The Skoda Rapid has the same engine options as the VW Vento. The 1.6L diesel is rated at 104 BHP (4,400 rpm) and 250 Nm of torque (1,500 - 2,500 rpm). The 1.6L petrol is also rated at 104 BHP (5,250 rpm) and 153 Nm of torque (3,800 rpm). Both engines are mated to a 5 speed manual transmission. A 6-speed Automatic is available as an option on the petrol Rapid. We drove the diesel first for about 200 kms over single lane highways, dual carriage roads, narrow village roads and crowded market streets. The Rapid Diesel
Fire up the diesel engine and you’ll notice that the powerplant is fairly audible on a cold start. Things do get better once it has warmed up though. Also, when driving off on a cold start, one can notice a pulsating vibration through the clutch pedal. This also disappears once the engine reaches its operating temperature. There’s no need to press the accelerator to start moving from a standstill, just a smooth release of the clutch is enough to get the car going. Low end torque is very good in the Rapid. So good that you'd have to try hard to stall, even in the 2nd or 3rd gears. We were driving through pothole-strewn village roads and crowded market places, and not once did we stall the engine. You can even potter about in 4th gear at 50 kph around town. Below 1,800 rpm, this Skoda won't deliver "rapid" acceleration, yet there’s enough torque to keep up with the traffic flow. The fun starts after 1,800 rpm where a gradual surge sets in, and once you hit 2,100 rpm, the car takes off like a wild cat. This behaviour can get very addictive, as we soon discovered. Even when comfortably cruising at 100 kph in 5th gear @ 2,250 rpm, you can easily overtake on single lane highways with just a dab on the accelerator, and no downshift. Of course, the enthusiast in you might want to shift down to 4th and enjoy the sudden surge while overtaking (as was apparent when Vidyut was driving with a wide grin plastered across his face). 5th gear is good from as low as 60 kph all the way to the top speed...you can use it as an automatic on the highways. Red-lining this motor is pointless, as all the fun is in the mid-range between 2,000 - 4,000 rpm. This engine is also well suited to long-distance cruising and can effortlessly cruise at 120 - 130 kph all day. Skoda claims a top whack of 186 kph; we don’t doubt this claim at all.
What surprised us was not the performance, but the NVH levels. Having driven a Vento just 2 days prior to the Rapid, the difference in NVH levels left us wondering if these cars are really the same underneath. Where the Vento engine’s clatter was audible at medium speeds and even more so above 3000 rpm, the Rapid was eerily silent (once warmed up, of course). There was no diesel thrum even at 3000 rpm, when cruising north of 130 kph. This was in stark contrast to the Vento where we could hear the diesel working under the hood at any speed. The next day, we took a ride in the Yeti, and were shocked to see much worse NVH compared to Rapid. It appears that Skoda has spent a lot of time & attention on the Rapid's NVH insulation.
The gearshift is decent, though we’ve seen better. The throws are short, but a tad notchy and vague on the diesel. I couldn’t shift into fifth smoothly, and always needed to jiggle it a bit. Another irritant I noticed was the vibration you feel on your leg when releasing the clutch. There’s some vibration right at the clutch' biting point, and you feel it every time you change gears. GTO had also reported on this in his Vento review, as many owners did in their review threads. I did not mind this as I am used to driving Jeeps, but it did bother Vidyut. The clutch itself is not that heavy and won’t be a pain to use in city traffic. Suspension, Steering & Brakes
What makes the diesel that much more fun to drive is the suspension setup. The suspension is on the stiffer side, but at the same time can take bad roads very easily. At low speeds, the stiffness is felt when going over sharp bumps or completely broken roads. The Rapid tends to jump over them with a very fast rebound, sending a huge thump into the cabin. On the other hand, on regular Indian roads (including mild potholes), you won't even need to slow down. The Rapid simply absorbs these bad roads without breaking into a sweat. It’s much better than the Vento which tends to crash over such roads if you don’t slow down enough. As the speeds pick up, the Rapid shows its true potential. High speed stability is simply brilliant. Body roll is well-controlled and the Rapid flattens any irregularities of the highway. Sudden undulations which would usually throw off any car are taken with aplomb. There was a particular instance when the road suddenly goes up and then down immediately. This would have caused most C segment sedans to literally fly, then bottom out at the drop; the Rapid simply flattened this undulation out at triple digit speeds without complaint. There were no oscillations or unnecessary vertical movements.
