On the face of it, the Rapid, Skoda's version of the Vento is the perfect example of what Volkswagen ownership has done to the Czech manufacturer. The latter landed here a decade ago and created a name for itself with the Octavia. Other models like the Laura, Fabia, Yeti, and Superb strengthened the brand further. But it's the acquisition by Volkswagen that has really changed things around for Skoda. And their latest product in India, their first C-segment car, is a perfect symbol of this successful amalgamation. Is it a Fabia with a boot slapped on or is it the Vento with a Fabia nose? We go to Jaipur to find out and see if the Rapid is Skoda's best bet yet in this segment.
The first thing that strikes you when you look at the car is that it's a VW with a Fabia nose. In fact it's built at the same Chakan plant with the Vento. It's when you move to the front you notice the familiar Fabia nose which has been merged really well with the body, and the re-engineering has been seamless. The front headlamps, fog lamps and grille are identical to the Fabia while the bumper has been slightly revised. The front fender is a new design, from the sides there is nothing much to differentiate the car from the Vento, the panels, doors and windows are identical. Moving on to the rear, the taillamps are very Vento-like but the cluster design follows a typical Skoda theme with its C-shape brake light design. The tailgate also has a prominent line similar to the Laura. The Vento mated a boot very neatly to the Polo and here too, the boot integrates well. To add some character around the number plate, two kinks have been added on either side, though this looks like a last minute addition and could have been done without. The 15-inch alloys look elegant but are standard only in the top end model. Overall, the Rapid is a striking car but the fact that apart from the nose it looks too similar to the Vento might be its biggest Achilles heel.
Step inside and you know you've been here before. The interiors are the same as its VW cousin, so you get a cabin that has been put together solidly with the materials used being top notch to give a premium feel. The steering wheel and gear knob are borrowed from the Fabia. There is no leather wrapped around the 'wheel even in the top variant, even audio controls have not been offered. Interior space is good and offers a lot of legroom but since it is hatchback-like in its width it is slightly narrow, however the driving position is good thanks to the steering wheel that can be adjusted for both reach and rake (available across all variants). At the rear, carrying three will be a tight squeeze not just because of its lesser width but also due to a high transmission tunnel that intrudes into space. The useful rear air con vents and front seat adjusting lever for the rear passenger has been carried over from the Vento.
Driving around in Jaipur, we encountered some long twisty roads, straights and even city traffic. The Rapid rides really well, especially the diesel since it has a slightly soft suspension package, it is quite compliant unlike typical European set-ups, the car glides over scarred surfaces and it even goes around corners well feeling predictable. Overall the suspension doesn't feel stiff or too soft. The steering is not heavy and just perfect while in the city it is weightless. At high speeds though the diesel felt much better than the petrol Rapid, the petrol feels light in the front and tends to get unsettled when there are small dips and undulations in the surface, the suspension has been optimised for the extra weight in the diesel and so the petrol doesn't feel as good to drive. Both the petrol and diesel top end models that we drove came with 185/60 R15 wheels, the lower models make do with 175/70 R14 ones.
Coming to the engines, the petrol and diesel units are exactly the same as in the Vento. Both engines displace 1598cc and produce 105PS of max power, the petrol at 5250rpm while the diesel at 4400rpm. The petrol produces a maximum torque of 153Nm at 3800rpm while the diesel puts out 250Nm available from 1500-2500rpm. The diesel is a refined unit and displays very little turbo lag, the engine is eager and very torquey. The car is quick and just like the Vento should easily cross the ton in under 12 seconds. The car is also easy to drive in the city and at highway speeds. The petrol mill meanwhile is slightly slow in its response, it is not as quick and not in the same league when compared to its competition. Low-end power is missing but given a long stretch, the car is capable of high speeds. Also, engine noise is on the higher side and in fact the diesel Rapid feels more refined. Both the petrol and diesel versions are mated to a slick five-speed manual gearbox while the petrol also has an automatic option that is available in the top two variants to appeal to more buyers. The six-speed auto, like typical torque convertors, further reduces the performance of the Vento's petrol engine. It feels lazy and reaching the 100kmph mark takes quite some time. It is however quick to respond while downshifting. The sport mode is rather useful and holds on to gears longer and also good for some engine braking. As is the norm, fuel efficiency will be lower than the manual.
The Rapid in manual transmission is available in three variants, Active, Ambition and Elegance. These variants are keeping with Skoda's revised branding system which will be seen in their other models too. The base Active model is rather basic and offers a manual air con, 14-inch steel wheels, power steering and rear air con vents. The Ambition model in addition offers ABS, driver airbag, front and rear fog lamps. The top end Elegance comes fully loaded and offers 15-inch alloy wheels, electrically adjustable door mirrors, both driver and passenger airbags, stereo with aux and SD-card input, on-board computer and automatic climate control. The Rapid's nearest competitor is obviously the Vento since it is based on the Volkswagen. It offers similar engines, performance, and handling an
d should also offer more value. It's a Vento with added Skoda spice and a lower price. The Skoda Rapid price in India for the petrol variant starts at Rs 6.75 lakh (ex-Delhi) while the diesel starts at Rs 7.96 lakh (ex-Delhi), fairly competitive prices indeed.
A complete roadtest of the Rapid to follow soon.