Skoda Kushaq driven, prototype drive of Creta and Seltos rival
The much talked about mid-size SUV from Skoda is almost ready. We drive the pre-production prototype of the Skoda Kushaq that will take on the Hyundai Creta and Kia Seltos when launched in June 2021
It’s only the start of the year but this right here could be the most impressive car of 2021. This is the Skoda Kushaq and we are driving pre-production prototypes of the Hyundai Creta and Kia Seltos rival that will go on sale in June of this year. The final production version of the Skoda Kushaq will be unveiled in March, and that’s why the heavy camouflage of these pre-production prototypes that reveal next to nothing. The only visual telltale that we’re driving the Skoda Kushaq are the teeth of the Skoda-family grille, otherwise don’t bother zooming into the pictures as there’s also a layer of foam under the orange wrap to hide the lines.
Styling of the Skoda Kushaq
We were shown pictures of the final production version at the media event in Goa. While I’m embargoed from revealing much, I can say that the Vision IN concept shown at last year’s Auto Expo is a pretty good indicator as to what is going to hit the road. What this pre-production prototype of the Skoda Kushaq does reveal is a good stance, nice proportions, 17-inch wheels nicely filling out the wheel arches and LED lights front and back. There’s also a sunroof but I can't tell you if its panoramic or not.
Spacious interiors of the Skoda Kushaq
The only thing other thing I can tell you about the interiors is that it has Skoda’s new family look for the steering wheel. Everything else inside the Kushaq wasn’t just masked but thoroughly boxed-up revealing absolutely nothing. I cannot even tell you about the visibility because of all the camo-tape on even the glass area, though the A-pillars seem to be the thickest of any mid-size SUV.
At the rear there’s good knee room even with the driver’s seat adjusted to my five-foot-nine-inch frame. It’s on par with the Hyundai Creta and Kia Seltos, but it is noticeably narrower than the two Koreans. What Skoda have done is given good side bolstering on the rear seats and aligned to the perfect back rest recline angle and under thigh support they actually feel like bucket seats. For four, the Kushaq is excellent. Five, erm, not so. There’s isn’t much of a transmission tunnel — no 4WD versions are planned on this platform for India — but the centre perch is raised, so much so that I hit my head on the roof sliding to the middle.
What else? Obviously there will be Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a big touchscreen, many charging points and some sort of connectivity solution but details of everything is under embargo till the wraps come off in March.
The one thing they couldn’t mask is the instrument cluster but I can't tell you if it has analogue dials or a digital cockpit. I like conventional needles but fact also is that buyers are getting increasingly spoilt by digital cockpits.
Skoda Kushaq is the first on the MQB-A0-IN platform
With Skoda in the driver’s seat of the Group operations in India, the first car on the new MQB-A0-IN platform is the Skoda Kushaq. The IN-dianisation of the MQB-A0 platform includes stretching of the wheelbase to 2651mm, the maximum that this platform allows. But all of this hasn’t stripped the Kushaq of the sure-footed road manners that have characterised all VW Group cars. I say all this with a caveat — the two cars we drove are pre-production prototypes and the spring and damper ratings could change in the final production version. But, it’s safe to assume, the engineers are only going to improve the dynamics. And I hope they take into account my suggestion to add a little more weight to the steering at higher speeds.
Excellent ride and handling of the Skoda Kushaq
As things stand though, the Skoda Kushaq immediately goes to the top of the mid-size SUV segment for driving dynamics. None of the pictures you see on these pages were taken by our photographers — it was all shot by Skoda and then vetted by headquarters before a handful of images were sent to us. The money shot never came back. It has the Kushaq hard round a corner, the inside back wheel getting air. Mid-size SUVs do not do this. The Polo does, and we all love the way it handles. Mid-SUVs are soft and start to understeer before cocking an inside rear wheel. The Kushaq though, despite the noticeable body roll, has excellent front end bite and equally good torsional rigidity, all of which enables it to behave like a quick hatchback. Turn-in is quick and precise, feedback is good, body control is even better and it deals with bumpy, narrow and windy Goan roads beautifully. Even driven aggressively it never runs out of suspension travel, bumpy roads don’t throw it off-course, and it delivers poise and confidence. It is a driver’s mid-SUV, something that didn’t exist till now.