Initially, there were many occasions where Vidyut was frantically reminding me "this is not your SUV". Since I am so used to ignoring potholes and undulations, I mostly didn’t heed his warning. But we paid no penalty for it. At speeds in excess of 40 kph, it took the potholes as comfortably as my SUV does. And over major undulations or dips, the tossing was better controlled than my SUV since it had a lot less suspension travel. No, the Rapid didn’t bottom out even once.
Compared to the Vento, the suspension appears to be more compliant. The Vento is probably better on straight roads, though on typically Indian highways which are nowhere near perfect, the Rapid inches ahead. The Rapid’s suspension setup is like an improved version of the Vento’s. The steering is an electric unit, so is devoid of feedback, yet it weighs up well on the diesel. The steering does not feel overly light at highway speeds. That said, it doesn’t match a pure hydraulic steering for feedback and weight. Of special mention are the brakes which are absolutely brilliant. High speed braking is extremely confidence inspiring, and the Rapid stops with no drama whatsoever. Pedal modulation is perfect, and you can modulate the pedal even during emergency braking to stop exactly where you want it to. Petrol Automatic
The Skoda Rapid MPI Automatic is available in the Ambition and Elegance trim levels, which is quite a coup considering how automatic car buyers are always forced to go with the topmost variant. Buyers, whose primary requirement is an automatic, suddenly have two more options at different price points. However, we saw absolutely no marking outside the car to indicate whether the car is an automatic or manual. For that matter, even the trim level is not marked on the outside.
Driving an automatic car doesn't come naturally to a lot of people in India. Habits from manual transmission driving often get passed over to automatic transmission driving. That means a heavy-foot driving style, trying to get acceleration by often stomping the accelerator pedal and even left foot braking in some cases. With the exception of a high-end or DSG equipped car, almost all automatics respond a lot better to light-footed drivers. Therefore, those who try to test the sheer performance of an automatic car with heavy-footed driving end up being disappointed.
We spent 200 kms inside the Rapid MPI Automatic on all possible kinds of traffic conditions, with 3 drivers, each driving in very different styles.
The Rapid AT has a 6-speed automatic transmission and 3 driving modes:
- D Mode (Normal Driving)
- S Mode (Sporty Driving)
- Tiptronic (manually changing gears)
A fellow reviewer employed the driving technique common to most first-time automatic drivers. It was important to check this out as a lot of future Rapid AT owners will drive the automatic in this manner, at least in the initial stages. This technique involves driving with a heavy foot, sudden acceleration, frequent braking and more. Basically, the stuff you'd do while aggressively driving a manual transmission car. He tried all of this in the "D" mode and it made for a very frustrating experience for us passengers. The engine squealed like a pig, and the car took off like a water buffalo. If that comment made you wonder, let me add that water buffalos don’t run very fast. Overtaking on the two-lane highway was very difficult since the engine was not responding quickly enough to sudden accelerator inputs. When the car exceeded 100 kph, it was twitching lightly. This was on a deserted yet decent rural road. We had done 130+ kph on the same road earlier in the diesel Rapid and it was absolutely planted. Soon, the 200 kms return drive had started to sound very boring. The only consolation during this session was that the AT box was not hunting gears under constant throttle input. The only places where D mode was pleasant to use was in city traffic with stop-n-go conditions, or sedate driving on the highway with no desire to overtake anybody. By this time, the MID fuel efficiency was showing 9 kpl, down from the 9.8 kpl it showed when we started off. That means the FE for this session was possibly around 7-8 kpl realistically.
