Styling and design
The Skoda Rapid in India borrows styling from a lot of cars within the family. When I say borrows, I don't mean it takes inspiration from, I mean it actually borrows from. Being the sedan version of the Fabia, it was only natural that the front end came from the Fabia. But then, the Fabia connection terminates with the front end and the steering wheel. View the car from the side and you immediately run back to the front. Not because it's so horrible, but because you're not sure whether, in the 1/100th of a second you took to blink your eye, somebody moved that Rapid and put in front of you a Vento. That's how similar the cars are. And in the exact same way VW pulled off the 'Polo sedan' Skoda too has pulled off the 'Fabia sedan' rather seamlessly. The only eyesores are those kinks on the bootlid next to the number plate which do not go with the horizontal lines everywhere else on the car. It seems to be an addition that was made to differentiate itself from the Vento's otherwise identical boot.
Insides too are identical to the Vento, and if it weren't for the different colour scheme and the steering wheel, dials and gear knob being borrowed from the Fabia, there would be no differentiating both cars. Being a Skoda, interior quality is top notch. All the plastics are smooth to touch with no serrated edges or undulations with fabrics that are some of the best in the segment. In deriving the Rapid from the Vento, Skoda faces the same issues that VW did. For example, the lack of leather on the wheel and the absence of steering mounted audio controls, two of our favourite grouses, have made an appearance again. Speaking of the audio system, connectivity is far better than the Vento but not as good as the competition. While everybody else considers a USB connector as a standard factory fitment, Skoda adamantly sticks to the SD card reader concept. Thankfully there is an AUX input that makes the cabin a happier place to sit in.
You may remember that the Vento's fabric had a curious habit of staining too quickly. While the texture of the Rapid's fabrics is very different from the Vento, how hard they will be to keep clean remains to be seen. These are the only problems in an otherwise well put together interior. All the variants get a steering column that is adjustable for rake and reach, making it very easy to find a suitable driving position.
Engines and performance
Skoda is offering the Rapid with two engines a 1.6-litre petrol and a 1.6-litre diesel. Both engines are mated to a 5-speed manual transmission, but if you opt for the petrol variant you have the option of going for a 6-speed automatic. The petrol engine makes 105PS at 5250rpm with a torque figure of 153Nm at 3800rpm to match. The diesel makes an identical 105PS at 4400rpm but makes almost 100Nm more with its 250Nm between 1500 and 2500rpm.
We had the automatic box in our test mule, and in Mumbai's peak hour traffic, it was a breeze to drive. And this is where the gearbox is in its element. This is not a gearbox for sporty driving and flooring the pedal will see the car take a couple of seconds to pick up its behind and start galloping, reaching 100kmph from standstill in 14.6 seconds. While acceleration might not be its forte and the low end grunt is missing, patience will be duly rewarded with an eventual top speed of 178kmph. The star among the two engines has to be the diesel. At around 1750rpm a tidal wave of torque comes your way making wheel spinning antics second nature to this car. Keep the car in the power band and 0-100kmph runs are dismissed in 11.4 seconds. And if you're a fan of turbo whines, this car surely has a sweet one. But then the refinement brigade might not be very happy about that. The car will go on to clock a top speed of 180kmph which makes it a solid performer on the highway. In the city however, I found the clutch to be rather springy, which became a bit of a headache in peak hour traffic. Both engines are fairly economical with the petrol returning 9.1kmpl in the city and 16.1kmpl on the highway, making for an overall figure of 10.85kmpl. The diesel returns 13.3kmpl in the city and 19.69kmpl on the highway averaging out at a healthy 14.9kmpl overall.
Handling and dynamics
The Fabia has always been known to be a hot handling hatchback. So when it comes to handling, the Rapid could not afford to fall behind. And this Skoda has managed to achieve. The car uses MacPherson units with lower triangular links and a torsion stabiliser at the front with a Fabia-spec compound link crank axle at the rear. The suspension is well configured to be stiff without becoming uncomfortable for the passengers. It is a good balance without being too hard or too soft. The car never lets any bumps transfer to the passengers. The suspension is well damped to glide over the worst Mumbai's roads have to offer. However, over really bad bumps, carrying some speed will make the suspension seem a bit 'crashy'. The steering is light enough to be easy to use in the city, but not at the cost of feeling unsettled at high speeds. The top end Elegance variant runs on 15-inch alloys with 185/60 rubber wrapped around them. Pushed into corners, the car feels planted and does not feel any bit flimsy. Stopping power from the disc brakes at the front and the drums at the rear bring the petrol Rapid to a stop within 48.1m while the diesel stops in 45.1m.
The top of the line Elegance variant we tested came with the entire package including the 15-inch alloy wheels, fog lamps, ABS, dual airbags and chrome trim in the interior. The two other variants, Active and Ambition come with various levels kit with the Active being the most basic without even ABS and a driver airbag. The petrol variants are priced between Rs 6.62 lakh for the Active manual gearbox to Rs 8.82 lakh for the Elegance automatic. The diesels are priced between Rs 7.80 lakh for the Active to Rs 9.02 lakh for the Elegance (all prices ex-showroom Maharashtra). This means that the base variant petrol Rapid is almost Rs 70,000 lesser than the similar specced Vento while the top end diesel Rapid is over Rs 45,000 lesser than the Vento TDI Highline.
Judging by the brisk sales that the Vento has been enjoying, the Rapid seems to be ready to take a slice off VW's pie. The only thing that might be holding Skoda back are these rumours about some after sales service issues. Time to wipe that slate clean, eh Skoda?