Amaan AhmedJun 30, 2021 13:32:13 IST
Following the much-anticipated market launch of the Skoda Kushaq, opinions on the pricing of the latest entrant in the midsize SUV space are divided. Skoda reported ‘strong response’ from customers post the announcement of prices and opening of order books (without quoting any figures), but several prospective customers and enthusiasts have said the Kushaq’s price seems a bit too high; terming it an unsurprising move by Skoda to position itself towards the premium end of the segment. But is that true? Has Skoda been straightforward with the pricing, or is it commanding a premium for a ‘Simply Clever’ product?
A promising start
During a media interaction following the launch, Skoda India brand director Zac Hollis explained that undercutting segment incumbents – the Hyundai Creta and Kia Seltos – was simply not possible because even the entry-level Kushaq is “not naked”, and is, instead, well-equipped. This is, in fact, true. The Kushaq range starts at Rs 10.50 lakh for the Active 1.0 TSI manual version. That’s roughly Rs 50,000-55,000 more than the base petrol variants of the Creta or Seltos.
For the extra cost, the Kushaq Active offers additional safety kit including Electronic Stability Control (ESC), ISOFIX child seat mounts, multi-collision braking, anti-slip regulation and rollover protection. It gets knurled scroll wheels on the two-spoke steering wheel (which also features telescopic adjustment, unlike the segment best-sellers that only offer tilt adjustment on their base models), a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system and a six-speaker sound system.
That’s a notable number of features for what is the most affordable version of the Kushaq, making it a perfectly feasible option for those on a budget, unlike stripped-down versions of some cars that are mere placeholders to help manufacturers achieve a perceived ‘aggressive’ starting price. Given the amount of features on offer, it’s only fair to compare the Kushaq Active to similarly equipped higher versions of the Seltos (HTK) and Creta (EX), which it undercuts by Rs 24,000 and Rs 46,000, respectively.
|Skoda Kushaq prices vs rivals (ex-showroom)|
|Kushaq 1.0 TSI MT||Hyundai Creta 1.5 MPI MT||Kia Seltos 1.5 MPI MT|
|Rs 10.50-14.60 lakh||Rs 10-13.97 lakh*||Rs 9.95-13.65 lakh*|
|Kushaq 1.0 TSI AT||Hyundai Creta 1.5 MPI CVT||Kia Seltos 1.5 MPI CVT|
|Rs 14.20-15.80 lakh||Rs 15.45-16.66 lakh||Rs 14.65 lakh (HTX)|
|Kushaq 1.5 TSI MT||Hyundai Creta 1.4 T-GDI MT||Kia Seltos 1.4 T-GDI MT|
|Rs 16.20 lakh||NA||Rs 15.35-16.65 lakh|
|Kushaq 1.5 TSI DSG||Hyundai Creta 1.4 T-GDI DCT||Kia Seltos 1.4 T-GDI DCT|
|Rs 17.60 lakh||Rs 16.67-17.71 lakh||Rs 17.44 lakh|
|To note: Hyundai Creta and Kia Seltos also available with a 1.5-litre diesel engine|
|*1.5 MPI MT not available in fully-loaded top-spec trims|
At this point, it’s also important to note the base Kushaq’s 1.0-litre, three-cylinder turbo-petrol makes a good deal more torque (178 Nm) than the Creta/Seltos’ 1.5-litre MPI engine (144 Nm). Given the Kushaq’s smaller size, that will certainly make the Skoda sprightlier on the move. Skoda insists the Kushaq’s road dynamics will impress potential buyers enough to convert them into Skoda customers, and while the 1.0 TSI won’t have the firepower of the larger 1.5 TSI, it should still make the Kushaq one of the better midsize SUVs to drive. So, for those wanting a value-for-money petrol midsize SUV, the Kushaq Active comes across as a sweet deal.
An ambitious jump
The variant that follows is the Skoda Kushaq Ambition, which costs a substantial Rs 2.3 lakh more than the Active. It adds more features such as 16-inch alloy wheels, a 10.25-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, connected car tech, LED headlights, front fog lamps, ambient lighting, rear wiper and defogger, auto climate control with dedicated rear vents, cruise control, reverse camera, four USB-C sockets, power-folding ORVMs and driver’s seat height adjust. While at Rs 12.80 lakh, it may be pricier than the Creta S and Seltos HTK+, in terms of equipment, the Kushaq Ambition MT is much closer to the higher-spec Creta SX and Seltos HTX petrol-manual. Yes, the Korean SUVs do offer more in the way of features such as a sunroof (panoramic on the Creta), air purifier (on the Seltos), tyre pressure monitor and wireless charging. Then again, the Kushaq Ambition MT undercuts the Seltos HTX MT by Rs 85,000, and the Creta SX MT by Rs 1.17 lakh.
