2021 Skoda Kushaq road test review - 1.0 AT, 1.5 DCT driven
Without exaggeration, the 2021 Skoda Kushaq is the most important car to come from the Czech brand in the over 20 years that it's been around in India. The Kushaq's success, or otherwise, will decide if the Volkswagen Group continues to remain a niche attraction in India, or if it can stake claim to the larger and much more lucrative automotive pie currently dominated by its Japanese and Korean rivals. And by aiming the Kushaq at the mid-sized SUV buyer, Skoda India has set its sights on a segment that leaves buyers spoilt for choice - both in terms of the options on offer and the value they derive from the money they spend. We see how the Kushaq stacks up in this competitive space.
2021 Skoda Kushaq styling, dimensions, ground-clearance
The new Skoda is one of the smaller SUVs in the segment it competes in, on paper(L: 4,225mm, W: 1,760mm, H: 1,612mm) and visually. But this doesn't stop it from making a strong visual impression. The bright colour palette helps of course, but Skoda India has done well to recreate the richness of its larger, much more expensive, SUVs here. The Skoda-SUV-signature split-LED headlamps look very well detailed with their crystalline effect and there is a bit more flourish to the face than usual with the big butterfly grille, and the sharply cut grey and silver elements to the bumper. This sense carries on further with the more defined lines on the bonnet and along the doors, the twin-spoke 17-inch alloys unique to the top-spec Style trim here helping this sense further. The large Skoda lettering on the fenders also seems to cash in on the goodwill this brand enjoys in India.
But seen in profile there is no denying that the Kushaq could have done with a visually wider and more upright 'SUV' stance, a favourite among buyers in this segment. This would have enhanced the quite nicely detailed elements here as well, which the big silver roof rails and the 155mm(laden) ground clearance do to an extent. But the Kushaq's look has few practical limitations and has been a trait on most SUVs based on the many variations of the MQB architecture that the Volkswagen Group uses, the India-specific MQB-A0-IN in this case.
Moving along, the rear is again typically Skoda and cuts as attractive a picture as the front. The stubby bootlid makes for a relatively high load-lip, but the C-shaped LED highlighted taillamps with the crystalline strakes and well-integrated halogen bulbs are again full of rich detailing. The bulged panel for the wide Skoda lettering, the C-shaped reflectors below the lamps and sliver of chrome below the discreet badging are again a sign of a more extroverted but still quite classy interpretation of the usual Skoda design theme. Uniquely though, the 1.0 and the 1.5-litre Kushaq look identical in the lone Style trim they're both offered in.
2021 Skoda Kushaq interiors, features, cabin space
Unsurprisingly, the Skoda Kushaq is the new benchmark in this segment in terms of general fit-and-finish levels, starting with a reassuring thunk to the doors. There aren't too many soft surfaces around except around the centre armrests and door pads unlike in larger Skoda cars, but this is expected at this price point. Instead, each of the three Kushaq variants come with different interior finishes and upholstery, a move that has seemingly let Skoda India shore up the Kushaq's cabin in a more cost-friendly way. The dashboard again incorporates the newest Skoda themes with the large air vents and a horizontally layered theme that culminates in the bulged centre stack with the free-standing touch-screen. The orange-speckled gloss black panel here, the hexagonal cross-hatching and the different plastic finishes all feel quite nice to touch. The unique light and dark grey theme with the discreet orange highlights and ambient lighting are also a fresh take in this segment.
There's been the usual parts-bin raid with the handy new-style two-spoke steering wheel, rotary light controls, stalks, gear-lever and other switchgear all trickling down from other Skoda cars. The soft leatherette upholstery and fairly supportive seats add to a sense of high perceived quality as well. Few physical controls remain on the Kushaq as well, the climate control now features capacitive touch buttons as does the new infotainment that debuts globally on the Kushaq. This 10.1-inch unit replicates the more expensive MIB3 system but is developed on the older MIB hardware. It is reasonably intuitively laid out and quick-reacting, with easy wireless smartphone pairing and an app store. The infotainment did crash on us on both the cars we drove, but with these being pre-production cars such niggles aren't uncommon. The four Type-C chargers and wireless charger are a nice touch though.
But those moving up from something like a Polo or a Rapid will notice the few corners that Skoda has cut with the Kushaq, starker here with this SUV's more premium positioning. The instrument cluster is a straight lift from these decade-old cars (although the Virtual Cockpit should come shortly), the power windows have an auto-down function for just the driver, and along with the fairly effective ventilated seats, operate quite noisily. Some of the plastics in the air vents also feel flimsy as do the steering mounted rollers, quite unlike the rest of the carried-over switchgear. The lack of a panoramic sunroof (a single-pane one is offered), a basic app-only connected tech suite and no powered driver's seat are industry-standard features that the Kushaq is missing, hurting its value proposition somewhat. But some thoughtful additions, not too common in this segment, like the auto wipers and the reach adjustable steering column, make things easier for the driver.
But not missing at all is the practicality that is a given with any Skoda. We pulled out our measuring tapes after a very long time for this one and found the Kushaq to be as spacious as its closest rivals, despite the smaller outer dimensions. The segment-leading 2,651 mm wheelbase opens up masses of legroom and elbowroom at the rear, and the central tunnel has been finally done away with, so a child as a third passenger is now a viable option here. The rear seats also feel supportive and well-cushioned. Skoda India has propped up the front seats of the Kushaq to counter the low floor of this MQB architecture, which frees up quite a bit more space for your feet. But the relatively low roof height and single-pane sunroof can make for a cosy experience for taller adults, although there's no lack of headroom.