TSI engines that do the Skoda Kushaq’s chassis justice
The Skoda Kushaq has no diesels, but then again you knew that. The entry engine is the 1-litre TSI that we’ve already seen (and love) on the Rapid, Vento and Polo but with the output ramped up (final figures are under embargo) to account for the additional weight of the Kushaq (which I suspect will only be 40-50 kilos over the Rapid). The power to weight ratio should give it a 0-100kmph time in the 10 second ballpark making it among the quicker mid-SUVs, despite only a 1-litre engine. There is a slight bit of turbo lag but once it comes on boost, between 1800-2000rpm, it pulls with real verve. Being a three-cylinder motor, it does have the characteristic irregular idle but it never feels unrefined, especially since the increase in noise as the revs go up is accompanied by a proportionate and rather pleasing increase in speed. The gearbox is typical of the VW Group, a meaty yet easy shift which feels a slight bit notchy and not super-slick like Japanese gearboxes.
The 1-litre TSI also gets the 6-speed torque converter automatic which has been improved over the one that does duty in the Skoda Rapid, VW Polo and VW Vento right now. Will it further close the gap to the DSG? I’ll be very keen to find out when we drive it the final production cars.
1.5 TSI will make the Skoda Kushaq the performance benchmark
The second prototype on our drive had the 1.5 TSI Evo motor mated to the 7-speed DSG twin-clutch gearbox. This is in the same same spec as the VW T-Roc and Skoda Karoq and even gets steering wheel mounted paddle shifters for the gearbox. Being a four-cylinder unit the refinement is obviously better than the 1-litre TSI; it is much smoother, quieter and delivers performance that is effortless.
The 1.5 TSI will obviously be priced at a premium to the 1.0 TSI and, money no object, I’d definitely recommend the larger engine. But, truth be told, the 1.0 is no slouch and mated to the 6-speed automatic, that will be the sweet spot in the Kushaq range
We were told the brake feel and modulation were still being worked on but frankly it felt rather good and in terms of outright retardation I didn’t feel the Kushaq to be lacking in any way. It also has a mechanical hand brake, not the new electronic parking brake.
No compromises on safety
What impressed me the most about the Kushaq is that there are no evident compromises. The door shut isn’t tinny or flimsy. On the road it feels as planted and stable as you’d expect a Skoda/VW to feel like, and the energetic motors make it the fun to drive benchmark in this segment. And it’s unlikely compromises would have been made on the safety front. This is the first mid-size SUV where all variants will get ESC as standard while the top variants will get 6 airbags, hill hold assist, Isofix child seat mounting for the rear seats, tyre pressure monitor and cruise control. Plus the Karoq is based on the VW T-Cross that scored a full five stars in the Euro NCAP crash tests.
World premiere in March, launch in June / July 2021
The world premiere of the Skoda Kushaq will be held in India in March and that’s when we will also be able to reveal the power figures of the TSI engines. But I can tell you that you will be pleasantly surprised. Having seen images of the Kushaq, both on the outside and inside, I can tell you the Kia Seltos will no longer be the head turner in this segment. And I can’t imagine Skoda will skimp on interior equipment or quality either.
Of course everything will hinge on pricing and back at the 2020 Auto Expo senior officials went on record saying they will undercut the Hyundai Creta. With localisation of 92 per cent at launch going up to 95 per cent by the year end Skoda is on track to meet that pricing benchmark. And if they do achieve it then cornering a combined (with Volkswagen) 5 per cent market share by 2025 looks eminently achievable.
Detailed first drive review of the production-spec Skoda Kushaq will follow