Sunday Drive by Hormazd Sorabjee: Namaste to the new Indian emperor on the road
Born with 95 per cent locally sourced components, Skoda’s latest baby is more Indian than Czech and has fittingly been given an Indian-sounding name. Say hello to the grounds-up, all-new Skoda Kushaq, derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Kushak’ for king or emperor. It looks like Skoda took to ‘rashi’, the Vedic astro-numerological naming practice, seriously in the hope that its newborn would be blessed with a long and successful life. Thing is, the Kushaq is much more than just another SUV in the range. It’s the start of an all-new chapter in India for Skoda. This mid-size SUV has the task of reviving Skoda’s fortunes in India and serving other export markets as well.
Stamp of practicality
It certainly looks up to the job with its sharp, clean-cut styling replete with lots of Skoda design cues like the bold grille and techy detailing. The wrap-around LED tail-lights add to the sense of width and, overall, the Kushaq looks similar to larger Skoda SUVs such as the Kodiaq and the Karoq. It’s a well-proportioned car and the long wheelbase (the longest in its class) gives a nice, planted look. If anything, the wheels look a touch small tucked inside the generous wheel arches.
The interiors too have the Skoda stamp of practicality and bold contours. The chunky and uncluttered dashboard with free standing 10-inch touchscreen and hefty buttons has a quality appeal, which will go down well with premium car buyers. I particularly liked the chunky two-spoke steering wheel with its floating effect and the high quality steering mounted switchgear which feels great to operate.
The infotainment system too is super slick and the high definition graphics look really crisp. In fact, this is one of the best infotainment systems around. Skoda had earlier teased us with images of a digital instrument cluster, so it was rather disappointing to find the production version gets old-school analogue dials. We hear the digital cluster is expected at a later stage. Also, some signs of cost cutting can be seen in some of the plastics and the roof liner, which gets a scruffy woven fabric instead of the neater (and more expensive) knitted finish.
A lot of attention has been given to the rear seat, so just how spacious is it? There’s enough legroom for 6-footers to stretch out, a deep seat base to sink into and an optimally angled backrest that can be flipped down to enhance the versatility of the boot. The boot, however, is not the most spacious in its class, but at 385 litres, it’s good enough for a couple of big bags.
The cabin too isn’t particularly wide and the contoured rear seats are best for two people. Interestingly, Skoda has flattened Kushaq’s floor to make it comfier for the third passenger.
Fun to drive
Jump into the driver’s seat and you will instantly realise this is the place to be. You are greeted with a spot-on driving position, which sets you up for what is possibly the most fun-to-drive SUV in its class.
Now I haven’t driven the production version of the Kushaq, which only just made its global debut in India on 18 March, but had a go in a pre-production prototype a few months ago to get a taste of things to come.
Powering the Kushaq is a pair of turbo-petrols, a 1.0 and 1.5 litre developing 115 and 150hp, respectively. There’s no diesel option. Between the two petrols, it was the smaller 1.0 TSI that was the surprise. The engine is remarkably smooth for a three-cylinder and has none of the sluggishness at low revs you expect from a small capacity engine. The Kushaq feels light on its feet with this compact engine under its hood and the meaty powerband rarely leaves you wanting for more power. It does get a touch noisy when you rev it, unlike the smoother 1.5 motor, which is more potent too. The truth is that the 1.5 TSI engine mated to a 7-speed automatic box didn’t heighten the driving experience as much as I thought it would and when Kushaq finally goes on sale in June this year, it might the be the lower variant that is better value.
The views expressed by the columnist are personal
From HT Brunch, April 4, 2021
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