If you’ve ever driven a Rapid, you wouldn’t question its intent or name — which suggests that it’s not a slow boat, one that loses steam every few miles trying to catch up with the competition. In fact, even with a 1.6-litre naturally aspirated engine (which might be ancient, according to the social-media rulebook of cars), it wasn’t half bad. But taking away those vital 600 or so cc, one cylinder, and natural aspiration has Skoda reduced the Rapid to only a city runabout? And will the update only to what’s under the bonnet make its case any stronger in 2020?
The year 2020 didn’t start with the car industry performing at the peak of its ability. Owing to the ‘millennials not committing to investing in cars and preferring to take an Ola/Uber’ apparently, the sales were fairly low. And then we were hit with what’s possibly the worst thing that happened to mankind after, some may suggest, mobile apps that let you lip-sync to music clips. No, really, the pandemic is bad, and the effects aren’t limited to our health and mortality alone. Although nothing is more important than being alive (our materialistic acquisitions can wait, obv), the coronavirus has disrupted regular life. And as it turns out, not a lot of people are willing to buy cars. So a product that’s brought out in 2020 doesn’t just have to be better than its rivals in some way, it also needs to work a little extra to make people take notice — and eventually buy it.
That very conveniently brings us to the other question. Because as mentioned above, there’s not much that has changed elsewhere with the Rapid. The 1.0 TSI engine is all-new, though. And you may now put all your apprehensions in a backpack and throw said backpack down a cliff because the engine is THAT good. It’s a three-cylinder unit, so it’s inarguably not as balanced. But will you notice that apart from during the time you start it up? Doubtful. Will you feel the need to lament the loss of the naturally aspirated engine that came before it or even the 1.2 TSI that the Rapid never got? That’s doubtful, too!
The new 1-litre, direct injection petrol engine makes 110 hp and 175 Nm. It comes specced only with a six-speed manual at present, and there’s no diesel option as well. Despite all of that, the Rapid looks like the enthusiast’s car of choice in the segment. Off the line, the engine has no struggle keeping up with the weight of the car. It remains audibly comfortable and well in control for most of its rev range. Push it towards the red line and the thing loves to eat up revs. You would hardly need more than three gears if you keep it on the boil to reach the national-highway speed limit. Where it absolutely decimates every single possibility of losing pace is its mid-range. I didn’t have a VBOX on me, but it’s astonishing how the engine picks up speed — despite the small size and regardless of the gear it is in. Downshifting and revving the nuts off it is generally an exercise with naturally aspirated engines, but this one, even with a turbocharger strapped on to it, likes that. And, goodness gracious me, the gearbox won’t complain, either. It’s smooth, slots in confidently, and with the dog-leg reverse, the newest of drivers will never run the risk of getting into reverse while going forwards. To sum the driving experience up, think of the Rapid as a Linea T-Jet with a less-explosive power delivery but possibly everything else improved. Almost!
And how’s the chassis, you must wonder? From the limited driving time I had with the car, one thing was made fairly clear: that the Rapid hasn’t lost its ability to soak up bumps and glide over bad roads. Of course, this is not the performance-orientated saloon you’ve been waiting for all these years. But it’s safe to say that the Rapid is happier taking corners at a pace most of its rivals fail to be comfortable with on the straights. Exaggeration? Only slightly, but you get the point. It’s not devoid of body roll, but that also heightens the sharp and decently attentive steering. Although it needs to be mentioned that the steering isn’t dripping with feel. You can absolutely chuck the car into corners if that’s your way of making the drive back home interesting. And unless you’re sat in the 6th when you should’ve been in the 3rd, you’ll have enough grunt to power you out of the corner — and repeat! Braking seemed adequate and the 195/55 R16 tyres were okay on the rain-soaked streets. But there’s a strong chance that you’ll want to upgrade to something more potent (at least in the tyres department) if you’re looking at driving more enthusiastically.
Which brings us to the final topic of discussion here. It’s been clearly established that the 2020 Skoda Rapid is the kind of car you as an enthusiast will have on the top of your list. It drives well, has good space inside, and won’t fail to make you proud of your decision every time you step on the accelerator. But which one should you get? If you’re strictly on a budget and don’t mind missing out on the height-adjustable driver’s seat, the Rider Plus is the variant for you — since the Rider isn’t available at the moment. At Rs 7.99 lakh, ex-showroom, it offers great value. On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re looking at something more feature-rich (larger infotainment system and more importantly four airbags), the Rapid Style is the one to go for. As for this, the Monte Carlo variant, it’s weirdly specced and there’s not much about ‘Monte Carlo’ that you get from this. If only Skoda had put in some more effort in making this edition more special…
There aren’t too many things I didn’t like about the Rapid. To start with, the lack of side airbags on the Monte Carlo edition is appalling. The other bit that has particularly annoyed me is the infotainment system. While you can spec an Apple CarPlay-equipped version on the lesser variants, the Style and Monte Carlo only get this half-arsed Android-based unit. It’s not the most intuitive to use, it has pathetic sound quality, and most importantly, it feels out of place in an otherwise brilliant car. Also, the car isn’t great when it comes to hiding its age, especially with the interior. The lights, I feel, could have been better, too, because, in the low-visibility conditions that Mumbai threw at me, they somehow couldn’t cope up. Thankfully everything else worked like a charm. And while it’s not quite ‘simply clever’, if you’re after a saloon that performs well but doesn’t shout for attention, the Skoda Rapid seems almost peerless. Worth buying? Absolutely!