When Skoda launched the much-awaited Kushaq in the Indian market, we were left astounded. However, it was for the wrong reason. The Kushaq seemed promising at first glance, marking a new era for the brand’s future in India. But the price of the coveted 1.5-litre TSI with the slick-shifting DSG automatic seemed quite steep. However, if you look at the Kushaq as an entire package as it stands, the versions offered at the lower spectrum seemed to match the numbers with expectations. Let me explain.
The Kushaq has been launched in three trims, with two engine options both offering manual and automatic drivetrains. While the 1.5-litre TSI is a potent powertrain, the 1.0-litre TSI version seems like a good proposition on paper. While things in the brochure and sales pitches may be one thing, it all boils down to how it performs on the road. So we got the chance to sample the smaller 1.0-litre, three-cylinder, turbocharged petrol engine, and the 6-speed manual transmission.
The 999cc engine is similar to what is offered in the Rapid, currently on sale in India. However, for the Kushaq, Skoda has spent time upgrading the engine. The system uses new software management, a brand new oil pump and a few more touches. So power and torque from the engine are slightly up from 110hp/175Nm in the Rapid to 113hp/178Nm in the Kushaq.
Despite being a 3-cylinder engine, as soon as you start the engine, you can immediately get a feel for the refinement the upgrades have provided to the engine. It wasn’t bad by any means in the Rapid, but it seems a touch better. When idling, there is a 3-pot thrum only noticeable when the seats and door pads begin to vibrate ever so slightly. But other than that, the engine is smooth as it runs.
A personal observation; with earlier instances of driving manual Skodas, it took a while to get used to the clutch and finding the biting point. However, none of that ‘getting used to’ is required in the new Kushaq. To get it moving, the first thing you notice that the clutch is light, with a pedal short travel and the gear lever slots in with ease. It feels quite similar to the Rapid. So anyone looking to upgrade from the Rapid to the Kushaq will find the feeling quite familiar.
As you start moving, I noticed the engine is fairly smooth. Downshifting is easy and even if you do like to blip the throttle as you do, it is quite easy to match the revs. But with 113hp at 5,000rpm, and 178Nm of torque which kicks in at 1,750rpm, when the turbo kicks in. The meaty part of the engine is a little high in the rev band on paper.
Driving in stop and go traffic, the performance is quite adequate and it’s smooth and refined. But when you lift and coast in gear it does start begging for throttle or change in gear below 1,700rpm. Which is understandable for a 3-cylinder. The true test of the engine would be on the highway. So out on the expressway, I went to find out what it may be like at higher speeds.
I’m glad to report that the Kushaq is fairly comfortable here as well. Even higher up the rev band, the 3-cylinder engine is fairly silent and refined. Climbing up the gears is quite straightforward, and you can cruise easily at triple-digit speeds in 6th gear (within speed limits of course). The turbo lag is apparent, but you need not be required to shift down from 6th as you have good grunt, but you want to get back up to speed quicker, downshifting will be required.
Because of fuel economy ambitions and requirements, the Kushaq’s manual transmission is geared long. But in third or fourth gear, you have more than enough punch even low down. So it isn’t much of a bother. But talking about fuel economy, the Kushaq 1.0 manual is rated at 17.8 km/l. However, despite the long highway drive, the best indication I received was 14.3km/l from the onboard cluster. However, as it was only our first impression, we would need more time with the vehicle to get real-world numbers and figures at a later date.
The one thing I cannot condone is the steering rack set-up. It is extremely light which is great to drive in the city, but on the highway, it offers absolutely no feedback. It doesn’t weigh up at all, quite Audi-esque, not like Skodas and VW cars we are used to that weigh up well at higher speeds. This also means on the highway, you will have to constantly correct with micro-adjustments. I’m not a fan of it. On the other side, braking is good with the Kushaq, it only gets front discs with wiping function. However, rear discs may have driven up costs but would have elevated driver confidence in return.
The ride quality is on the firmer side and that helps towards stability on the road. Most Indians would prefer a touch of pliancy from the suspension I reckon, especially at the rear, but it isn’t harsh. However, as the speeds climb up, the dampers do a better job at absorbing bumps. I would recommend the thicker profile tyres, which I believe would strike the perfect balance for someone looking for the ideal ride comfort. However, because of the tauter suspension set-up, cornering is relatively flat and roll is not noticeable at all. Overall, the ride is quite comfortable and set up well for Indian conditions.
The Kushaq is a handsome looking SUV if you ask me. I’m not a huge fan of compact SUVs/crossovers, as some may be aware by now. But for the segment, the Kushaq looks sophisticated, elegant and simplified. In no way is it over styled from any angle. It offers a good presence on the road too.
It is the same story on the inside. The cabin isn’t fussy and has pretty much everything you may ever need. The steering wheel feels very good and I really dig the new 2-spoke design. The buttons feel premium and tactile, as do the metal scrolls on either side.
The driver gets clear and easy to read out analogue dials across the range. There is no virtual cockpit in the Kushaq, but I don’t miss it. But the digital MID in the middle of the cluster is where I feel Skoda’s imagination ran out. That screen could have at least been a coloured unit, but instead, its plain black and white graphics make it looks more dated than it really is.
Moving to the dash, it features a 10-inch touchscreen infotainment system with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto which is great. The screen looks good and responds well to touch inputs, and the graphics are clear. However, the reversing camera quality does require improvement.
Features I like include the multiple USB-C charging points at front and rear, and a wireless charger, a good amount of storage around the cabin, ventilated front seats and a decent-sized boot. What I’m not a fan of is the excessive use of scratch, fingerprint and dust prone piano black trim on the dash. It adds a premium touch to the interior only once. After it rolls off the showroom floor, it is an OCD nightmare and that is for all cars that use it. The same goes for the touch-sensitive controls for the HVAC system which do take your eyes off the road to operate.
In the Kushaq, space in the front and rear are more than you would expect. The rear legroom, as well as knee, head and shoulder room, are all great. The Kushaq can accommodate five occupants easily and ideally seat four people in adequate comfort.
The Kushaq is by no means the Skoda for enthusiasts that we have come to know from the past. It’s not exciting to drive, but neither is anything else it competes against in its segment. Having said that, the Kushaq has a lot going for itself considering the standard list of safety features and comfort features that you will actually need in your daily life with an adequate features list. It isn’t perfect by any means, as the plastic quality in the cabin evidently shows where money was saved in the manufacturing process. Additionally, the lack of 6 airbags in the top of the line automatic models might drive some safety-oriented customers away.
But all things considered, the mid-spec Kushaq, especially the 1.0 TSI manual does the job quite well. It provides everything that is logically necessary and drives as well as it needs to. Skoda has already seen good demand for the mid-spec ‘Ambition’ variant as far as the initial lot of bookings are concerned. With all things considered, between Rs 10.5 lakh to Rs 15.8 lakh (ex-showroom), the 1.0 TSI offers good value.
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