Competition can bring out the best in many of us, and at first glance, that is what Skoda seems to have done with the Rapid facelift.
The changes, in short, are as follows:
- Exterior cosmetic updates
- New dual-tone interior theme
- New 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system
- Rain-sensing wipers, cooled glovebox, electronically foldable ORVMs
- Safety features offered as standard
Skoda has given the Rapid a comprehensive visual update, though the bulk of the changes have been at the front of the car. The Rapid now complies with the company's new 'Crystalline' design language which was first introduced here in 2013 with the (then new) Octavia. Skoda's new design language was previewed by the 2011 Skoda VisionD and the 2014 Skoda VisionC concept cars, and the new Rapid gets many design elements from the same.
Highlights here include the new headlights, bumper, grille and bonnet. The headlamps of the old model, which harked back to the design of the Fabia have been replaced by sleek units; these get blacked-out elements, a projector headlamp for the low beam and multi-reflector high-beam setup. The headlamp unit also gets LED DRLs which are placed horizontally along the bottom section, these also double up as the indicators – very Audi-like.
The new grille looks smart - it has vertical black slats which add a 3d effect, while the chrome surround gives it flair. The bonnet design is new with a pronounced centre power bulge; the new black-and-chrome Skoda logo proudly sits on the bonnet just above the crest in the grille, the design clearly highlighting it well.
The new front bumper also highlights the angular design of the Rapid; the lower air-intake slot is now larger with honeycomb mesh inserts, this flanked by two large rectangular fog lamps. The air dam juts out just below the air-intake slat and complements the crisp design.
Move to the side and the first signs of familiarity appear. From the A-pillar backwards, the new Rapid is no different to the older model. Skoda has tried to mask this fact with the use of some elements - the LED DRLs integrated ORVM covers, chrome window-sill insert, very subtle chrome door handle inserts and new 15-inch 'Matone' 5-spoke alloy wheels. Does it succeed? You decide.
When your gaze falls on the rear, you wonder why Skoda asked its designers to stop. To a customer, the relatively small changes at the rear could make them feel shortchanged. Anyway, what you do get are smoked effect tail-lamps which are otherwise the same as the units found on the older model. A boot-lip spoiler, the new Skoda logo, a chrome strip on the bottom edge of the boot-lid and a slightly redesigned bumper are the only other additions here.
The Rapid is being offered in six paint options - Brilliant Silver, Candy White, Cappuccino Beige, Carbon Steel, Silk Blue and Flash Red - of which we saw four in detail. Most of the photos on this page are of the car with the Cappucino Beige paint scheme – what do you think? I personally love the Silk Blue paint – there is something about the paint quality on VW-group cars, very few come close to matching that shine and depth.
Inside, the design has not been fiddled with – though there have been changes made to make it look fresher. The dual-tone theme inside continues in the new Rapid, though the elements have been changed; the new Rapid gets a black and off-white theme, which replaces the brown and beige theme on the older car. The new theme does make the cabin look much better, in my opinion.
The most obvious change inside is the addition of a new infotainment screen. The Rapid now gets a 6.5-inch capacitive touch screen – this is bigger than the 5.8-inch unit found on the larger Octavia! The screen has been integrated very well into the centre console and has very intuitive controls. Apart from the usual USB/Aux-In/SD-Card/Bluetooth connectivity options, Android phone users can also connect their phones directly to the system via MirrorLink. The system is not offered with an inbuilt navigation system, neither can it double up as a reverse camera display but Skoda says this may change in the future.
Engine and Transmission
The Skoda Rapid facelift is offered with two engines – a 1.6-litre, in-line 4-cylinder, naturally aspirated petrol and a 1.5-litre, in-line 4-cylinder, turbocharged diesel. The petrol motor can be had with either a 5-speed manual transmission or a 6-speed torque converter automatic transmission, while the diesel motor can be paired with either a 5-speed manual or a 7-speed dual clutch automatic transmission.
