The mid-size SUV segment has been dominated by Hyundai and its Creta ever since its inception. Regular sales milestones, long waiting periods and even eating a big chunk of the C-segment sedans has made it the king of the segment. Then in 2019, entered Kia with its Seltos which took the market by storm and the new carmaker dominated the sales charts. The launch of the next generation Creta again helped Hyundai to consolidate its position in the market and today both of these cars are ruling the segment. Cars like Nissan kicks and Renault Duster are trying with all their might but the Koreans stand unshaken. However, Skoda is ready to put up a fight with its much-awaited and promising Kushaq. It is based on the MQB-AO(IN) platform specifically engineered for India and it comes with two competent TSI petrol engines.
Skoda says that the SUV has been built from the ground up in India, for India and Indians have been really excited to see what it offers. Does it have what it takes to take on the Koreans? Let’s find out.
Skoda cars are known for their clean and understated designs and the Kushaq is no different. It looks handsome and well proportioned and certainly a design that will age well. It may not have a strong road presence and broader appeal of the Koreans but the car has its own charm. The front gets the signature Skoda butterfly grille with chrome surrounds. The bonnet gets strong character lines and gels well with the headlights and the grille. The headlights get a projector setup with L shaped DRLs.
The fog lamps are placed right below the headlights which are halogen and come with a cornering function. The lower half of the bumper gets a three-tone treatment with a mix of different colours. You get a honeycomb mesh below the number plate and a silver skid plate to finish off the look. The front has been tastefully done and Skoda has done it without going overboard with the design. Moving to the side, you will see a strong crease running which runs along the body and connects to the tail lamps. You’ll notice the Skoda branding on its fender and a chrome beltline along with the windows. You also get silver roof rails that are not functional. The Kushaq has the longest wheelbase in its class and gets an unladen ground clearance of 188mm.
At the back, you get a bold Skoda lettering between the LED taillamps. The taillamps get Skoda’s crystalline detailing in it which surely makes it look premium. You get a chrome strip running below the number plate and the lower half of the bumper mimics the front bumper with its silver skid plate and mesh inserts. Other details include reflectors that connect to the chrome strip, a black shark fin antenna and a rear wiper with a washer. Overall it is a tastefully done design and it more than makes for its lack of road presence compared to its rivals.
Interior and features
Open the heavy door and you are greeted with the black and grey interiors. The door pockets get a smart elastic band to hold magazines and you also get a recess to hold a small umbrella. The door handle gets piano black inserts and a geometrical detailing around it. Sit in the leather seats and you’ll notice that it misses out on electrical adjustment which is now a norm for the segment.
You get good under-thigh support and finding good driving support is easy thanks to the tilt and telescopic leather-wrapped steering wheel. Speaking of the steering wheel, it is a two-spoke unit borrowed from its more expensive siblings like the Octavia which has piano black inserts and knurled scrollers for the audio controls. The instrument cluster gets a rather plain-looking MID flanked by the speedometer and tachometer.
The headlights get a rotary knob and they also get an auto function. You get a recessed area for storage on top of the dashboard. The top half gets hard plastic while the middle part gets the same geometric design seen on the door. You also get a gloss black insert in the middle with Skoda branding on the passenger side and then grey plastic for the lower half of the dashboard. None of the plastic used is of soft-touch and though the gloss black insert and the chrome line try to uplift the cabin, the overall theme seems to be dull due to the use of these colours. The headliner and the front reading lights could be of a better quality as well. The 10-inch touchscreen takes the centre stage which is compatible with android auto and apple carplay wirelessly. The touch response is good and the interface is easy to understand. Skoda has also integrated some apps such as Gaana maps for added functionality. It also comes with a smart valet mode but misses out on a 360-degree camera. Moving down, you get the AC vents which could have come with more sturdy levers. The automatic climate control gets touch-sensitive controls and a built-in air purifier. You get physical buttons for the ventilated seats and a set of USB C type ports below. You also get wireless charging for your phone right ahead of the gear lever.
In terms of storage, you get a decent-sized cooled glovebox and a sliding armrest in the middle. You get cupholders ahead of the armrest and a few other cubby holes for your knick-knacks. In terms of additional features, you get auto-dimming IRVM, cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, electric sunroof, rear parking camera, 6 speaker Skoda sound system and push-button start-stop with keyless entry. Getting into the rear seats isn’t a task as the doors open nice and wide. The long wheelbase does show its presence here with generous legroom and tall passengers won’t complain sitting here. Headroom is great too and the only issue you will find here will be the width which makes it more suitable for 4 people rather than 5.
The floor hump is low and the centre console gets rear AC vents with USB C type ports and the seatback pockets get a smartphone holder. Skoda hasn’t skipped on safety at the rear and you get adjustable headrests for the middle passenger, ISOFIX child mounts and 3 point seatbelts for all the passengers. The boot gets 385 litres of space which could be expanded up to 1405 litres by folding the 60:40 seats.
How does it drive?
The turbocharged 1.5-litre TSI petrol engine churns out segment-leading 150hp and 250Nm of torque. This engine brings out the fun character of the Kushaq and it really shines in the mid-range. The power starts building up right from 1,600 rpm and once you’re past the 3,500 rpm mark, you get a strong surge of torque all the way to 6,000 rpm. The manual transmission really helps in extracting that torque and having fun with it. The gearbox is not the smoothest but then it can’t be called notchy either. The 1.5 TSI also gets cylinder deactivation technology which helps in extracting good fuel efficiency on the highways. One can expect around 12km/l in the city and around 17 km/l on the highway which is pretty respectable for the kind of power it offers.
Skoda claims that the 1.5 TSI can propel the car to 100 from a standstill in under 8.6 seconds and go on to a top speed of 190 km/h. We have no doubts about this claim and it can be achieved easily by it. The automatic transmission gets the 7 speed DSG dual-clutch transmission. It has the typical DSG traits of a smart and quick-shifting gearbox. It doesn’t let you hold gears till the redline but you can still have fun by either slotting it in sports mode or using the paddle shifter. The efficiency of the DSG version should be 1-2km/l lesser than its manual counterpart. The 1.5 TSI is clearly the choice for the enthusiast and it manages to outshine the competition.
Ride and handling
Skoda cars know how to plaster a smile across the driver’s face and the Kushaq is no different. Show the car some corners and you’ll have the time of your life. The suspension has been tuned on a stiffer side but it is far from being uncomfortable. This stiffness shines on the highway where the car possesses great stability. There is a bit of body roll on the bends but it is nothing to be worried about.
The steering could be felt on the lighter side at lower speeds but as soon as the speed builds, the steering weighs up beautifully. You don’t feel most of the bumps but the suspension could get a bit noisy over the sharper ones. The refinement levels are good but not the best in class with some wind noise creeping in above 120 km/h. The Kushaq is certainly the most confidence-inspiring and involving car to drive among the competition.
The Kushaq gets ESC standard across all the variants which is segment-first. It also gets EDL, ABS and EBD, HLA, TPMS, TCS, multi-collision braking and 6 airbags. The car is solidly built and we have no doubt that the car will perform well when Global NCAP decides to test it.
The Kushaq is a formidable competitor to the competition and it shows. It comes off as a well-designed, smartly packaged, safe and fun to drive mid-size SUV. Sure it has shortcomings, such as space for 5 and boot space, road presence and lack of many features the Koreans offer. But, those who understand its strengths will really come to appreciate what the car offers and it comes off as a breath of fresh air among the competition. Skoda has got most of the things right and the only thing left to nail is its pricing which we all are waiting eagerly for.