Skoda Laura RS
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Indians have been notorious (or should I say praiseworthy? - its the way you look at it) of walking up to a proud owner of a 1300cc, 170 bhp Suzuki Hayabusa and asking him, “kitna deti hai?” meaning “whats the mileage?” Economy has always been at the core of an Indian automobile buyer. This trait percolates into the board rooms of all the major automobile companies planning their product line for the country which in turn reflects not only in their offerings but also in the way they manage their perceptions. No car company wants to be perceived as a company whose products are guzzlers!

 

As a result, most companies stay away from true sports variants of their models in the Indian market. A no-frills, pure adrenalin pumped variant for the enthusiasts is not a very rare phenomenon abroad but very very difficult to find and almost unheard off in India.

 

Amidst all this frenzy, there are a few companies which are willing to stick their neck out and build cars for the true petrolhead. As far as my memory serves me, there have been just three such offerings in the past of this nature. The oldest was the Fiat Palio with that lovely 1.6 liter, 100 bhp motor. Petrolheads who drove that car still swear by it! Skoda Motors tasted almost instant success with their Octavia sedan in the first half of the previous decade. They did not waste too much time to launch the Octavia Rally Sport (RS). This cracker of a car was powered by a 1.8 liter, 150 bhp turbo charged petrol engine! Along with this, there was the stiff sports suspension and all the visual bits that suggest that it was a sports version viz: chrome dual exhausts, spoiler, larger alloy wheels, etc. And then, the latest offering, not very far back, was when Ford which launched the S variant of their classic Fiesta sedan. This one had the same engine but a sports, stiffer suspension which was quite awesome to drive. The car was also loaded with skirting, spoilers, aluminium pedals and a selection of sporty paint jobs.

 

All of these three received rave reviews and moved up the wish list of automobile enthusiasts. It wasn’t surprising that the same excitement did not translate into sales of these variants which lead to them being withdrawn eventually apart from the Fiesta which continue to stay in the company’s portfolio.

 

But in spite of the low sales turn out, these cars were sorely missed by automobile enthusiasts. Respite came in the form of RS badge being sported again by a variant of the Laura during the Auto Expo 2010. The company planned the launch of the Laura RS into the Indian market and with specification that will re-kindle the same old Octavia RS flame.

 

Then followed a few other launches from the company. The new Skoda Fabia, the much awaited Yeti and in the process, the Laura RS had to wait for its turn a lot longer than expected and it was only in August 2011 that the company finally launched the Laura RS in India. This was not enough. We, at petrolheads.in had to wait a few more months before we could get our hands on a Laura RS. But let me confess something upfront. The wait was more than worth it. Cars like these actually challenge our photographers and our editorial team as they face an enormous task to convey the driving experience through photographs and words. Lets attempt...

 

It was past twilight when I was handed the keys to the car. A race blue coloured Laura RS. I used the remote to unlock the car. Immediately, along with the familiar beeps and blinks of the turn indicators, the cabin lights for the front and the back row came on making the dual tone Onyx-grey seats with the prominently embroidered RS logo visible. Even in the dim lighting of the evening I could spot the rear spoiler, the LED positioning lights, the large front bumper with an integrated spoiler, shiny large 16” Draconis alloy wheels and a sporty blue paint job. All this was enough to set my pulse racing!

 

I admitted myself into the driver’s seat with a sheepish smile stuck to my face. Inserted the key and turned on the ignition. As soon as I did that, the two large needles from the speedometer and the tachometer dials ran through the entire range and returned back to the zero marking. I had seen this months back in a video of the Bugati Veyron and it had stuck with me since. I had a lot of expectations from the RS and these first few impressions were setting it up to blow my mind. I was hoping that what would follow, would live up to this teaser.  I took a deep breath hoping that it does and told myself, “be careful!”

 

Early next morning I set out working on the car very eagerly. Looking around the car, the front and rear spoilers were now visible a lot more clearly. The front bumper looked ever so menacing and for the first time I spotted the RS badge on the front grille. The larger alloy wheels and chrome polished twin exhausts did attract attention. The general profile of the car appeared eager and ...racy.

