The 2014 Skoda Rapid is a humble genius

Sep 28, 2014, 08:40 IST | Amit Chhangani

Unpretentious, unassuming and unaltered on the outside, but honed to excellence under the skin — the 2014 Skoda Rapid diesel with DSG has just become the new benchmark for its class

An icon of sorts for those who appreciate understated, refined, yet assertive automobile design and evolved engineering, the Rapid has quietly won admirers. The tastefully proportioned, handsome looking machine remains almost unaltered for its 2014 version. Skoda India, however, has lent this capable family car a new engine, and an automatic transmission which propels it a leap ahead of its competition. The all-important, dual-clutch DSG automatic finds a place under the Rapid’s polished visage, making it clearly the most desirable car for the engineering-oriented car buyers in its segment. Here’s why the engine and transmission transplant on the new Skoda Rapid is a big deal.

Design and appearance
Skoda India has decided to keep the exterior of the new Rapid for India unchanged. Except for the new design of the alloys, and the new 15-inch steel wheels with a new cover as standard on lower spec variants, the car remains unaltered on the outside. The new 15-inch alloys look muscularly smart and go well with the sophisticated look of the car.

For those who want some more flamboyance over the standard model, Skoda has presented a special Black Edition. The new variant adds some devilishness to the Rapid’s otherwise cultured face with a few tactically appointed changes. The Black Edition Rapid will be available at an extra cost with smoked out headlamps, fog lamps with black surrounds, special 12 spoke black alloys and black ORVMs. Even the chrome grille garnish with the Skoda logo has been blacked out.

There is a new, magnetic card holder on the centre console to keep toll tickets

For those who want to wear black whenever in doubt, Skoda offers some additional black treatment. The roof of the car can be finished in black along with black foils. These two additions, however, are available as accessories at the dealer level. The other changes, however, come incorporated directly from the factory, as original equipment.
Engine and transmission

For the 2014 version, a variable geometry turbine (VGT) version of the 1.5-TDI diesel engine, seen first on the VW Polo, replaces the 1.6-TDI power-plant on the Rapid. While the displacement has been reduced by 100 cc, there has been no change in the power and torque output. Peak power is rated at 103bhp as before and is produced at 4400 rpm. Peak torque remains unchanged too at 250 Nm between a wide rev-band of  1,500-2,500 rpm.

The addition of the 7-speed DSG dual clutch transmission makes the Rapid stand apart from rest of the products in its segment

So, while the power and torque figures haven’t really changed on paper, the character of the engine, on the road, most definitely has. While the earlier 1.6-TDI unit, though not laggy, really brought to fore its forceful torrent of torque only post 1800 rpm. The new 1.5- TDI engine is more linear, and gets to business from about 1500 rpm.

While it’s difficult to see all that happening on the tacho with the brilliant 7-speed DSG transmission swapping ratios effortlessly based on the pedal position and speed, we did manage to study the behavior in detail on a forlorn piece of tar in Verna, Goa. That transmission has always been a brilliant unit, and makes the new Rapid shine with its presence.

The controls for the newly incorporated cruise control are combined with stalk lights under the steering wheel

The 7-speed twin clutch DSG automatic transmission doing duty on the new Rapid simply makes it the most effortless car to drive in its segment. With the linear, torquey engine playing perfect foil to the quick shifting transmission, the new Rapid up-shifts quickly if you drive with a light foot and manages to exceed the manual transmission’s efficiency figure by about 0.5 kmpl. So while the manual transmission variant of the Rapid 1.5-TDI delivers 21.4 kmpl under standard cycle, the DSG variant manages 21.66 kmpl. More convenience, better performance and more efficiency — nothing quite matches the magic of the DSG in the mainstream car market when it comes to automatic transmissions.

You can choose from Drive or Sport modes, and can also shift manually by slotting the shifter lever to its left and then pushing the lever up, or pulling it down for up and down-shifts respectively. Gear shifts in manual mode are lightening quick in typical DSG fashion, and there really isn’t any other auto transmission with a diesel engine which can come close to this piece of kit for promptness in its class.

