The compact SUV segment has witnessed the fastest growth in the car market. The excitement of buying into a new body style, the advantages of higher ground clearance and more cabin space have seen many buyers dump D-segment sedans and instead choose compact SUVs. The Hyundai Creta and the Kia Seltos have expanded the market and set the benchmark for meeting buyer expectations in the segment. Despite the surge in fuel prices, there doesn’t seem to be a dip in the market for these vehicles. In fact, there are a whole bunch of them in the works and due out later this year or in 2022.
The next one to roll into your nearest dealership will be the Skoda Kushaq. With such venerated, entrenched competitors already ruling the segment, the Kushaq will need to deliver a more compelling proposition to draw customers away. And surely, they’ll be looking to woo new buyers too and not just Skoda loyalists. Buyers who may still nurse any soreness from the brand’s reputation for shoddy customer service in the past could think that the Kushaq’s India focus is probably just symbolism, but it is certainly more than that. Yet, does the Kushaq have enough going for it to take on the titans in the segment.
Only one way to find out.
I travelled to Mumbai, after what seemed like an eternity (grounded by the pandemic), to test drive the new Kushaq. Unlike the prototype I drove in Goa a few months ago, this one was yanked off the assembly line for us journos to test drive.
A full day’s driving and I got to clock a decent mile log both in city and on the highway.
In pictures and even in the flesh, the Kushaq ‘looks’ like it is smaller than the Creta. It is actually only a shade shorter in height and length as Hyundai’s compact SUV. But the Kushaq’s wheelbase (2,651mm) and its overall width is actually a few centimetres more than the Creta. It’s design gives it a slightly less raised stance, which is probably from the sloping, compact bonnet and the comparatively less pronounced wheel arches, all of which contribute to making the Kushaq visually seem smaller.
But, it is one good looking compact SUV - distinctively Skoda and very different from the current segment favourites. Its reinterpreted butterfly grille, power dome on the bonnet, the unique light elements and the sporty front fender are the special features at the front that make it stare-worthy.
The waistline rises gradually from the front side panel logo garnish and ends at the tail-lamps, giving the rear a sharp-edged haunch. The rear features lines similar to the ones that can be seen in the brand’s other vehicles like the Kodiaq. The C-shaped split tail-lamps are unique, yet sport a recognisable design. The 17-inch alloys have also been specially designed for the Kushaq. Overall, it’s exterior design is very Skoda-like, very European and very close to the VISION IN concept that was originally showcased by Skoda at the Auto Expo last year.
My first impression of the Kushaq’s cabin was that it is busy with multiple surfaces and materials on the dashboard. But, once I settle down and soak in the interior, it feels like a modern, tech-laden cabin that is meant to appeal to a young target audience. Small textured plastic inserts and piano black panels break the monotony of a black and grey cabin theme. There is a touch panel for aircon controls (for mid and top trim variants), in addition to the 10-inch infotainment touchscreen at the top of the centre stack.
The dashboard layout is very recognisably Skoda. But some interesting additions in the Kushaq point to how serious the company has been at making this a focused vehicle for the Indian customer. Features like ventilated leather front seats (for the top trim variant - in pic) and an auto dimming rear-view mirror are welcome additions. The instrument cluster is the classic, dual-pod analog dials with a digital info display in the middle. The two-spoke steering wheel features unique chrome scroll wheels for infotainment and display controls. There are small chrome inserts, garnishes and handles that elevate the quality of the cabin. There are some plastic bits that feel tacky, though there are no complaints about fit and finish.
The Kushaq’s seats feature sporty construction and are comfortable during long drives. During the overcast, steamy Mumbai afternoon when I was hopping in and out of the car, the cooled seats were a blessing. Rear seats are a bit short on thigh support and the shoulder width are a bit tight for three adult passengers. The legroom, kneeroom and headroom will be closely set to current segment players, with the exception of the Tata Harrier and the MG Hector, which would be more spacious. The Kushaq also gets ambient lighting, electric sunroof and wireless phone charging - three modern features that are fast becoming the norm in this segment. A small selection of remote connectivity features, including GPS based location tracking is also offered.
The Kushaq is being offered with two petrol TSI engines - one is a 3-cylinder, one-litre and the other a 1.5-litre, 4-cylinder engine. At launch, the one-litre will be first available for deliveries, and the 1.5-litre will be available for deliveries from August. The one-litre delivers 115PS of power and 178Nm of torque, and is available with a 6-speed manual or an optional 6-speed torque converter automatic gearbox. The Kushaq is said to be the first vehicle in the VW group to get the 4th Gen auto transmission. This 999cc, 3-pot unit is not the same engine as in the Rapid. It features a variable oil pump, integrated exhaust manifold and dual VVT to improve efficiency, performance and refinement.
However, my test mule was the manual transmission variant of the 1,495cc, inline 4-cylinder, petrol TSI engine. This mill delivers 150PS of peak power and 250Nm of torque. To transmit power to the front wheels, there is also an optional 7-speed DSG (dual-clutch) gearbox that is available. This is the latest EVO generation small displacement engine from the VW group. It features active cylinder tech, which automatically shuts off the middle (2&3) cylinders when the engine load is low. The deactivation and revival is imperceptible and is meant to help deliver higher fuel efficiency. The Kushaq 1.5L also manages to deliver quite a brisk performance with a claimed 0-100kmph sprint under 9 seconds.
The engine is refined, power delivery is very linear and the gear ratios feels perfectly spaced, even though the gear stick throw felt a tad longer than I’d have liked. The clutch is also very progressive and the overall experience is comfortable in city and sporty on the highway. The engine sounds good too, even at high revs. The Kushaq is likely to be the segment benchmark when it comes to ride and handling. Even driving the prototype had already delivered the message. The Kushaq is supremely steady at high speeds, there is nearly no body roll and the steering feels quite precise, though I’d have liked it to feel heavier at high speeds. Ride quality is the right level of rigid over broken tarmac. I drove through ‘kutcha’ roads and some pothole riddled sections off the highway and the Kushaq rode over all of them without the suspension getting rattled or transmitting at that stress into the cabin.
The Kushaq also gets some interesting new safety equipment and aids. Aside from the regulars, it also gets brake disc wiping, rollover protection, hydraulic brake boosting and an electronic differential lock. Rear brakes are drums, but ESC, ABS with EBD, and two airbags are standard across all variants.
The Kushaq has been built on the MQB-AO-IN platform that has been specially developed for the Indian market. And much localisation means that Skoda has considerable pricing power to take on the competition in the VFM (value for money) parameter too. The base Active trim is available only with the one-litre TSI and starts the range at ₹10.5 lakh. The mid-trim Ambition too is offered only with the 3-cylinder engine. The top-trim Style variant is offered across all engine and transmission options. The 1.5L manual that you see in these pics will retail for ₹16.2 lakh and the 1.5L DSG has been priced at ₹17.6 lakh. All prices are ex-showroom.
This pricing strategy puts the Kushaq within the same range as the competitors in the segment. There are lots of good reasons to book the Kushaq. Skoda is so confident that it is also offering a 4-year, one lakh kilometre warranty.