‘Simply Clever’. So goes the Czech manufacturer’s tagline. The question that remains to be answered is if this upcoming Skoda sedan is clever or not. The upper C segment sedan will battle it out with the likes of Honda City, Maruti Suzuki SX4, Hyundai Verna, both generation of Fiestas and all.
I recently spent a day with the new Skoda Rapid on the expressways, dual carriageways and narrow streets of Rajasthan. Before the drive, I had expected the car to be very similar to VW Vento. And similar not just in the looks department. But there are quite a few areas where the car has taken a detour from the Vento’s route and hence used a different approach.
Design and Style
The Rapid sports Fabia’s bold grille, similar headlamps and the fog lamps mated to an all new bonnet and side fenders. The result is a front end that looks more handsome than the Polo’s front end on the Vento. When I first saw the pictures of this new sedan from Skoda, I thought the car to be a lovechild of the Vento and the Fabia. In the pics, the front appeared very much like the Fabia whereas the side and real profile was courtesy the Vento. On seeing the car in flesh for the first time, it took me a second to come to a conclusion that the pics never did justice to the car. The car looks much more proportionate and well styled in real. The new bonnet and fenders are enough to make it looks lesser like the aforementioned hatch. And although the side indeed is very much the Vento, the rear boasts of not just revised tail lamp motif but a prism like surfacing on the trunk lid that helps with doing away with blandness.
Rapid breaks no new ground with its style but what impressed me is the fact that the car managed to look like a proper sedan and not something like a hatchback that has been made to parade with the burden of having a proper boot. And look oddball in the process. Yes, I am talking about MSIL’s ugly duckling, the Swift Dzire.
Forget about looking at the steering wheel and you can easily mistake the car to be a Vento on the inside. Talking about the steering wheel, it is a 4 spoke unit that comes from Skoda’s parts bin. The rim of the wheel is good enough in thickness and what lacked was a leather wrap on it (even on the top spec variant). Surprisingly, the steering-mounted audio controls are missing. It may be noted these controls were initially absent on the Vento too but VW was quick to start offering them on high end variant of the car. The seats boast of beige fabric and the front seats offer decent support even during hard driving. The rear seat comes with adjustable head rests and will comfortably seat three. The generous glass area coupled with light shades of plastics and fabrics lead to an airy interior with no feeling of being claustrophobic.The instrument Panel has clear font and comes from the Vento and that in turn comes from the Polo. The only change being the green backlighting on the information display of Rapid as compared to the red on the Polo. The display has a digital fuel gauge. Adjustable rear AC vents are standard across the range.
The top spec model has climate control. The centre console AC vents and climate control panel comes from the VW, while the audio system is typically Skoda. What needs to be mentioned here is that the Audio setup is NOT a Bolero unit from the costlier Skodas. Nevertheless, the unit is nice enough for a factory fitted deal and comes with SD card reader & Aux slot and 4 speakers. The rear two being situated on the rear doors.
The front seat is adjustable for height and the car also boasts of an adjustable steering for added convenience. The car also has door pockets that can hold a 1 litre mineral water bottle and the front hand rest boasts of a cup holder just below the rear AC vents. The car has rear reading lights and a coat hook. The rear legroom is good for a car of this size. I expect many a Rapids being chauffeur driven and these features just might make the car to be ‘simply clever’. One look at the plastics and fabrics is enough to add that Skoda really seems to be ‘Obsessed with Quality’ here. The car has a huge boot and the advantage of having a proper 3 box over a hatch clearly shows.
The car will be available with a petrol engine and an oil burner. As with the market trend, the diesel is the more important engine option here and I spent some quality time driving one on different kind of roads. It’s the same 1.6-litre unit as in the Vento with identical 105bhp and an impressive 25.5kgm of torque. The gearshift was a 5+1 speed deal and I personally was a bit disappointed that a 6+1 unit has not been offered. However, I will be quick to add that the car doesn’t seems to beg for the additonal cog and it would have hardly been of any use but of some bragging rights and marginally better fuel economy. The shifts are slick and the gear lever is devoid of any vibrations creeping in. The NVH levels are well controlled and unless the motor is constantly on boil, passengers will be hard pressed to tell if its a diesel.I am quite surprised that many similar reviews on the internet never bothered to talk about the fuel economy of the new sedan. I decided to deal with this ‘kitna deti hai?’ aspect of the car. And as expected, the figures aren’t too different from those of the Vento. Under very hard driving conditions on mixed road conditions, the petrol automatic returned approximately 7.4 kmpl. We are not surprised. First, it is a 1600 odd cc petrol and secondly it is an automatic. The diesel though, won’t really love creating a crater on your wallet. It returned a commendable 12.9 kmpl under similar driving conditions. Mighty impressed I am.
The car somehow felt a bit more refined and potent than the Vento and that simply means that this may be the diesel to buy. The torque is in abundance and the car is geared so well that just before some overtaking processes, I had to simply floor the pedal instead of down-shifting and the overtaking would simply be a breeze. This is a car that can comfortably cruise at three digit speeds on expressways without really missing a beat.
