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Looking back at Skoda’s stint in India, the cars that have done well for them have been the Octavia, Laura and the Superb. The most popular of them has been the Octavia to such an extent that loyalists are willing to pay a decent amount for a pre-owned Octavia even today! What the Octavia did, apart from doing good numbers is it somehow managed to attach a high amount of aspirational value to it. The reason for that could be that it was the cheapest car at its time that did sport the German attributes of solid built, good ride quality and handling, reliability and a good set of engine options! The Octavia has also been significant, because of its price point. It provided the company with a reasonable volume in terms of sales. After the Octavia, there has been a lot of hype around some of the Skoda cars like the Fabia and the Yeti but the hype has somehow not translated to sales figures. Cars like the Laura and the Superb are doing well but again are closer to or beyond the 20 lakh price segment. Since the phasing out of the Octavia, the company has struggled to find a model that will give them the volume sales until now. We reviewed the Skoda Rapid recently and here is the detailed road test report.

Exterior:
Sharing its platform with the Vento, which we have driven earlier, we approached the car with similar expectations. The same minimalistic, distinct and elegant design. But, what does separate the Rapid from the Vento is the very true Skoda family look of course. The prominent central crease on the hood, the very familiar grill with the Skoda logo. The same family look carried on to the rear with the very minimal touches that distinguish this car as a Skoda. That same presence on the road. That same grown up styling which may not make your heads turn, but you will appreciate it for times to come. Very typically Skoda, design that will last the test of time. The design that seldom starts looking outdated which often happens to cars which when launched, look futuristic.

Interiors:
Everything in the Rapid is about German quality. Starting from the door handles to the way the doors open and shut to the buttons inside the cabin and the overall fit and finish. Everything is top notch! The car sports a brown beige dual tone theme throughout. The dashboard houses a multi functional information display which shows trip data, door ajar warning, trip and instantaneous fuel economy and distance to empty. We found the multifunctional display a bit small and hence crammed for the amount of data that it displays. The backlight on the dials is white which gives it a different, premium-ish feel.
The Elegance variant of the Rapid which is the top of the line variant is loaded goodies like automatic climate control, electrically controlled OVRMS over and above the Elegance Fabia. The Rapid electric OVRMS which can be controlled with joystick like controls identical to the ones that we see in Ford cars in India. Bluetooth phone connectivity was missed in the Elegance and for a car this price one would also expect steering mounted controls as well whose absence disappoints. The front seats provides good thigh, back and side support for that long highway cruise. Especially the front seats are quite body hugging!
The rear seat rests at a nice angle for a comfortable ride for the rear passengers. They provide decent lumbar support and high backrest. The rear seat is equipped with a central armrest and the co-passenger anti submarine seat can be moved using a lever to increase the legroom for the rear passenger. A very thoughtful addition! The tilt and telescoping steering adjustment is standard across all variants just as in the Fabia which helps in finding the correct driving position with ease. The steering feels good and has some chrome accents that add to the richer feel. The gear lever is placed ergonomically and the gears slot with a lot of precision and changing them is such a pleasure.The gear throws are quite brief as well. The chrome touch with the shiny black give it a nice feel. The ac vent for the rear seats was a good addition and the central chamber also houses a cup holder for the rear passengers. The fact that the rear passenger cannot lock or unlock the doors was something that we didn’t quite like keeping in mind those Rapid owners who would be chauffeured around. The high backrest of the rear seat coupled with the slightly reclining roof line results in a very small rear window.

Engine and drivetrain:
If we asked ourselves to close our eyes and think about that one thing about the car that took our heart away and got all our attention it will have to be the engine. This 1600 cc diesel motor is something else. Producing a whopping 250 Nm of torque which is delivered at a rev range that is as low as 1500 - 2500 rpm and maximum power of 105 PS delivered around the 4000 rpm mark, this engine is quite enthusiastic in its response to the throttle at low city speeds. Having said that, the power delivery of the engine does not come in the form of a sudden surge when the turbo kicks in but it is one of the most linear manner of power delivery that we have seen in a diesel engine in its class.
Coupled with a fantastic gear box, there is hardly a power band where the engine feels out of breath. The company claims a top speed of 185 kmph. We could get the car to cruise very easily to a speed in excess of 170 kmph but beyond about 175 kmph the car did not exactly inspire confidence but only beyond speeds of the order of 175 upwards. We weren’t complaining at all as the engine even when close to the red line band did not feel under strain and we presume that with a car that touches such speeds with so much ease, most will be happy with a self imposed speed limit of around the 170 mark if you may call that a limit at all. Over the exhaustive highway drive the car returned an impressive fuel economy of 17.4 kmpl which we found very impressive for a car as big as this and even more so commendable as our highway cruise was nothing short of fairly high spirited one as you can figure out from the numbers mentioned above. After having driven this, we couldn’t help but imagine what it would be to drive a Fabia with this engine. Our guess, very very difficult to tame for sure!

Ride and handling:
Traditionally electronic power steering systems are very responsive and effortless at low speeds but tend to provide very little feedback at high speeds when the power assistance shuts off. The Skoda Rapid employs an electronic power steering which is very effective at low speeds as expected, but, whats important is that the feedback at high speed is quite decent as well and left us adequately satisfied. This assumes even more importance when you take into consideration that this car has a potent engine.
The variant we drove was equipped with ABS and EBD which is the next most essential thing when you talk of speeds we just did. The braking is good and inspires the much desired confidence when you speed.
Skoda engineers have worked on the rear suspension of the Rapid which provides a good smooth ride to the rear passengers while keeping the drive composed when you throw it around corners. The body roll is not very significant either. If at all the added weight betters the dynamics with a more uniform weight distribution reducing the slight understeer that can be observed in the Fabia.

Overall evaluation:
The Rapid petrol range starts at the Rs. 7,00,000 (ex-showroom for the entry level Active petrol manual transmission) and goes all the way up till Rs. 8,50,000 (ex-showroom for the top end Elegance petrol manual transmission) and Rs. 8,45,000 and Rs. 9,35,000(ex-showroom prices for the Ambition and the top end Elegance petrol with 6-speed automatic transmission respectively). The diesel variants range from about Rs. 8,25,000 (ex-showroom for the entry level Active diesel manual transmission) and the Elegance sports an ex-showroom price tag of Rs. 9,60,000. The diesel variant is not offered with an automatic gear box like in the petrol variant which could be a move to keep the costs in check.
This diesel variant competes with  its cousin, the VW Vento, Hyundai Verna Fluidic, and the Fiat Linea which are the other prominent diesel sedans in the segment.

The Skoda Rapid is essentially the VW Vento apart from the Skoda specific badging and styling. The Rapid is not the most feature-rich or loaded sedan in the segment for its price but you have the solid German build quality and the Skoda brand working for it! After spending a couple of days in the car, we realized that the car just grows on you. You begin to appreciate the fun power delivery, space and ease of driving in the city.
After a long time, the company seems to have a winner in the 10 lakh price segment which is capable of providing the required volume sales. We loved the diesel variant a lot more! A lovely motor with an able gearbox makes it an extremely attractive proposition.

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