Similarly, the Kushaq Ambition automatic undercuts the most affordable automatic version of the Creta (1.5 SX CVT) by Rs 1.25 lakh, and the top-spec Kushaq Style 1.0 TSI automatic undercuts the fully loaded Creta 1.5 SX (O) CVT by around Rs 86,000. However, do note the Kushaq Style automatic misses out on side and curtain airbags, as well as the tyre pressure monitor, all of which the top-spec Creta and Seltos get. These are deletions made to keep costs in check. All said and done, the 1.0-litre TSI versions of the Skoda Kushaq are priced rather competitively, if anything.
The thorn at the top
Skoda says the 1.0 TSI will be the mainstay of the Kushaq range and is billing the 1.5 TSI as the enthusiast’s pick. However, with the 150 hp, four-cylinder turbo-petrol available only in top-spec form (and priced at Rs 16.20 lakh for the manual and Rs 17.60 lakh for the DSG automatic), it’ll remain out of reach for most enthusiasts. Explaining why the Style 1.5 MT is a staggering Rs 1.6 lakh more expensive than the Style 1.0 MT, Hollis pointed out the bigger engine is imported, while the smaller engine is localised, and also highlighted the fact that it features active cylinder deactivation tech (ACT), which switches off two cylinders at low speeds to save fuel.
The Style 1.5 MT undercuts the Seltos 1.4 GTX+ MT by Rs 45,000, but lacks the Kia’s 360-degree camera, blind spot-view monitor, 7.0-inch colour display in the instrument cluster, a head-up display, front parking sensors and drive and traction modes. The fully loaded Style 1.5 DSG is almost neck-and-neck with the top-spec, 1.4-litre turbo-petrol automatic versions of the Seltos and Creta; marginally pricier than the former, and only slightly undercutting the latter. Overall, at the higher end of the spectrum, the Kia and Hyundai come across as better value-for-money deals, both with their size advantage as well as their longer feature lists. What makes life more difficult for the Skoda is the fact that the Style DSG misses out on the extra airbags and the tyre pressure monitor, which are glaring omissions at this price point.
What does the future hold?
Tech2 has learned that aggressive pricing was never on the agenda for Skoda with the Kushaq. The company wanted to offer a high-quality product at a competitive price, with sources saying the carmaker was unwilling to cut corners on engineering and safety fronts. Skoda has no lofty ambitions with the Kushaq – with an initial sales target of 3,000-4,000 units a month, the Kushaq aims to be yet another option in the midsize SUV segment, and is not gunning for the Creta’s crown. The Czech automaker is targeting sales of 30,000 vehicles this year, and the Kushaq was designed to help it reach that target with relative ease. However, this will be easier said than done, for several reasons.
The Kushaq is undoubtedly small for an SUV of its class, and that shows on the outside as well as inside. To those looking for an SUV with road presence and the ability to travel five-up with plenty of luggage, the Kushaq will be a hard sell. Not just because the Creta and Seltos are so deeply entrenched in the market, but also because of a wave of three-row SUVs that have arrived in recent times.
For the same price as a Kushaq 1.5 TSI DSG, potential buyers could instead get a mid-spec MG Hector Plus petrol-DCT, a Tata Safari XT manual or even the Safari XMA automatic. The base petrol version of the recently-launched Hyundai Alcazar costs just Rs 10,000 more than the Kushaq 1.5 TSI MT, or Rs 25,000 more if you opt for the six-seat model. Similarly, the base petrol-automatic Alcazar costs only about Rs 23,000 more than the Kushaq DSG, and has most of the features you’ll find on the Skoda, if not more.
All of these SUVs are substantially larger, occupy a lot more of the road and even though they’re not true seven-seaters, they do have a third row, just in case you need to ferry more people. Hollis termed the emergence of three-row SUVs as “interesting” and something he’d want to look at closely going forward, but avoided commenting on if the company sees them as a threat to the Kushaq.
And life doesn’t get any easier for the Kushaq towards the budget end of the market, either. For those who don’t need a lot of interior space but want an SUV that’s loaded to the gills and is also compact enough for the daily grind, there are the already-popular Kia Sonet, Hyundai Venue and Mahindra XUV300. They’re all sub-four-metre SUVs that match (or on some counts, better) the Kushaq when it comes to features, and the XUV300 also has a feather in its cap in the form of the highest crash test scores of any vehicle Global NCAP has tested till date.
The target for the Kushaq is clear – to those who value the mix of style, useability, performance and the allure of the Skoda badge, it will make for a satisfying purchase. Those who find value in more sheet metal and lengthy equipment lists will continue to shop elsewhere. The Kushaq, meanwhile, will find acceptance among driving enthusiasts, but I wonder for how long – because Skoda is also readying a new midsize sedan, which will succeed the Rapid, for a late-2021 debut. It’ll have the same underpinnings and engines as the Kushaq but will likely be a step or two ahead of the ‘emperor’ on the driving dynamics front, and possibly more affordable as well.
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