• Skoda Kushaq Monte Carlo 1.5 TSI AT First Drive Review

Skoda’s first ‘made for India’ offering gets the sportier Monte Carlo treatment

Skoda is known for making fantastic driver’s cars and SUVs and this trait has been distilled into its newer offerings under its India 2.0 strategy - the Kushaq. The Czech carmaker also has a sportier special edition lineup called the Monte Carlo as well. So when a dynamic SUV gets a sporty treatment, that seems like a win-win no? The Kushaq Monte Carlo gets a whole lot of cosmetic bits and feature updates as well. It also commands a premium over the top-spec Kushaq Style variants. So does the Kushaq Monte Carlo present a strong case for itself? Let's talk about history first. 

Skoda Motorsport, the carmaker's motorsport division, has an illustrious history spanning over 100 years in rallying. It all started at the Monte Carlo rally held in Europe as part of the World Rally Championship and also the place where Skoda won its first-ever rally. Skoda honours that legacy with sportier Monte Carlo edition models. The Kushaq is the latest SUV to get the treatment. While the treatments are limited to cosmetic updates, they are profound. 

The exterior changes include blacked-out grille, diffuser and mirrors. The window trims and the roof along with the roof rails are blacked out as well and complement the roof that gets a special paint treatment called Carbon Steel. This is finished off with a dual-tone spoiler. The badges too get the all-black treatment. Another exclusive update is the Monte Carlo badge below the mirrors instead of Skoda. The Kushaq is a handsome SUV and the blacked-out theme accentuates its sportiness further. The highlight for me though is the new 17-inch alloy wheels. They feature a machined finish and are similar to the ones on the Octavia RS 245. 

The cabin gets the sporty treatment as well. It is all-black now, with red accents on the dashboard and door trim. It gets dual-tone black and red leather seats with Monte Carlo badging on the headrest. The Kushaq’s uncluttered cabin layout has always looked appealing and the new updates make it even more so. The biggest change though comes in the form of a feature update. It gets a new 8-inch instrument console from the Skoda Slavia. This new console looks premium and gets an exclusive red theme that is carried out on the 10-inch infotainment screen as well. The black and red accents add to the beautiful symmetric design language of the Kushaq. 

The powertrain options for the Monte Carlo edition remain unchanged. These include a 1.0-litre TSI engine with six-speed manual and six-speed automatic transmission options and a 1.5-litre TSI engine with a six-speed manual and a seven-speed DSG transmission option. We are driving the 1.5-litre TSI powertrain with the DSG gearbox. In fact, we have tested the 1.5-litre turbo petrol engine extensively, having driven the Kushaq over 4,000 kilometres in just for days. The 1.5-litre TSI engine impressed Ed with its reliability and performance but I am more impressed with its refinement and ample low-end and mid-range grunt. The engine doesn’t feel stressed even when pushed harder.

The motor also gets cylinder deactivation technology which shuts off two of the four cylinders while cruising to conserve fuel. If I were to nitpick, I would talk about the slight turbo lag especially when you stab the throttle at low speeds but otherwise the DSG gearbox masks the lag well and is attuned to the motor’s power delivery. Shifts are fairly quick and seamless and above all the gearbox impresses with its logic especially when it holds gears when you are climbing up an incline or skips a couple of gears while downshifting to ensure that you are always in the right gear. 

The powerful engine is perfectly complemented by the Kushaq’s excellent handling traits. The firm suspension setup makes it a very good driver’s SUV with great cornering, precise steering response and well-controlled body roll. But it is also pliant enough to effectively soak up bumps on the road and keep your fellow passengers comfortable at the same time. The powerful engine and the efficient DSG gearbox along with the sharp handling and premium ride quality mean that the Kushaq will always put a smile on your face every time you drive it in the city and also on the highways. 

Prices for the Kushaq Monte Carlo start at Rs 15.99 lakh and go upto Rs 19.49 lakh (for this variant) ex-showroom. Unlike previous Monte Carlo variants that were limited edition variants, the Kushaq Monte Carlo variant is the SUV’s new range-topping variant and costs around Rs 70,000-Rs 90,000 more than the top-spec Kushaq Style variants. So does the Kushaq Monte Carlo justify the premium? The answer is both yes and no, depending on your perspective. 

From a family-oriented perspective, the cosmetic updates, as well as the digital instrument console, can be skipped and you’d be better off saving the extra 70 - 80 grand and opting for the high-spec Style variant that offers similar features and performance. 

From an enthusiast’s perspective, the Kushaq Monte Carlo offers exclusivity. The Monte Carlo badge is a topic of conversation and the Kushaq Monte Carlo is hands down the best-looking Kushaq variant so far. The cosmetic updates are substantial, especially the Octavia RS 245-inspired wheels which look stunning. The Kushaq has always been a great driver's car. The Monte Carlo gives it the show to match the go and makes it quite the enticing prospect.

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