The Black Edition gets black wheels, grille garnish, ORVMs, fog-lamp housings and smoked headlamps

The Sport mode peps up the shift pattern, making the engine hold on to its revs for longer. Typically, with part throttle, the upshifts would happen at around 3,500 rpm in this mode. However, with the pedal put under more than usual pressure, the tacho needle would visit the 4500 rpm mark before the DSG slots the car in a higher gear.
The new engine is slightly toned down yet a thoroughly enjoyable unit, and should be able to propel the Rapid to a genuine 180 kays on the clock. In conjunction with DSG, the whole experience becomes much more convenient and enjoyable, all at the same time.

Interior and features
Not much has changed on the inside of the Skoda Rapid. The headline news is the inclusion of cruise control for the Ambition Plus and Elegance variants. Skoda has also incorporated a new magnetic card holder on the centre console to keep toll tickets. Parking sensors have also been incorporated in the car for the new model. Last but not the least, Skoda has introduced a unique iOS5 and Android based phone app for the back seat occupants. Using this application, the rear seat occupants can remotely control the car’s radio. The generous list of features, available on the previous model as well, remains unchanged.

Ride and handling
The Rapid, ever since its launch, has strongly laid its claim on being the best handling car in the segment. With the underpinnings on the new car having not being changed, the car retains its fabulous road manners. The Rapid takes into its stride even the more vicious undulations without breaking a sweat. It’s only on the acutely broken pieces of tar with sharp ridges where the Rapid really lets a thud pass into the cabin. The balance between a composed ride and reassuring handling exhibited by the Rapid is laudable and is a benchmark for its segment.

We drove the Rapid spiritedly around a deserted road which roughly forms a square, allowing us to test the car’s handling abilities to the hilt. Being a mainstream family car, the Rapid does show a wee bit of roll around bends when pushed hard, though it still is much better than how other cars from its class behave under similar circumstances. It actually eggs you on to try harder. The steering is incredibly neutral and you enter corners on a fabulously balanced set of wheels. While the feedback at the light-ish steering isn’t too great, it’s amazingly precise and lets you place the car wonderfully well on the road.

Our Verdict
Keeping the exterior of the car unaltered may have taken some of the thunder away from the new Rapid, but the inclusion of the all-conquering DSG has made this car an absolute delight to drive. A refined exterior, a torquey, yet linear engine, a feature rich, spacious cabin and the most competent automatic transmission in the segment — there isn’t really anything this car does wrong. Save for the relatively more expensive service and spares, there is absolutely nothing that should stop you from buying this machine, if a capable, comfortable, well-engineered family sedan for R12 lakh or thereabouts is what you are looking for.

Rs 10.32 - 10.84 lakh
Rs 10.97 lakh (Black Edition)

Technical specs
Engine: 1.5 litre turbo diesel
Transmission: 7-speed DSG automatic
Power: 103 bhp@4,400 rpm
Torque: 250 Nm@1,500-2,500 rpm

Skoda's rivals

Volkswagen Vento 1.6 TDI

The Vento is the German cousin of the Rapid on which the Skoda was originally based on. The Vento, though slightly different in appearance, has more or less the same, well weighted proportions and handsome lines of the Rapid. The German sedan too, just like its Czech cousin got a 1.5 TDI diesel and a dual clutch DSG recently. VW products are globally considered a notch above their Skoda counterparts and are sold at a premium. The Vento is marginally more expensive than the Rapid in India as well.
Price: R8.57-10.94 lakh

Honda City 1.5 i-DTEC

The new Honda City has won many admirers for its segment straddling size, bold new grille and generous space inside the cabin. With its recently introduced 1.5-litre i-DTEC engine, it has also become one of the most fuel efficient sedans in the country. Honda’s fuss free, functional and reliable engineering, along with low cost of service and spares makes it popular among the Indian car buyers. It’s a great, practical product, though it isn’t quite there with the Germans when it comes to dynamic ability. Currently the car doesn’t have an automatic option for the diesel variant. Price: R8.4-11 lakh

Hyundai Verna 1.6

The Verna is only car model in this segment, apart from the Rapid/ Vento duo which is currently offered with an automatic transmission for the diesel variant. Stylish appearance, feature laden cabin and segment topping power and torque figures for the diesel engine have made the Verna a great success for Hyundai in India. Hyundai’s after sales service has also been lauded by the mainstream car buyers, and offers great assurance to prospective buyers. The space inside and the handling prowess isn’t the best in the segment though. Price: R9.6-11.7 lakh

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