2021 Skoda Kushaq prototype driving impressions
Coming into 2021, Skoda Auto has significant plans to shake up its product portfolio in India starting off with the all-new Kushaq. The entry-level SUV from the Czech manufacturer is positioned against the likes of the Hyundai Creta and the Kia Seltos, both bestsellers in the segment. The Kushaq is Skoda's first attempt for an SUV of this size and price, and its India debut will be the first across the globe.
Internally designated the C (A0) SUV, the Kushaq is part of the MQB family of vehicles that will also spawn the next generation Superb and the Octavia, both expected in India shortly. With a stronger commitment to the Indian market, the Kushaq, Skoda officials claim, will have high localised content, going up to nearly 92 per cent at time of launch, rising up to nearly 95% in a short time. This should keep the cost of the Kushaq in check and enable Skoda to compete strongly against Hyundai and Kia.
I travelled to Goa to get a quick sense of what this new SUV was like, and came away elated that the Skoda tradition of high quality, an enjoyable driving experience and typically European feel carries on. The Kushaq will come powered by two engines, both petrol, mixed up with three transmission choices. There is the 1.0-litre and a 1.5-litre turbo direct injection petrol engine, with a 6-speed manual, 6-speed automatic (torque converter) and a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. Details on the powertrain mix (which engine goes with which transmission) will be shared at a later date. The group in the interim has ceased to provide diesel propulsion in all their vehicles. Diesel though is on the cards, and the future should see diesel powertrains returning to the fold.
Questions could be raised about the ability of the 1.0-litre turbo petrol and all I'll say is that it does not feel underpowered. What it would lack is the ability to cruise at higher speeds comfortably without the engine rpm needle hovering higher up the rev band. Yet its never noisy or rough and strained, and to me the smaller engine felt like the better choice compared to the 1.5 petrol. The larger engine should have more poke, though the motor powering one of the Kushaq's we all drove lacked the energy and zest of the smaller engine, and from what I learned later on in the day was that it wasn't in its best state of tune. That's the issue with driving prototypes. Safe to say though when we do get our hands on the final production-ready test cars, the 1.5-litre turbo petrol should undoubtedly be the pick of the litter.
What impressed me no end was the ride quality. The Kushaq feels plush, nothing disturbs it or its occupants. The suspension setup using I'm assuming a combination of an independent front McPherson and torsion beam rear has been tuned brilliantly. Damping is sublime and on recoil, the coil springs and dampers are collected quickly but firmly to negate a springboard like feel. And even though the front overhang looks quite large, I don't suppose it will ever scrape its under nose area even if you bounce off speed breakers. The steering feel is also complementary to the ride, it has a sublime weight and precision to it, and the change in steering effort is subtle.
Can you drive it enthusiastically, why would you? It is an SUV, meant to be useful in both urban and highway conditions, offering comfort and luxury as its basic tenets. It is nonetheless confident, and while the roads we drove on had just a few corners there wasn't enough room to explore its limits safely. That said a couple of corners we did encounter were dispatched off smoothly without the slightest hint of understeer.
We don't have the complete specifications yet. In typical PR style as is par for the course these days, maximising visibility but controlling the flow of information, we were provided just a few details and a camouflaged car. One of the details shared was the wheelbase of the Kushaq, length, width and height, kerb weight and many other details have been withheld to a later date, I know not why! At 2651mm, the Kushaq is 40mm longer than the Creta. I expect the length would also be marginally more. This means you can get a roomier interior but there are certain challenges whittling an edge it might have enjoyed.
Visually the stance of the Kushaq makes it appear more crossover-ish rather than SUV like, sitting lower and closer to the ground. Ground clearance may be comparable but the height and its width do not give it the poise of an SUV.
The camouflage also hid the exact silhouette and the design details, disguising the lines and edges of the Kushaq. However, at the time we were shown the concept, there was no mistaking that this was almost production-ready and the appearance striking then, should be quite similar closer to the date of the actual reveal.
All variants will come equipped with electronic stability programs, a first in the segment. In addition, you get hill hold control, 6 airbags, ISOFIX points, rain and light sensors and tyre pressure sensors.
This is all the information we have and could infer at present from the initial rushes of this all-new SUV. But it looks promising and typical of whatever Skoda has dished out in the past. Bear in mind, Skoda never made poor products, only poor dealers. But that too would hopefully change as the company hopes to expand its footprint across the country to a 100 dealers by the next few weeks and signing on close to 130 touchpoints by the time of launch. By year-end that number should rise to 150 dealers with an ambition to expand to 205 units across India by 2025. Which means there are more products coming up. There is the new Rapid, a notchback design to be revealed by the end of the year. The new Octavia and Superb too will be coming our way soon and that will subsequently be followed up by the BS-VI ready Kodiaq and possibly a locally assembled Karoq if things go well. 2021 is going to be a busy year for the Czech automaker.
Watch our video of the Skoda Kushaq's driving impressions below
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