I first drove at an automotive testing facility in the popular computer game Need for Speed II: SE. That’s been my only experience so far — that is, before I got behind the wheel of one of the Skoda cars at the huge NATRAX automotive testing and certification centre outside Indore. Thankfully, I wasn’t afraid, because I had been fairly good at the game, but that was when I maxed out the iconic McLaren F1. In reality, I was taking the wheel of a large SUV and a mid-level sedan, but I was comforted to know that the Skoda vehicles I would be driving had received excellent ratings at the Global NCAP and Euro NCAP tests.
On The Loop
The first activity was quite straightforward. I was taken to the NATRAX’s High-Speed Track, where I would get behind the wheel of the Skoda Kodiaq and Skoda Slavia. At the Global NCAP test, the Slavia scored five stars, and the Kodiaq scored five stars at the Euro NCAP test. All I had to do was keep my foot firmly planted on the accelerator and avoid abrupt lane changes on the banking stretch. Sounds simple, no? It truly was.
The first half of the loop, I got behind the wheel of the big Kodiaq, which packs a decent 188 bhp and 32.63 kgm of torque into its 2-litre turbo-petrol engine, paired to a 7-speed DSG. Yes, this one’s a 4×4. As I exited the pit-lane, the Kodiaq accelerated smoothly until it reached early triple-digit speeds and gradually climbed toward the 200 kph mark. As soon as the Kodiaq reached the banked stretch, it had already passed 200, and I maxed it out at 216 kph. It’s safe to say that driving at 216 kph for close to 20 seconds on a banked stretch was a novel experience, and I was happy to officially break into the 200 kph club.
The second half of the loop was driven in the 148 bhp Skoda Slavia, with a 7-speed DSG. The Slavia is super-smooth as it shifts through the gears and crosses the 150 kph mark. As soon as it goes beyond 170 kph, headwinds make the car swerve a bit, but with a little steering input, the Slavia held its own on the banked stretch, maxing out at 202 kph. The good bit about the Slavia was that it felt planted throughout the high-speed run, although I still believe that driving on an 11.3-km loop is not something I would consider when I have a dynamic car at my disposal.
Smooth Off The Track
Next, I climbed back into the Kodiaq and drove on NATRAX’s 3.5-km Off-Road Track. This was a significant change in environment, because I quickly went from a fast course to a very slow one. Here, I had to stick to the 15 kph speed limit and use throttle and steering inputs as gently as possible. When it came to driving through a steep incline or drop, the Kodiaq 4×4 did the majority of the work; the electronic assists kicked in, and all I had to do was maintain my steering inputs.
To The Limit… Almost
The last activity was held on a 3.6-km Handling Track, with a bunch of fast and medium corners to push through. We were warned to take it easy and keep the cars off the kerbs. I was looking forward to this activity more than the other two, but I had only two laps to have some fun. So, I decided to do the first lap in the 148 bhp Kushaq with a 7-speed DSG. This lap was essentially to learn where the braking markers were and how hard to brake and accelerate. The Kushaq handled the corners well, as I chucked it around. Now, I had a good feel of the circuit.
For my second lap, I swapped the Kushaq for the nimbler Slavia, and it had so much to offer. It had just finished a flying lap, so the tyres and brakes were nicely warmed up for me to have a go in it. I requested the instructor to give me cues about when to brake and accelerate, and the Slavia maintained a crisp line as I flicked it from one corner to another. I felt increasingly confident through every corner, and the brakes did a great job of bringing the car to a halt. Full credit to my instructor for encouraging me to push it in the fast section of the track.
What a great day! The Slavia was my favourite of the bunch, because of how well-engineered its chassis is. It provides the highest level of safety while maintaining performance and driving pleasure, just like the Kushaq and Kodiaq, and Skoda is to be commended for setting such high standards in our market.
PHOTOS Skoda India