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.
It looks super attractive and gorgeous. But do I really get stuck in to styling? Skoda has been drip feeding us the Kushaq’s form over the last year and we’ve delved it to the nitty-gritties at every chance we got, so I’ll keep it brief today.The design is unmistakably Skoda — drawing heavily on the Kodiaq and Karoq for inspiration, but I swear there are hints of the Yeti in there as well.
LED headlamps and tail lamps keep it on par for the course, while this top-end Style variant we are driving gets 17-inch alloys. And it looks bloody good rolling down the road. It packages a design that we have come to associate with expensive SUVs in to a compact, approachable footprint.
It doesn’t have the same visual bulk as its primary rival, the Hyundai Creta which is 75mm longer, 30mm wider and 33mm taller. It doesn’t feel as imposing when you walk up to it or drive up next to it, but it makes up for that with the sophistication in its design. Sharp, edgy and very, very cool — the Kushaq is an objectively handsome car.
Once you step into the cabin, you’re greeted by a contemporary dashboard that uses three contrasting materials that scream premium. A gloss strip runs along the dash adding to that premium value. The entire layout is neat and minimal without really sacrificing function. What is fascinating on the inside of the Kushaq are the limited number of buttons on the central console.
This breaks convention from the usual “European” Skoda’s where customers demand physical buttons. According to one of the key product developers involved in the development of the Kushaq, Skoda learnt over several clinics with Indian consumers that they prefer the cleaner outlay with touch panels. The touch panel configuration does feel premium and works very intuitively, sometimes even to a fault. On the manual 6-speed version of the Kushaq, every 1,3,5 gear would have me brushing the panel and turning the blower off. It’s something that will take a little getting used to, but it’s in no way a dealbreaker. One of the things I didn’t like was the quality of plastics that have been used everywhere else. The glove area, the underside of the dashboard and even the door liners all seem to use a grade of hard plastics that we are just not accustomed to seeing in this segment. It seems a little off-brand for Skoda, especially when contrasted with the premium looking/feeling top part of the dash. From the cockpit though, the two spoke steering wheel is a very premium touch, it adds to the Skoda’s European luxury car feel and is finished with great materials.
With Kushaq, Skoda promised smart functional and utilitarian interiors, and on that count they have absolutely delivered. Storage is well-thought-out with separate compartments for your phone, bottles. A tag holder and even a cooled storage box under the central elbow rest. Features too, have not been missed out, the 10.5-inch infotainment system is equipped with the latest wireless Android Auto and Apple Car play connectivity suites, there’s a wireless charger inbuilt into the cubbies and two usb-type C fast charging ports both at the front and back. The front seat on the Style variant gets the crucial ventilation function which really adds to the driving comfort especially in humid areas. One of the most unique features though is a Valet mode, that can be activated when your car is with the valet. It not only locks the infotainment system but also records boot and hood unlocks, passenger door unlocks and number of kms driven. The mode can be deactivated using a secret 4-digit pin.
In terms of space, the tall roofline and low floor line allows for a roomy experience on the inside. At the back even with the driver’s seat adjusted for my 6’1 frame, there was plenty of legroom thanks to the Kushaq’s extra long wheelbase that exceeds even the Kodiaq from it’s own stable. Where the MQB-A0IN based Kushaq loses out is shoulder room, the narrow track means that fitting three adults in the back will be a little bit of a squeeze. Although seating 2 people at the back is all you need then the Kushaq is ideal for you, given the generous amounts of knee and headroom.
It’s not until you’re in the driver’s seat that you truly begin to understand where the Kushaq’s true value proposition lies. The 1.5 litre 4-cylinder TSI petrol motor puts out a class-leading 148bhp with 250Nm of peak torque and that is just the tip of the iceberg. Skoda have tuned to turbo to spool compartively later than what we’ve seen on the smaller 1.0 litre TSI’s, meaning that the turbo isn’t constantly spooling up in slow moving traffic. Thanks to a larger displacement, the lag is not as pronounced, and this makes it a lot easier to drive in traffic. Add to the fact that this Style variant that we have on test gets “Active-cylinder” deactivation, and you have a car that is genuinely as efficient as it is quick. During out test in peak Bombay traffic the Skoda indicated a more than respectable 12.4kmpl.
Another thing that stands out is the suspension tune. Even before you get behind the wheel, a quick glance at the dimensions gives away the fact that the Skoda Kushaq is likely to have favorable dynamics. The long wheelbase, low floor height and narrow-er track all add up to a SUV that will be relatively more agile. When you add that to the fact that suspension runs the line between rebound and compression almost faultlessly, being firm enough for quick corners but pliant enough to keep most bumps and undulations from the cabin occupants, you have the ingredients for what is likely to be the most dynamic of the compact SUVs. The only handling draw back is the feedback from the brakes, while Skoda have blessed the Kushaq with a number of complex acronymed braking systems, the feedback from the disc/drum front and rear combination leaves you wishing for more. Especially if you’ve driven other Skoda cars before. Although we’ll have to get the Kushaq on a V-box before, we can tell you whether this lack of feedback actually affects the brake force.
There is no denying that a huge part of the Kushaq’s success in India will be based on the price. Skoda have bet the bank on the success of this SUV and this probably means that the bean counters at Skoda have been pushed to the very limits to ensure that the car will have a strong value proposition. Although, based on our initial driving experience, the Skoda does have a strong set of features, and benchmark performance and handling for the segment, making a strong case for those looking for a practical SUV with amicable performance.