Performance and refinement
The Renault Scala employs a 1.5-litre diesel engine similar to the one in the Nissan Sunny. The motor churns out 84.8bhp and has plenty of pulling power. And while it is quite silent at idle, it sounds a bit gruff as you rev it. The mid-range has plenty of power available, which makes overtaking a simple task, but it is best to shift up a gear early once you get to higher engine speeds.
In the Rapid however, the 1.6-litre diesel motor feels much stronger, and it always feels like it has power in reserve when you use lots of throttle. The engine itself is slightly bigger than the Scala’s, though it doesn’t feel as refined as the Renault’s. The clutch is also heavier, and there is a sudden spike in power initially, which causes it to get a bit jerky in traffic sometimes.
Ride and handling
The Scala’s low-speed ride is a bit stiff, but things improve at higher speeds where the ride smoothens out. Rutted surfaces tend to unsettle it a bit, though. Its light steering is a boon in the city and it weighs up sufficiently at highway speeds. Stability is impressive as well and it feels composed at cruising speeds. It’s well poised around corners, but is not happy being driven fast, and works better at a relaxed pace.
The Rapid on the other hand is more involving to drive, and there is lots of grip on offer. Low-speed ride is pliant and keeps sharp-edged irregularities at bay, but as speeds increase, the Rapid’s soft front suspension tends to bob a bit, and you sometimes get a loud ‘whack’ over big holes. Straight-line stability is good and this makes it a good highway cruiser. While the light steering is perfect for city use, it doesn’t weigh up enough as you go faster.
The Scala uses exactly the same dashboard as the Sunny, the only difference being the badge and the leather upholstery on this RxZ trim. The cabin is very spacious and the big windows and thin pillars aid good all-round visibility. Overall quality is good too but the interior plastics don’t feel as solidly built as the Rapid’s. The seats, though comfortable, are placed a bit low, which means thigh support is not that great.
The Rapid’s two-tone interiors are almost identical to the Volkswagen Vento’s and the quality level is more consistent and slightly better than the Scala’s. But compared to other Skodas, the Rapid feels built to a price. The ergonomics are good; a comfortable driving position is easy to attain thanks to a height-adjustable seat and a steering which adjusts for reach and rake. The large front seat is high on comfort and is very spacious too.
Space and practicality
The Renault’s cabin feels very airy and spacious and the beige interiors further enhance this feeling. The back seat has more knee room than the Rapid but, like the front seats, it is slightly short on thigh support, and the sloping roofline also eats into headroom at the rear. The boot, at 490 litres, is quite generous, and the seats fold down to further increase the available luggage-carrying space.
While the Rapid loses out in this aspect, with only 460 litres of boot space on offer, it is still quite useful. The cabin itself is fairly spacious though; there is good legroom for the rear seat passengers and the clever lever on the bottom of the front passenger seat helps slide it forward with ease (Elegance trim only). Importantly, the wide dimensions make sitting three-abreast quite easy. Also, the back seat is supportive and comfortable, despite the slightly upright backrest.
The Scala comes in two trim levels. The lower RxL trim gets keyless entry, power windows, steering-mounted audio controls, alloy wheels and climate control. Safety kit like two airbags and ABS is standard across the range, which is commendable and makes it a value-for-money proposition. The top-end RxZ adds push-button ignition, leather upholstery and electrically folding wing mirrors.
The diesel Rapid comes in five trims. The base Active gets adjustable steering, while the Active Plus gets keyless entry and electric adjust for the wing mirrors. The Ambition gets ABS, a driver airbag, rear defogger and fog lamps. The Ambition Plus gets a two-DIN music system and electric wing mirrors. And the top Elegance variant gets alloy wheels, two airbags, climate control, a trip computer and the front seat adjust lever.
The Renault Scala, then, comes across as an easy to drive saloon that is spacious, practical and better looking than its cousin, the Sunny. And while it does have enough power in its mid-range, its outright performance isn’t great and the low seats and poor rear headroom count against it too.
The Skoda Rapid too has its shortcomings, like having certain essential equipment missing on the lower variants and its soft front suspension that makes the saloon bob a bit at higher speeds. However, with strong performance on offer and a comfortable cabin that has solidly built interior plastics, the advantage swings back in favour of the Skoda. And since the Rapid pips the Scala as the mid-size saloon that gets almost everything right, it gets our pick as the winner here.