What is it?
Why would I buy it?
Exciting power delivery, dynamically sorted
Why would I avoid it?
Looks and feels dated
The sedan may not be the most popular body style currently due to the ecstatic demand for SUVs. But we believe that the sedan not only has the upper hand when it comes to driving dynamics but also the nostalgic charm which simply can’t be matched by a high-rider.
For this review, we have none other than the new BS6 Skoda Rapid. Apart from the minor exterior and interior updates, the most significant change in the new Rapid is what’s under the bonnet. An all-new BS6 compliant one-litre three-cylinder turbo-petrol engine which replaced the older 1.6-litre petrol and 1.5-litre diesel powertrains.
Allow me to make it easier for you to spot the exterior differences in the new Rapid. It’s got what Skoda calls quartz-cut projector headlamps, and since our test version is the top-of-the-line ‘Monte Carlo’ trim (fancy name indeed!), it comes complete with an all-black grille and gloss-black ORVMs. There’s also a sleek tailgate spoiler which is finished in black, dual-tone alloy wheels and a ‘Monte Carlo’ badge that takes pride on the B-pillar. But you have to admit that although not as modern as the cars of today, the clean lines give the Rapid a confidently understated stance.
How is it on the inside?
Step into the new Rapid, and like earlier, you will appreciate the great build quality. But the familiar design, which once attracted with its uncluttered layout, now looks undeniably dated. On the flipside though, the ergonomically well-laid-out dash with large buttons allow one to get accustomed almost instantly.
Unique bits in this ‘Monte Carlo’ trim include the rather flashy leatherette upholstery and the flat-bottom steering with vivid red seams that are also seen on the gear lever boot. It also gets the ‘Monte Carlo’ inscribed scuff plates and cushions.
With respect to storage, there’s a tall cubby space in the centre console that also doubles up as a twin cup-holder. While the stowage inside the driver’s armrest can easily swallow a wallet or even a phone, there’s more space inside the door pad not just for a one-litre bottle alone, but also for your masks and sanitisers (current necessity). And, if these weren’t enough, the large glove box will certainly take care of the rest.
Another addition is the rather large eight-inch Skoda Android Infotainment system which sounds fairly okay. It has a high-res display with good touch-response and snappy frame rates. However, despite the user interface being based on Android, it takes time getting used to and is far from intuitive. Besides, the fact that the USB cable port is inconveniently placed in the glove box doesn’t help matters either.
On to the front seats now. While they offer good support and cushioning, one can easily arrive at a sweet driving position by simply adjusting the driver’s seat height, and the steering- both for rake and reach. The experience is further amplified by the generous headroom, loads of shoulder room, and the right amount of thigh support. At the rear, the bench is a comfortable place to be in thanks to a favourable backrest angle, ample knee room, and acres of foot room.
However, it could do with more thigh support, and although the headroom is just about okay for me (5-feet, 6-inch), it could get tight for taller occupants. That aside, there’s enough shoulder room for three average-sized adults to fit without a squeeze. Now, when it comes to boot space, there’s room not only for three medium-sized suitcases but all of your wife’s or kid’s shopping bags and soft toys. And because it's not an SUV, the low loading lip does not require one to lift the luggage far off ground.
How does it drive?
On to the most important update of the new BS6 Skoda Rapid. Replacing the ageing 1.6-litre petrol and 1.5-litre diesel is a new 1.0-litre, three-cylinder, turbo-petrol motor that makes 110bhp and a rather healthy 175Nm of torque. And unlike the earlier five-speed manual ‘box, this new mill uses a new six-speed manual transmission. For the record, Skoda has also promised an automatic gearbox later this year.
Off the mark what catches your attention is the rev-happy nature of the motor. There’s a nice, linear build-up of power which you can instantly spot as the tacho races swiftly to the rev limiter. Of course, you will notice some three-cylinder thrum, but seriously, who cares when there’s so much action to otherwise focus on.
All you have to do is keep the tacho-needle beyond 1600rpm, which is when the turbo goes on-boost. And from there on, the acceleration is simply a revelation to experience. With a mid-range that’s particularly strong, it pulls cleanly with no flat spots whatsoever until the 6500rpm limit. And boy, it sounds good while at it!
Citing the extraordinary, we strapped-on our VBox only to find out that it’s not only a shade quicker to 100kmph than the all-new Honda City, but it’s also a whole 2.4 seconds quicker in our all-important 40-100kmph drivability test (in fourth gear).
On the contrary, we spotted a rather dull response at slower speeds when the turbo is off-boost (ideally below 1400rpm), which can be a cause for frequent downshifting, especially in stop-and-go traffic. But nevertheless, the gears shift accurately through well-defined gates which are further complemented by a well-weighted clutch. If only the shifts felt a tad less rubbery.
As regards the steering, there’s just the right amount of heft- neither too light nor too heavy. But then, with around two-and, three-quarter turns from lock-to-lock, it's not what you’d term as quick. Yet it makes up by being fairly accurate. This gives one immense confidence to hold the intended line when driving fast around bends.
In terms of ride quality, the Rapid’s manners haven’t changed. It remains slightly stiff at slower speeds, which makes the ride slightly bumpy over our monsoon-battered roads. On the flipside though, up the pace, and the Rapid feels rock-solid as it tramples over most road imperfections, feeling unfazed and offering a flat ride mostly.
Should I buy one?
Sure the Skoda Rapid with all of its low-riding sedan-genes may not appeal to majority of the folks who prefer SUVs these days. What doesn’t work in the Rapid’s favour is that it isn’t loaded with all the new-age features that one has come to expect of modern-day cars. If truth be told, the minor makeup simply can’t hide the outdated looks, both inside and out.
But for what the Rapid is, it will seduce the breed that simply lives to drive. Those, who truly appreciate the hard-to-come-by blend of a performance-oriented motor that’s mated to thrilling dynamics. A concoction that proposes just the right amount of cabin space in a package that starts at only Rs 8.72 lakh (on-road, Mumbai for the Rider variant). I don’t know about you, but since I love driving, this is definitely the one for me!
Where does it fit in?
The new Skoda Rapid petrol M/T retails between Rs 8.72-13.91 lakh. For this kind of money, one can also plonk for a Maruti Ciaz that ranges from Rs 9.59-11.8 lakh, VW's Vento for Rs 10.53-14.39 lakh, the Hyundai Verna which is priced between Rs 10.81-15.02 lakh, and the all-new Honda City that costs Rs 13.03-15.41 lakh (All prices OTR Mumbai).
Pictures by Kapil Angane and Kaustubh Gandhi