Topping this off are the Skoda-staple practicality touches. So you have large door pockets and storage bins, gripped bottle holders, seatback phone-holders and useful holder straps in the door bins and hooks in the boot. The rear sunblinds from the new Octavia are missing though.
2021 Skoda Kushaq 1.0 AT driving impressions
The 1.0-litre TSI that first debuted on the Rapid is now the most widely available engine option on the Kushaq, fitted to all three variants. This three-cylinder unit isn't a straight lift, some changes being made to improve efficiency and reduce emissions, but it continues to make the same 115PS. Torque has increased by a slight 3 Nm to 178 Nm, but both peaks come across the same rev-range as in the Rapid. Similarly, the six-speed torque converter has also been retuned for this application, with a greater focus on efficiency and different tuning to suit the Kushaq.
These changes have kept fuel efficiency around the ballpark of the Rapid for this much larger car, but the trade-off hasn't been a kind one. The spirited nature of this engine has been throttled to an extent and while there is reasonable progress to be made around town as our numbers show, it isn't quite as refined or seamless as in the sedan. The dull spots lower in the powerband seem a bit more apparent and the gearbox isn't quite as eager to downshift when you need it too, for overtakes and the like. The Sport mode is also more subdued. Thankfully, you have paddle shifters when you need to get a move on with the Kushaq. The tendency of this gearbox to lurch the car ahead from a stop remains, asking for more attentiveness from the driver in stop-start traffic, but more noticeable is the quite apparent vibrations filtering into the cabin, most prominently at idle.
The dynamics of the Kushaq are much more encouraging, in line with what we've come to expect from the brand. In fact, the Kushaq might just be one of the best-handling SUVs you can buy in the mainstream in India right now. The steering feels light but precise and the tight turning radius and good sightlines make the Kushaq feel quite easy to manoeuvre on a typical commute. Most bumps at city speeds are tackled well too, the Kushaq feels pliant and composed at most times with only some of the sharpest low-speed imperfections being felt by passengers.
The Kushaq also makes for a great mile-muncher. It feels composed at highway speeds, with the engine in the higher, most responsive parts of its powerband and the gearbox steadily holding a gear, progress is much more straightforward. The ride smoothens out even further and the Kushaq starts feeling much like a larger Rapid around bends. There is, expectedly, a touch more roll but there's the same alert front end and progressive steering response, which gives the SUV a sense of poise and agility so far missing in this segment.
2021 Skoda Kushaq 1.5 DCT driving impressions
Moving from the 1.0-litre, you realize very quickly that this larger-engined version is the Kushaq to go for. The Kushaq 1.5 feels is a more refined package immediately, with the engine's quieter operation and lack of vibrations. This motor is a straight lift from what was offered in the Karoq and pairs with the same 7-speed DCT. Outputs are identical at 150PS and 250 Nm.
On the move, this engine meters out power much more effectively and with the DCT more focused on driveability, a sense of effortlessness is added to the Kushaq's motions. There's the slight DCT indecision at crawling speeds but this quickly fades away into decisive well-timed shifts. The large displacement engine also delivers power more eagerly and earlier in the rev-band, which is ramped up further in Sport mode. With its snappier nature, there are some thrills to be gleaned with the paddle shifters here. And as our tests show, this version of the Kushaq is a brisk car. To top things off, tech like the well-calibrated cylinder-deactivation(a segment-first) and stop-start has been carried over from the Karoq, and with the extra gear ratio, this larger engine is in fact more efficient in the real world than the 1.0-litre.
Skoda India also seems to have made minor adjustments to the suspension and steering set-up to counteract the heavier weight of this drivetrain. This has added a bit more heft to the steering, which enhances its already precise nature. The Kushaq 1.5 also seems a bit more settled over bumps and at high speed, the only minor downside being a touch less alertness from when you hustle it hard around bends.
2021 Skoda Kushaq safety
The Skoda Kushaq offers up quite a reassuring safety package until you get to the implausible deletion of safety features from the top AT variants. In a segment-first, traction control is standard across the range. The top Style trim adds some notable aids like roll-over mitigation and an electronic differential lock. There are six airbags too although the grainy rear-view camera is a downer. Even without rear disc brakes, the Kushaq still posted some impressive stopping distances.
2021 Skoda Kushaq verdict, expected prices
Priced between Rs 10.50 lakh and Rs 17.60 lakh, the Skoda Kushaq is largely on par with its Korean rivals. Some prospective buyers may not like the compromised 1.0 AT drivetrain, the feature misses to these rivals at this price or the lack of a diesel option. But look past this, and the Kushaq is a true Skoda, especially with the 1.5-litre engine. The sense of solidity and refinement typical of this brand is apparent here, while being more economical than the smaller engine. And with either engine, it's comfortable and practical while being a great daily driver, peppered with a level of driver involvement unseen on anything in this segment before.
2021 Skoda Kushaq 1.0 AT real-world mileage, performance
0 to 100 kmph - 13.6s
30 to 50 kmph - 2.0s
50 to 70 kmph - 2.5s
60 to 80 kmph - 3.0s
100 to 0 kmph - 40.5m, 3.0s
City fuel efficiency - 8.45 kmpl
Highway fuel efficiency - 16.45 kmpl
Overall fuel efficiency - 10.45 kmpl
2021 Skoda Kushaq 1.5 DCT real-world mileage, performance
0 to 100 kmph - 9.7s
30 to 50 kmph - 2.0s
50 to 70 kmph - 2.0s
60 to 80 kmph - 2.5s
100 to 0 kmph - N/A
City fuel efficiency - 10.38 kmpl
Highway fuel efficiency - 15.64 kmpl
Overall fuel efficiency - 11.69 kmpl
Images by Anis Shaikh
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