What is it?
The Skoda Rapid has been the Czech carmaker’s cash cow in India, accounting for nearly 70 percent of its total sales, but it’s still far from the most popular car in its segment. With a facelift, the first substantial one in five years since the car’s launch here, the Rapid has been sharpened up aesthetically, fitted with a more powerful diesel engine and equipped with added features to make it more appealing. In fact, Skoda hopes that the update will empower the Rapid’s sales number to almost double to 20,000 annual units by the end of 2017.
The Rapid’s fascia is completely new. A new chrome-outlined grille and angular headlamps bring it more in line with its bigger brothers, the Octavia and the Superb. Below the grille sits a redesigned bumper, with a large, honey-combed lower air intake, prominent air dam and fog lamps. In profile, the Rapid has not changed at all, and the only revision round the back is the lightly redesigned bumper and tailgate-mounted chrome strip. Other nouveau embellishments include the projector headlights with “jewel-shadow” daytime running lights as Skoda calls them and chrome moulding on the door handles. On the whole, the clean lines and sharp edges make the Rapid look fresh, purposeful and contemporary.
Other changes include a new 110hp diesel engine and some equipment upgrades. As earlier, the Rapid will be available in three trims – Active, Ambition and Style, with petrol as well as diesel, and manual as well as automatic options.
What is it like on the inside?
The dashboard is identical to the earlier Rapid’s, which in turn is shared with the VW Vento. The dash design is restrained, but everything is where you expect it to be. Taking centre stage is a new large and reasonably crisp 6.5-inch touchscreen that comes with USB, AUX and Bluetooth support as well as MirrorLink connectivity. Other new equipment include rain-sensing wipers and electronically-folding exterior mirrors, which help bridge the gap between the Rapid and better-equipped rivals. Skoda’s trademark ‘clever features’ are manifest in the form of a cardholder clip in the centre console to hold all your toll passes and the likes.
Other notable equipment include a tilt-and-telescopic steering adjust, automatically-dimming rear-view mirror, cruise control, cooled glovebox, climate control, rear AC vent, one-touch power windows and remote-controlled opening and closing of windows. Certain features are prominently missing, though, such as a rear camera and an engine start/stop button.
The Rapid is reasonably comfortable to sit in. The front seats are generally comfortable, with side-bolstering to hold you in place, and a large-enough seat cushion to support your thighs. Their lumbar section, however, feels a bit hollow and might irk you on longer drives. The rear seats are firm and supportive, offering adequate thigh support and legroom and good amounts of knee room; you won’t get the same sense of space as rivals like the Honda City and Maruti Ciaz, though. Frontal visibility for rear passengers is also not the best on account of the large front seats. However, the provision of a front, as well as rear armrest, is appreciated.
The Rapid’s 460-litre boot is not the roomiest in its segment, and the protruding wheel arches make it less-than-ideally shaped. However, the loading lip is wide and low, offering easy access. The lack of a boot-open button on the boot itself is slightly annoying – a little button inside the driver’s door needs to be yanked every time the boot has to be opened, though it is nice that the spring-loaded lid opens fully.
In terms of safety, driver and passenger airbags and ABS are standard across all variants.
As before, material quality and finish are great and a general sense of robustness is pervasive.
What is it like to drive?
The principal mechanical change in the facelifted Rapid is the new diesel engine. Well, ‘new’ might not be the most accurate term because this engine is an updated version of the 1.5-litre TDI available in the pre-facelift car. This engine, which made its debut in the VW Ameo, features a larger, locally-sourced turbocharger that allows the power to be bumped up from 105hp to 110hp. Its torque rating, at 250Nm, remains unchanged. The diesel engine is available with a 5-speed manual as well as a 7-speed automatic DSG gearbox, the former of which we are reviewing here.
At idle, the TDI engine greets you with its usual clatter. It is audible at all times, which is a bit of a downer. What is good though is the performance. Loads of torque is available in the revs before the turbo kicks in, allowing you to comfortably potter around town. In fact, it’s possible to get through slow-moving traffic in third gear. Find an open stretch and step on the gas, however, and you move into a meaty mid-range. The turbo kicks in earnest at 2000rpm and from there till 4500rpm, the remarkably free-revving engine delivers a constant stream of power. You can rev till past 5000rpm but doing so makes the engine sound strained. The five-speed manual gearbox offers short, nice throws, though the clutch is on the heavier side.
The Rapid’s suspension set-up is unchanged from before, which is not a bad thing at all. The low-speed ride is sufficiently absorbent, and only the largest of potholes thumps through to the cabin. As you speed up, you notice that the very softness of the suspension that makes it absorbent also makes the car bob slightly on undulating roads, but never to a point that it feels uncomfortable. Stability, on the whole, is quite good, making the Rapid an acceptable highway cruiser.
The Rapid scores well in terms of handling too. While the steering does not offer too much feedback, it is light and accurate, rendering the car amply suitable for city driving. However, around corners, it does not feel tight or agile, and as such, isn’t a car that you will confidently swing into bends.
Should I buy one?
At Rs 11.56 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), the Rapid is quite competitively priced against its rivals. By arming it with popular features such as a touchscreen, Skoda has brought it up to speed with the competition, while its superior build quality – the way the switchgear feels, the ‘whump’ made by the doors as they shut, the general feeling of robustness you get – still sets it apart. Furthering the Rapid’s case is Skoda’s current emphasis on the ownership experience, which includes best-in-class warranty programmes and the promise of transparent after-sales service.
When viewed as a whole, there is a strong case to be made for the facelifted Rapid – it looks fresher and drives very well. While those looking for a family car might find more value in rivals like the Honda City or the Maruti Ciaz, those who are likely to spend most of their time behind the wheel will enjoy the punchy, relatively-more-involving drive of the Rapid.