These engine and transmission options may not sound new – the older model was also offered with the same options. Skoda has plonked in a refreshed version of the 1.5-litre TDI diesel motor under the hood of the Rapid now. The 1.5-litre motor has been mainly worked upon to ensure it complies with emissions laws in the country, the previous iteration of this motor had been under the scanner after it was found to be cheating on pollution tests by environmental agencies in the US and Europe. The update also makes it more powerful than before - it now develops 110PS of maximum power as compared to 105PS earlier.
If you are a city slicker, the petrol automatic or the petrol manual variants would make the most sense. The engine is silent in most situations, the 5-speed manual transmission is slick and there is enough grunt in the engine to keep up (or ahead of the traffic). Skoda claims a fuel efficiency of 15.41kmpl for the MT and 14.84kmpl for the AT.
Out on the highway, or on twisty hilly roads (like the ones where we were testing the cars in the hills surrounding Mussoorie) the diesel-powered variants make more sense. The lack of low-end torque really affects the petrol motors' performance under load, the engine gets uncomfortably loud when pushed hard and you do not seem to be going much faster. The diesel motor, on the other hand, has the torque to help you cruise through situations where the petrol engine struggles.
While the diesel motor suffers from a lag at lower speeds, there is a huge surge of torque after 1500rpm which makes things better. The inherent diesel engine character of more torque and power at lower RPMs also mean that you can cruise at higher speeds without the engine becoming too noisy. The diesel motor-7-speed DSG is the best combination to have in the new Rapid.
The intelligent dual clutch transmission brings out the best characteristics of this reworked 1.5-litre TDI motor; Keep the lever in the 'D' mode and the system upshifts early to give you the best compromise between performance and efficiency. Fancy a bit of spirited driving? Slot the transmission to the 'S' mode. The diesel MT has a claimed fuel efficiency of 21.13kmpl while the diesel AT returns a slightly higher claimed mileage of 21.72kmpl.
One small feature that made a huge difference while driving in the hills was the hill-hold function. Available only in the AT variants, the system prevents the car from rolling backwards or forwards when starting off from a standstill on a slope. The feature is so good that you miss it when driving the manual transmission-equipped Rapids, especially the heavier diesel variants.
The availability of cruise control, regardless of the engine or transmission, is a big boon – it can reduce fatigue on very long trips and can also help gain better fuel efficiency.
As a driver, the Rapid feels like a car with a solid build, very good ergonomics and neutral handling characteristics. It’s easy to get into a comfortable driving position thanks to the three-way adjustable seat (fore-aft, recline and height) and the tilt-and-telescopic adjustable steering column. The chunky steering wheel is a treat to hold and has prominent thumb hangers. The two large analogue dials, rev-counter on the left and speedometer on the right, are easy to read under most light conditions. The MID in between the two dials shows you the time, ambient temperature, trip meter, odometer, trip time, instant fuel efficiency, average fuel efficiency, distance to empty and a service reminder.
The centre console is angled towards you and most of the controls fall easily to hand. The buttons on the dash have a nice weighted feel to them, the ORVM control on the door could have been made easier to operate. The steering wheel gets controls for the multimedia and hands-free telephony. The door pocket is big enough to swallow a 1-litre bottle, the lower centre console can also hold some knick knacks; meanwhile, there is a tidy storage space under the front centre armrest.
The Rapid is a confidence booster for any driver. The pedals are spaced well but steering feedback is not the most assuring; however, it is easy to turn at low speeds and progressively becomes heavier with an increase in speed. The suspension is very pliant, letting in minimal vibrations from the road and working noiselessly to keep you isolated.
The suspension on the petrol variants can take a lot of abuse and the passengers will rarely notice it, only the sharpest of potholes can be noticed when the suspension crashes over them – but the vibration is still very well managed. The diesel variants feel like they ride stiffer at lower speeds, but they also feel better to drive in general. The Rapid takes corners very well, the tyres rarely protest and understeer kicks in only at the very limit; low body roll also inspires confidence. Better bolstering for all seats can help improve comfort, but it is not a deal breaker.
