Sunday drive with Hormazd Sorabjee: The Skoda Rapid review

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An all-new 110hp 1.0 TSI turbo petrol engine comes as a big shot in the arm for the Skoda Rapid, which has been largely unchanged since it was launched in 2011. In fact, there’s a lot riding on this compact yet potent 1.0 TSI, which will be the sole engine powering the Rapid range. It produces a strong 110hp and 175Nm of torque, figures that will make you smile before you turn the key.

Money talks

The 2020 Rapid 1.0 TSI appeals to the pocket as well with an official fuel-efficiency figure of 18.97kpl – that’s over 3kpl more efficient than the earlier Rapid. But the big shocker is the price – the base ‘Rider’ variant starts at just
Rs 7.49 lakh, which drops it smack into the premium hatchback territory and makes it cheaper than even the VW Polo 1.0 TSI, powered by the same engine.

So then, what’s it like to drive? It accelerates from a standstill to 100kph in a smidgen over 10 seconds before hitting a top speed of 195kph, making it the fastest mid-size sedan yet. Yes, the 2020 Rapid does live up to its name and is indeed very rapid.

However, it’s not just outright or raw pace that sets the Rapid apart but the ease with which it builds up speed. The secret is the engine’s wide spread of torque and a new 6-speed gearbox, which work in unison to extract the most from this diminutive, giant-slaying engine, which pulls hard and strong with no let up till the 6,700rpm redline.

When you want a burst of acceleration in slow-moving traffic, you’ll find yourself fumbling for a lower gear

It’s an engine that loves to be revved and the more you rev it, the smoother it gets. This superbly-balanced engine is largely vibration-free and it’s only at idle that you can feel it gently rocking on its mounts. That’s a big achievement for a three-cylinder engine, which is inherently not as smooth as a four-cylinder.

If there’s a weakness with this engine, it’s at low speeds. When you want a burst of acceleration in slow-moving traffic, you’ll find yourself fumbling for a lower gear. In fact, you tend to shift between third and second gears more frequently in city traffic to keep the engine in thick of its power band. The good thing is that, the new 6-speed manual transmission has a light and short throw so you don’t really mind playing with the stubby gear lever.

Suspend disbelief

Other than the new engine, the 2020 Rapid gets no mechanical changes. Brilliant high speed manners have been a hallmark of the Rapid and now with a punchy engine, it’s an even more effective highway cruiser.

The cabin is unchanged and while you do appreciate the solid build and quality, the interiors with old-school instruments are looking dated. But, with this update, Skoda has tried to invigorate the cabin with some racy bits. The flat-bottomed steering with a chunky, perforated grip and red stitching looks and feels fantastic, but the jazzy seats with splashes of red look less convincing.

The big news is an all-new 8-inch infotainment system, which has a sharp, easy-to-read high-res screen. There’s no Android Auto or Apple CarPlay either, but you can mirror your phone on the screen via a third party EasyConnection.

The flat-bottomed steering with red stitching of this three-cylinder engine car looks quite stunning

The flat-bottomed steering with red stitching of this three-cylinder engine car looks quite stunning

Top-spec ‘Monte Carlo’ variants get some useful features like auto headlamps, rain-sensing wipers and a rear-view camera but the car misses out on LED lights, cooled seats, a sunroof and even something basic like an engine start-stop button, which rival mid-size sedans offer.

The Rapid doesn’t have the latest gizmos and digital tech offered by rivals, and feels a touch analogue in comparison. But therein lies its charm. Few cars combine fantastic build quality, excellent dynamics and practicality like the Rapid. It’s a car that still has its fundamentals right. If you love to drive and need a safe and solid mid-size sedan that won’t break the bank, the Rapid 1.0 TSI is worth a good look.

Hormazd Sorabjee is one of the most senior and much loved auto journalists in India, and is editor of Autocar India

Sunday Drive appears every fortnight

From HT Brunch, June 28, 2020

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