Once again, the petrol Rapid also performs marginally better than its sister, the Vento. Although, I had only the automatic at my disposal, the motor felt responsive and eager to rev in general. In the ‘S’ mode, the car used revs almost all the way to 5900 RPM before up-shifting and the car displays good communication between the auto box and the mill. The VW Vento is known for its strong mid range and the Rapid is just as good. However, talking only about the drivetrain, the Rapid can’t really beat the Honda City but it isn’t very far from it. The NVH on the petrol failed to impress me with the car getting almost as vocal as the diesel once north of 4000 RPM.
Just when our dear reader might be terming the car to be one performance oriented vehicle, I will be saddened a bit to tell that I won’t really be eager to take the car for some spirited driving. The area that sours the deal is the very light steering on the car. The petrol has a really light steering and it helped remind me of the last generation Honda City. And not in a good way. That said, the steering is really helpful when negotiating traffic in busy streets but the steering doesn’t allows you to gain much of a confidence once you head out on highways. The car is shod with 185 cross sction 15 inch tires on the top of the line models. The lesser loaded versions have to do with 175 cross sectionals on 14 inch wheels.
Surprisingly, the steering on the diesel turned out to be heavier at speeds and managed to put a grin om my face every time I piloted the car thru corners without really needing any deceleration. This is surprising because I do not feel that the solution here can be the additional weight as the diesel motor is just a few kgs heavier than its petrol sibling. The difference may boil down to difference in tuning of suspension. I won’t say that the Rapid diesel is anywhere close to Fiesta classic in handling but I daresay that it inspires much more confidence than the petrol. What bugs me is that if they can tune the diesel car properly then why not the petrol too? The car is very stable at speeds and the diesel seemed quite agile too.
The steering has reasonable amount of feel and turned out to be precise save for being a bit dead towards the center. Both the cars offer respectable ride quality. The ride is pretty flat and without any of the pitching motion disturbing it’s rhythm. Although, the car sure lets you know of the slightest undulations it greets but I feel that it is the way it should be.
Unlike some of the sedans of the previous generations, the car has a suspension that is good enough to avoid car scraping the underbelly at every other speed-hump. That said, I did had one encounter with a challenging situation when a huge stone sticking out of a pothole got stuck under the car and the Rapid rapidly decelerated while scraping thru the hurdle. The car was in the hands of a senior fellow journalist and I was quick to alight in order to analyse the situation. As I kicked the huge stone to move it a bit and as the experienced driver used the abundant torque, the car got free. Both I and the other occupants of the car were worried of the car suffering any damage and we were quick to get it scrutinized. Call it sheer luck or call it the European build quality, the car handled the obstruction with aplomb without any damage resulting out of the slight pause in the drive.
The car comes with dual airbags upfront on top of the line variant and only the driver side airbag with the middle variant. The front seat belts on the car are adjustable for height. The braking on the car is strong and even after repeated moments of hard braking, no brake fade was observed by me. The ABS is standard on both the Ambition (middle) and Elegance (top end) variants.
Rapid seems to be overall a nice car. It will easily impress an average Indian car buyer in this segment. The diesel is a strong performer without unwanted turbo lag to speak of. The car seems to be one mile muncher and the fuel economy is impressive for a car of this size.
But all those who want a petrol with stellar engine and nice suspension performance may very well head to a Honda dealership or opt for a Fiesta Classic instead. And save a couple of lakhs in the process. What remains to be seen is if Skoda can give a good fight to the japs in the after sales department. We safely expect the spare part prices to not be north of those of the Vento.
The prices are yet to be announced but going by price difference between similar variants of VW Polo and Fabia, our guess is that the car should be priced somewhere 25-30 K bucks below the Vento.
The answer to the question that I spoke of in the beginning of this article – Indeed seems to be ‘simply clever’ to take on the rivals. And, before I may end this story, I would like to add that this is one of those few times when I recommend a diesel over the petrol.
Specifications : –
* Engine: 1598 cc, MPI 16V DOHC (P)
1598 cc, turbocharged, high pressure direct injection,16V DOHC (D)
* Power: 105 Bhp @ 5250 RPM (P), 105 BHP @ 4400 RPM (D)
* Torque: 153 Nm @ 3800 RPM (P), 250 Nm @ 1500 – 2500 RPM (D)
* 0 – 100 kmph – 10.7 seconds (P), 10.8 seconds (D), 12.4 seconds (P AT)
* Top speed – 188 kmph (P), 186 kmph (D), 183 kmph (P AT)
* Transmission: 5 Speed Manual, 6-Speed Auto (option in petrol Ambition and Elegance)
* Suspension: Mcpherson suspension with lower triangular links and torsion stabiliser (Front), compound link crank axle (Rear)
* Tires: 185/60/15 Tubeless Radials
* Brakes: Dual rate brake assist, ABS
* Safety: ABS, Dual SRS Airbags, Engine immobilizer
Dimensions : –
* Overall length*width*height: 4386 mm*1699 mm*1466 mm
* Wheelbase: 2552 mm
* Ground Clearance: 168 mm
* Fuel Tank Capacity: 55 liters
* Turning radius – 5.3 meters
* Gross Weight: 1145 kgs (P), 1205 (D)