ABS and dual front airbags are offered as standard, the diesel DSG variants are also offered with electronic stability control for added safety. Adjustable front and rear headrests provide better whiplash protection while three-point seatbelts for four passengers (the centre rear passenger gets a lap-belt) also add to the safety aspect of the Rapid. Skoda is only offering the Rapid with rear parking sensors for now, it should have offered a rear-view camera considering the view out the IRVM is not great and there is a 6.5-inch screen which can double up as a display.
The front passenger will appreciate the fact that the Skoda has fitted a height-adjustable three-point seatbelt for them too. The cooled, spacious glovebox can keep refreshments fresh during long trips, the 4-speaker multimedia system has a good sound quality and the great NVH levels inside ensure they don't get tired too easily.
Rear passengers have enough leg-room, knee-room and head-room to be comfortable. The seats are well cushioned, and there is a generous centre armrest for both passengers to rest their arms on concurrently. The view out could have been better; looking out is not easy even with the presence of quarter glass panels, the large front seats with adjustable headrests also block the view out front. The good thing is that it is easy to close your eyes and enjoy the ride when seated at the back – the backrest angle is just right, there are adjustable floor-mounted central A/C vents to keep you cool/warm, the door-mounted speakers sound good and there is enough space in the luggage compartment to keep all your stuff for an uncluttered journey.
Accessing the 460-litre boot is not intuitive – you have to either use a button on the driver door or a dedicated button on the key-fob or insert the key into the keyhole on the boot-lid; there is no dedicated soft-touch button (like the Ciaz) or a mechanical latch (like the Vento). Once it is open, you find a deep compartment that can easily accommodate the weekend luggage of four people.
So does the new Skoda Rapid make sense?
The Skoda Rapid is priced between Rs 8.28 lakh and Rs 12.67 lakh, ex-showroom Delhi. This places it higher up in the segment in terms of cost – the Maruti Ciaz starts much lower at Rs 7.53 lakh. While it may not look like the best bang for your buck initially due to the lack of some features such as rearview camera, built-in navigation and Apple CarPlay support. However, the design, build quality, comfort, handling, brilliant diesel-DSG variants and new after-sales assurance package from the company does make it a very compelling option to consider among the executive sedans.
It is not just about changes made to the Rapid, Skoda is also emphasising as to how it is working hard to improve the complete experience of current and potential customers. Skoda is pushing all its dealers to build their showrooms to a certain standard; for now, 27 facilities across the country have been upgraded. By the end of 2016, 33 facilities will be upgraded and by the end of 2017, all facilities of Skoda in India will confirm to the new standards set by the company.
All Skoda cars are being offered with the "4+4+4*" offer. Buy a Skoda car and the company offers 4 years/1,00,000km extended warranty and 4 years/unlimited km roadside assistance all over the country as standard. Pay Rs 29,999 up front during the purchase of the Rapid and you can also avail a 4-year/60,000km periodic maintenance package which should quell some of the after-sales service cost concerns that many potential customers may have.
Skoda is also heavily promoting the MySkoda app which is available for both Android and Apple phones. It can be used to check your car details, service history, locate the nearest dealer/service centre, book a service and calculate the approximate service costs and stay updated on periodic sales/service offers from the company.
The C2 segment is quite crowded; comprising of sedans, crossovers and SUVs. While crossovers may be becoming more popular, sedans like the Honda City and Maruti Suzuki Ciaz have proven that the demand for sedans from customers in this segment has not dwindled, which is incentive enough for the company to stay.
The Rapid is essential for Skoda’s success in India. The new Rapid is not just a bait for bringing in more customers to the company's fold, it is also a working experiment by Skoda India to showcase its capabilities to Skoda HQ. The Skoda Rapid facelift is almost completely conceptualised, developed and manufactured in India with an aggressive push for localisation at every stage.
Skoda will launch three all-new products in 2017; confirmed launches include the flagship Skoda Kodiaq SUV and the Octavia vRS, it is speculated that the third product could be a compact-SUV slotted below the Yeti. Skoda will also update its existing lineup of cars – the Octavia, Superb and Yeti next year.