Skoda’s latest car has, interestingly, been around for quite a while. What’s more, you or someone you know probably owns one already. Before you think I’ve lost my mind, it’s the Volkswagen Vento that I’m talking about. And the new Skoda, called the Rapid, is just that — a Vento in Skoda’s finery.
But before you raise an eyebrow, I recommend that you try this Skoda on for size, because it will be priced a tad lower than the Vento when it’s launched next week, and the idea of getting a brand new Vento for less money is a great deal indeed. What’s more, the Skoda badge isn’t really down-market — just go and ask those who have had theirs nicked from their cars!
The Rapid will be available with two engine options — the 1.6 MPI petrol and the 1.6 TDI diesel. In addition to the engine options, you also can choose between a manual and an automatic transmission, if you are going in for the petrol. There are three levels of trim — Active, Ambition and Elegance — and the choice is, as usual, dependent on how deep your pockets are.
The Rapid is an aesthetically sound car. By that I mean that it is good looking, but not gorgeous. Its looks will appeal to the majority — in short, a very conventional looking automobile. And that’s no surprise really because it is nearly identical to the Vento.
The interiors are common to both the diesel and petrol models (with exception to the figures on the tachometer), and how opulent they are solely depends on the expanse of your bank balance. Just like that of the Vento, the Rapid dash has a lot of colour. By ‘a lot’, I mean grey, tan and a smidgeon of chrome. The seats are comfortable and there are lots of handy little compartments in the Skoda to store away everything from water bottles to loose change.
The 1.6 MPI petrol sounds good when you’re whipping it hard. Unlike Japanese engines, this one takes its time to build revs, but you really don’t need to spin it at warp speed, because the torque is spread out well till about 3,500 rpm. This 15.6 kgm engine is in its comfort zone at about 80-110 kmph. Highway cruising is stress free, but you might need a downshift or two before building up enough steam in order to carry out an overtaking manoeuvre.
Although sharing the same displacement and power output (105 bhp) as the petrol engine, the diesel motor is predictably very different in character. The diesel throws 25.5 kgm of torque your way at anything above idle rpm, and that goes on strongly till about mid-range revs. The diesel is also the noisier of the two, with the din making it into the cabin at highway speeds. Being a diesel, the clutch is harder to work on and the gearshift seems a tad notchier than that of the petrol — something that could very well be a one-off occurrence. Torque makes up for the resistance to rev freely in the case of this engine, and there’s quite a lot of fun to be had. Engine-wise, I’m a bigger fan of the diesel, and the fact that this one is the more frugal of the two really helps make my decision easier.
When it comes to ride quality, the petrol seems more settled than the diesel. A stiffer suspension is to be thanked for this, and the confidence it endows the driver with when pushing the car through corners is most welcome. On the flip side, the suspension tends to thud in and out of potholes.
The diesel, however, is the exact opposite when it comes to ride and handling. The heavy oil burner is bouncy and keeps oscillating longer than you would like. A series of bumps will unsettle the car to the extent that it seems skittish. Chucking the car around a kink isn’t exactly a nightmare, but it isn’t as sure-footed as the petrol Rapid. For all of this, it is the extremely soft suspension that is to blame. On city roads, however, that very same suspension is to be thanked when the diesel tackles speed breakers and the like with a level of plushness that the petrol cannot offer.
Another aspect of the Rapid that will find favour with urban commuting warriors is the minimal steering effort required to work the wheel. It is servoed to spin with just the right force, making driving and parking in chaotic city traffic a breeze. What’s more, the wheel is adjustable for both tilt and reach across all three trim levels.
However, what does not come fitted across the board is the front airbag for the driver in addition to the ABS and dual rate brake assist systems. Only the Ambition and Elegance come with both these features, while the cheapest
Active variant has to make do without them. Since we’re talking about the brakes, I’d like to mention that the stoppers do their jobs with a fair amount of enthusiasm, although they do not return much feedback to the driver through the pedal.
In all, the Skoda Rapid is a solid, well-built car which in all likelihood will be relatively reasonably priced — we expect it to start at about Rs 6.7 lakh and go up to about Rs 9.2 lakh, ex-showroom Mumbai. Just make sure your insurance policy covers the badges!