designed to be close fit with the kind of layering that we have seen in other Skoda SUVs. Wheel arches are prominent and the large stalked door mirrors are another Skoda signature design. The shoulder-line is set quite high, but large windscreen, rear glass and windows should mean that the DLO (daylight opening) will be good.

The face of the Kushaq will be unmistakably Skoda with a modern SUV feel to it. It won’t seem like a crossover, neither will it seem boxy. The roofline tapers at the rear with a thick C-pillar. The rear features a sharply chiseled profile including LED tail-lamps that sit on the haunches. Again a tightly integrated rear fender design should contribute to a length of about 4.2 metres. The wheels have been pushed to the extremities of the Kushaq, and with a wheelbase of 2,651mm, it promises a lot more room in the cabin than the competitors in the segment. The wheelbase of the Hyundai Creta and Kia Seltos, for example is 2,610mm.

Interior

The cabin of the Kushaq that I test drove was also extensively camouflaged with almost the entire centre console and door panels masked with tape. The overall impression I got was that it is a roomy cabin with typical Skoda levels of fit and finish. The dashboard top is a fairly level surface with the deity slot above the cascade style centre console. The flush-mounted touchscreen infotainment system and the panels surrounding give the dashboard a upmarket feel. The seats are firm, but comfy and will feature multiple upholstery options. There is enough legroom and headroom in the cabin and the rear should be able to handle three adults even though shoulder room will be just about sufficient.

Check out the list of features below for more details about the other offerings in the cabin. I wasn’t allowed to open the tailgate, but the boot space should be able to match current segment leaders, if not offer more. Safety features will also vary based on trim level, though electronic stability will be standard across variants. Skoda is also said to have tested the Kushaq to meet all safety regulations.

 

Performance

 

The age of the one-litre, 3-cylinder, turbocharged petrol engine is upon us already. And the Kushaq will premiere an all-new 999cc, 3-pot TSI petrol engine that is different from the 81kW mill that we have already seen in the Rapid. This engine will be the highlight of the Kushaq, in my view. It features the VW group’s turbocharged, stratified injection and dual VVT (variable valve tech). The free-revving engine is an eager performer, wanting to be pushed and there is nary a hint of it being a 3-pot mill. It actually sounds good even at high revs, and there is much juice in the midrange to exploit and enjoy. There is mild turbolag once you set off, but power delivery comes in fast right after the needle crosses the 2,000rpm mark. The engine features an integrated exhaust manifold and a variable oil pump.

This 1.0 TSI is paired with either a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed torque converter auto gearbox. Gear shifts are crisp and clean with a progressive clutch. The word is that the auto transmission is the fourth-generation and is being used for the first time in the Kushaq.

The other engine being offered is the 1.5-litre, inline 4-cylinder TSI petrol. On the road, this one clearly feels more powerful and effortless at slow speeds, though it lacks the drama of the 1.0 TSI. This engine features active cylinder tech and an active start/ stop system, both of which point to the prospect of this engine being a fuel-efficient unit.  The kushaq will be offered with gear boxes ranging from six speed manual, six-speed automatic and a DSG (dual-clutch) with both the engine options.

 

The Kushaq’s ride quality was another highlight for me. Yes, the 3-hour drive may not be enough to fully understand the dynamics of the vehicle; and the suspension is yet to be fully tuned. But, on the narrow streets of Goa and over some of the broken tarmac leading out towards the suburbs, the Kushaq held its poise, gliding over potholes and easily crossing tall speed breakers. There is mild body roll, but it is hardly an interference while cutting back in after a turn or while cornering. Braking seemed fine too, though the settings are yet to be finalised. Overall, the ride and handling seems refined and sporty for a vehicle in this segment.

Expectations

 

Skoda India will lay great store by the Kushaq; hoping that this will rebrand its image and reaffirm its commitment to the Indian market. The efforts are not going to end with the rollout of the compact SUV by mid-2021, but will extend deep into restructuring, rebranding and extending the reach of its dealerships and touch-points around the country. A warmer interior concept has been planned for dealerships. Extensive digitalisation will make the customer interface/ experiential more modern. The plan is to have 130 touch-points by the time the Kushaq is launched; 150 by year-end and 205 of them by 2025.

Both the engines on offer in the Kushaq have been extensively localised with the 1.0 TSI even getting in-house machined parts. The Kushaq will be nearly 95 per cent localised at the time of launch. So, expect an aggressive pricing strategy.

 

I expect the Kushaq to be priced in the Rs 10 lakh to Rs 17 lakh range.

Overall, I feel that it is a very positive outlook for Skoda with the India-focused Kushaq. The only feature I found amiss was the turn indicator stalk still being to the left of the steering wheel.

 

Published on January 25, 2021

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