A few months ago, Skoda created a bit of a kerfuffle by holding a drive for select media, which were invited to drive a camouflaged, pre-production version of its Kushaq SUV. The drama was on two fronts. Some of those invited weren’t too happy driving a car which had so many details hidden, and those who weren’t invited went to town on social media and yelled at Skoda, alleging favouritism and whatnot. I watched all this with some amusement, because at the end of the day, what was clearly evident was that the Kushaq was an important enough car for the invitees to show up to drive, and for those left out to feel aggrieved enough to throw their toys out their respective prams. In other words, the Kushaq was a big deal, not least for Skoda itself.
As is well known by now, the Kushaq (meaning ‘emperor’ in Sanskrit) is the first made-for-India vehicle from Skoda, and it has a lot riding on it. The segment into which it is plunging is India’s hottest right now, with other mid-size SUVs like the all-conquering Creta, Seltos, Duster, Kicks and S-Cross vying for the buyer’s attention. To succeed – and dominate - here will take a heck of a lot of effort, so I set out to see if the Kushaq has what it takes to do so.
Visually, the Kushaq is a winner. It carries the Vision N concept SUV’s lines forward very well, and sticks to predominantly sharp and straight design elements, which is quite refreshing in a segment full of rounded, soft edges. The large grille has LED lights on either side, in a double-headlight setup, and the faux air intakes on the front bumper look cool and add some character.
The Kushaq is the shortest car in this segment, at 4225mm in overall length, and this is quite evident in its profile, which has very short front and rear overhangs. Nevertheless, it has one of the longest wheelbases, at 2651mm, and the wheels look like they’ve been pushed as far forward and back as possible. It has 155mm of ground clearance and 17-inch alloy wheels, which give it a butch stance. At the rear, you’ll see a set of slick, wraparound LED tail lights with a large strip of chrome in-between them, giving a sense of width. Overall, Skoda’s gone with a design that is near-impossible to find fault with; it’s taken the safe (yet contemporary) route, and the Kushaq’s looks will age well.
Quietly sophisticated interior
In the range-topping version, the Kushaq has a typically solid-looking and quietly sophisticated interior. Everything has been designed and placed thoughtfully and, importantly, tastefully. The quality of materials is on the ‘good’ end of the spectrum rather than ‘excellent’, with some bits appearing as if they’re at the level of a Rapid, rather than a more expensive SUV like this. For example, some soft-touch materials on the dashboard would have been nice, although the plastics are of good quality.
The front seats are great to sit in and are ventilated, and finding a good driving position is easy; once you do, the view out over the road is commanding, despite the A-pillar. The steering wheel is sporty and feels very good in the hands, and the 10-inch touchscreen infotainment system is hi-res and easy to read; however, the slider-type climate control system is a bit annoying, and using it means having to take your eyes off the road. The rear seats are very spacious and comfortable, with adequate head and leg room. They’re best for two adults, although a third will fit in relative comfort (the flat transmission tunnel helps here).
In terms of storage, the Kushaq’s 385-litre boot is the smallest in its class, although you will be able to toss a few bags in there. The rear seats are 60:40 split/fold, if you need to free up more room, and there are lots of storage spaces and cubby holes in the cabin.
Equipment-wise, Skoda has tried to ensure that the Kushaq doesn’t get overshadowed by its rivals. ABS (anti-lock braking system) and ESC (electronic-stability control) are standard across all variants, and the top-end model gets things like six airbags, rollover mitigation, EBD, traction control, an e-diff, hill start, auto headlights, tyre-pressure monitor, rear-view camera and multi-collision braking system.
There’s no ‘Virtual Cockpit’ in this car, instead of which it gets a large black/white multi-info display between the analog dials. The 2-spoke steering wheel is off the new Octavia and has buttons for cruise control and entertainment. You also get wireless phone charging, USB ports, a 12V socket, ambient lighting and a manual sunroof.
Engine power and mileage
The Kushaq comes with two engine options – a 1-litre, 3-cylinder turbo-petrol (with 114 bhp and 18.15 kgm), and a 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol (nope, no diesels). I haven’t experienced the smaller engine (although I hear it’s a hoot), but the larger one is definitely full of oomph. It puts out 148 bhp and 25.5 kgm, and you can order either a 6-speed manual or a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT) automatic gearbox with it. Take off from a standing start and you’ll know that the 1.5-litre engine is quite likely the quickest in its class. The DCT sends power to the front wheels, and the Kushaq lays it down quickly and sprints off the line with alacrity, pulling cleanly all through the rev range. The DCT is adequately but not lightning quick, and sometimes shows a moment’s hesitation before downshifting, but this isn’t a major issue; otherwise, it holds gears well.
Refinement levels are very good as well, although real world fuel economy is something that will reveal itself once you actually start using the Kushaq; I would hazard a 11-14 kilometers per litre guess, since it has a cylinder deactivation system (that shuts off two cylinders while coasting above 30 kmph) and a start/stop system as well.
The Kushaq’s strongest point is its suspension. The ride quality it offers is without a doubt the best in its class, and in terms of handling, it’s nimble enough to feel like a much smaller and sportier vehicle. Some amount of suspension noise can be heard, but it smooths out the road so beautifully that you won’t mind.
If you’re an enthusiastic driver, you’ll love the Kushaq, because it can be driven hard, at the limit, with absolute confidence. It has great levels of grip in a straight line and around corners, and invites you to push it harder.
With this as a fact, I’m totally befuddled as to why Skoda didn’t see fit to equip the Kushaq with rear disc brakes (the Creta gets them, for example), since something with this level of handling should get the best possible braking assistance. The discs in front do offer good bite, that said.
So who is the Kushaq for? In my opinion, it’s the ideal mid-size SUV for someone who wants driving pleasure, engineering solidity and ride quality above all else. It has a features set that matches most of the other SUVs in its class, will be comfortable enough for most. The Skoda Kushaq has now been launched, and at a range of Rs 10.50 lakh to Rs 17.60 lakh, it is very competitively priced. Its principal drawback is that it doesn’t come with a diesel engine, so if that is your priority, look elsewhere.
Also read: In Pics: Skoda Kushaq launch, engine option, details, booking, delivery