 

On stepping into the cabin, the sporty theme made a more prominent presence felt. The aluminium pedals, the leather coated three spoke steering wheel with a hint of brush aluminium and of course, the RS badge. Now, during the day, the Onyx-grey seats looked even more awesome and did well to enhance the theme of the car. Also, the front seats were body hugging and extremely comfortable. The all black leather, high quality black plastic and brushed aluminium defined the colour scheme. The center console housed a large touch screen multimedia interface which controlled the 6 cd changer, radio, aux-in port, sd memory card reader and the output to the 8 speaker system.

 

After the initial observations, it was now time for the real test. It was time to crank up the beast. The 1.8 liter Turbocharged Fuel Stratified Injection petrol engine instant came to life. TFSI is an enhanced form of turbo charged petrol engine which delivers a much higher torque per cubic capacity of the engine with much lesser emissions and better fuel economy. This engine delivers maximum torque of 250 Nm @ 1500-4500 rpm and a maximum power of 160 hp @ 4500-6200 rpm! Rev the beastly engine and it makes a very civilized sound. That for me was such a dampener! A car of this nature could do with some more raw engine noise.

 

Not allowing this tiny observation to bother me much, I shifted into first and moved on. The agility with which the car took off soon told me that one must not get fooled by the subdued engine noise. The noise just meant that the car was not vocally pompous but meant serious business. I revved on shifting into second and then into third and before I knew I was speeding into the three figure range with three more gears to go! Wow! This was enough for me to switch to my devil’s hat and indulge into an old fashioned drag routine. During the drag, I was able to get the car speed to over 60kmph in first gear. Shift into second and you are in the late 80s. Into third and you are into the three figure mark. Continue this exercise further until you run through the fantastic six speed manual gear box and you are revving all the way to the read line and you find yourself in the 200+ kmph range! Exhilarating stuff!

This car will get you into the 200s but that is where it kind of peaks out. Petrol engines are usually either free revving or high torque. This engine is quite of both. Its the kind that would want you to indulge into that long weekend drive just to rev the car to its limits. Such sheer pleasure! This engine is also complemented by a fantastic gear box. Perfect gear range for the lower gears and tall ratios for that mind-blowing acceleration. We could get a 0-100 in less 13 seconds!

 

After all that straight line talk, lets bend it a bit. After an impressive run on the expressway I let the car loose on some windy roads to test its cornering and steering ability. The RS variant is fitted with a suspension with revised spring rates. The suspension is a lot stiffer than a routine Laura. The ride in the city is quite bumpy and the rear seat, well not the most comfortable place to be. But the way the car behaves round a corner is a redemption for these new spring rates. There is very little body roll and the car is extremely well behaved. Add to that the fantastic steering wheel! You can go ahead and start calling it BMW-like on this side of 20 lakhs. It is that direct! You begin enjoying these aspects of the car so much that you just do not miss the steering mounted controls or the automatic climate control or the automatic lights or electric seats or no two tone beige interiors or the shiny wooden panels! You get consumed by the joy of well engineered motoring.

 

After the entire test run, the Indian in me was tempted to check for the fuel economy figure and you will not believe it. Through this extra spirited road test that lasted for over 300 kms, this fantastic Laura RS returned a fuel economy figure of 9.8l/100kms!

 

We review cars day in and day out. Very few cars make the job of handing the car back difficult. This was one such experience for us. Not only did the car stay with us, but the experience stayed with each of us who were associated with the review.

 

Making sense of the variant:

Skoda does offer two basic petrol trims for the Laura. No Elegance and no L&K for the petrol. Well, the VW group as a whole now focuses on their diesel TDI powered variants for their premium offerings.

 

But with the RS, Skoda offers the most loaded petrol trim for the Laura. The equipment list is somewhere in between the Ambition and the L&K. With features like the xenon head lamps with the levelling feature, fog lamps with cornering function, sun roof, leather treatment, alloy wheels, LED positioning lamps, etc. You also do not get electric seats or steering mounted controls or cruise control or even automatic climate control.

 

So this is clearly a variant not for those who will miss these luxuries. It is for one of those who like the way the racy cabin turns out.  It is for those who love the way the steering, this lovely stiffer suspension and the fantastic gear box work together to give one of the most spirited and at the same time, the most well behaved driving performance on this side of 20 lakhs. It is for those who take the longer route to work just because they love the drive. It is for those who step out on the weekend morning not to go anywhere in particular, not to go to a particular place, but,  just to drive. It is a car for a true petrolhead.

 

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