At some point or the other though, the thin line of differences between shared platform cars does thin even further and that’s something we will witness when the Skoda Rapid launches on the 16th of November 2011. But does that mean the Rapid is just a rebadged Volkswagen Vento? If you’re not paying close attention it may seem so, but look deeper and distinct differences begin to emerge. While the transition for the Vento from the Polo wasn’t too far fetched, the car that was being termed the ‘Fabia sedan’ is clearly apart from the Skoda hatchback. So in the process of creating the Rapid, Skoda have found themselves with a car that isn’t a Fabia with a boot and still isn’t quite a Vento with a redesigned front end either.
At first glance and especially in profile the Rapid is just the same as the Vento. It does get the Fabia front end treatment though with the bonnet sporting traditional Skoda creases and ridges leading up to the corporate Czech manufacturer’s grille flanked by the large almond-shaped headlamps. Head-on, the Rapid is a Fabia but get a little bit of angle into your view and the elongated hood shows its dimensions and melts into a sleek cabin culminating in the well-integrated boot.
The rear end itself is a straight lift from the Vento except for the redesigned tail lamps and another distinct Skoda feature that is making its way into all their cars. Concentrate on the rear end just between the tail lights and the number plate and you notice a ridge on either side that seems to converge at an imaginary point around the roof line. This crystal cut in the boot signifies quality for Skoda in PR speak, but regardless, gives the rear good character. The design integration of all the Skoda bits into the Vento body has been carried out flawlessly and what the Czech manufacturer has achieved while doing that is a car that will appeal in its design more to the general Indian populace owing to its more welcoming and softer visual appeal.
While the Rapid sports enough features on the outside that identify it instantly as a Skoda, it’s the interiors that seem to have been the neglected bit in terms of giving the car a separate identity. But then again, when you have a formula that already works, why change it, right? The basic design on the Rapid’s insides carries over from the VW Vento – simple, fresh, functional and extremely ergonomic.
The steering wheel is carried over from the Skoda parts bin and is chunky and of superior quality, but still doesn’t have any steering mounted controls. The trim and colours on the dash have been given a slight do-over with a more feminine touch to the otherwise black and beige turnout of the Vento. All in all, the Rapid is a comfortable car to be in and capitalizes on VW’s proven design. You even get rear air con vents and a front passenger seat that can be adjusted from the rear bench as well. Driver’s seat is adjustable for height as well and can make for a great driving position when adjusted properly with awesome support all round.
The only grouse we have with the Rapid’s cabin as we did with the Vento as well is the huge arm rest for the driver that could be a bit of a bother while changing gears when you’re in spirited driving mode! The Rapid comes factory fitted with a 2-DIN audio player on the top of the line Elegance variant and also goes one up by incorporating an AUX input as well as an SD/MMC card reader. Top variants also get electronically regulated climate control while the base Active and Ambition variants have to make do with a manually regulated air con. Other differences are in the amounts of chrome in various places in the car – both inside and out. The Elegance also gets fabulous 15-inch alloys while the lower variants settle for 14-inch steel wheels.
Sitting snug under the long bonnet are the same engines in the same level of tune as those in the Volkswagen Vento. You’ve got the choice of either a 1.6 litre turbo diesel powerplant or an MPI petrol unit of the same capacity. Both units make the exact same power as well at 105 horses but naturally there’s a massive difference in the torque – the TDI putting down 250Nm between 1500-2500rpm and the petrol making 153Nm @ 3800rpm. It wouldn’t be too exaggerating to say then that the diesel is the more fun-to-drive variant and if its performance you’re looking for from your Rapid, go for the TDI.
We drove both cars for about 200km each through a route of mixed terrain and road conditions near Jaipur in Rajasthan and the diesel was way more efficient than the petrol with gear ratios that not only make the car driveable but enable one to sneak out superior performance as well. The suspension setup on both cars seems to be slightly on the softer side compared to the Vento but while it takes bumps and broken roads well, it also doesn’t compromise much in terms of body roll and handling. So what you have with the Rapid is a car that delivers the same quality in its underpinnings as other Skodas – big or small.
The Skoda Rapid will make it to showrooms with both 5-speed manual and 6-speed automatic transmissions, but as we saw earlier on the VW Vento, only for the top variant petrol engined cars. The diesels will be offered only with the 5-speed manual gearbox and these are the ones you should really keep your eyes on. Pricing will be crucial and expect the Rapid to cost slightly lower than the Vento variant by variant. To sum it up, Skoda seems to have another winning product to add to their portfolio – this time courtesy the big guys at Volkswagen.
Till date we saw Skoda come out with their cars before VW did – as they did with the Laura, Superb and the Fabia. For the first time it is Skoda that has let VW take the lead with their entry-level sedan but in the process the Czech haven’t lost out at all. They have a car that looks better, sports a fast name and should interest quite a few. But the real winner in all of this is the VW Group which will now be targeting the likes of the Honda City, Hyundai Verna, Suzuki SX4 and the Ford Fiesta with not only the VW Vento but the Skoda Rapid as well. Looks like it’s all smiles in the German camp then, your move now Asia!
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