The second driver started off in S mode. By that time, we had seen enough of the D mode to dread it. The driving style was sedate and steady. Speed changes were gradual with a very light foot on the accelerator. In other words, the ideal way to drive an automatic. This is when the Rapid AT started to pleasantly surprise us. With a similar driving style, the S-mode upshifts much later than in the D-mode. Under a light foot, if D-mode upshifted at 1800 rpm, the S-mode upshifted at 2500 rpm. If you press the accelerator a little harder, both modes will upshift at a higher rpm. Even under sedate driving, the transmission provided ample torque to easily overtake on 2 lane highways. Of course, you shouldn’t try to build up speed when you are just
about to pass the vehicle; this never works in this AT. But if you build up enough speed a little in advance, overtaking is quite easy while still employing a light foot. The Rapid AT didn’t feel underpowered any more. For highway driving in the Rapid, S mode is the best choice. We were at home!
The Tiptronic mode, for all the hoopla it generates, is not something you will frequently use. Although one may assume that an aggressive driver would use it all the time, research suggests otherwise. In a manual-shift, we change gears all the time because we have to. Do we enjoy changing it all the time? Not really. One enjoys shifting gears only while driving spiritedly on open stretches or the twisties. For the rest of the driving time, gear shifting is quite a mechanical process. So there it is. Tiptronic is something you use when you want to absolutely control which gears are used. That might comprise of less than 5% of your driving, may be a little more among sporty drivers. Most drivers of the Rapid AT will use either the D or S mode. To use the tiptronic, simply push the gear lever to the left. Shifting to Tipronic can be done only from the D mode, which is a shame. When you are in the Tiptronic, if you go on pushing the accelerator pedal down, the transmission will upshift only at redline and not before. The engine noise will greatly deter you from trying this too often. The noise before 3000 rpm is not really noticeable. However, you will start hearing it above 3000 rpm, and it will really irritate you above 4000 rpm. Transmission noise is also noticeable, as we didn’t hear a similar sound in the manual version at the same rpm. After some fast manoeuvres using the Tiptronic mode, we settled back to S mode. As the second session came to an end, the fuel efficiency had risen to 10.7 kpl, although we had driven much faster than in the first session.
As the third driver took over the final session of another 70 kms, it was time to go aggressive again, but mostly in S mode, occasionally using the Tiptronic. This session had close to 50 kms of pristine 4-lane highway conditions. Overtaking was effortless while the braking was reassuring and well-modulated. We even encountered a panic braking situation to avoid a truck parked in the fast lane, while coming off a curve. The car slowed down predictably and with no drama at all. Even the ABS did not kick in here. It was hard to believe that an AT car could provide so much fun. Yes, the noise was louder than the diesel at speeds over 100 kph, and it is not the pleasant throaty growl you loved in the ol' Baleno or Honda City VTEC. As we rolled out of the 4-lane highway, we guiltily looked up the FE gauge to assess the damage. Holy cow, the overall FE had risen to 11.1 kpl. The next 6 kms of driving through busy and congested village streets brought the FE back to 11.0 kpl as we completed the test drive.
Conclusions for the AT:
- The Rapid’s D mode is unsuitable for highway use. When you drive with a light foot in D mode, it always stays in the highest gear and lowest rpm it can possibly manage. Any attempt to even mildly accelerate results in whining and downshifting. Considering how most of the Indian highways force you to frequently change speed, D mode will get you frustrated. The only place where D mode will be useful is in stop-n-go traffic. If you want sudden acceleration, D mode is not the place to be.
- The Rapid’s S mode is the probably the best driving mode. It is most suitable for Indian highways, and any other traffic condition where frequent changes in speed are the norm.
- The Rapid’s Tiptronic is useful when you require a quick downshift. Honestly though, the S mode will make you forget this mode pretty soon.
- The light twitching we noticed on rural roads was not noticed later over better roads. We think it can be attributed to the slightly softer suspension setup of the petrol variants.
Before the test drive, almost everybody had resigned to the fact that the Skoda Rapid is nothing but a re-badged VW Vento. The Skoda officials wholeheartedly agreed too. We had the choice of driving only two cars out of the three engine + transmission combinations available. However, in the first session, one could notice the puzzled expression on the faces of quite a few reviewers. That the driving dynamics of the Rapid were quite different from the Vento, it was accepted across the board. The biggest surprise was the positive feedback from drivers who drove the manual petrol. Our surprise was further compounded when a petrol MT driven by another reviewer could hold on to his lead comfortably in front of the Rapid TDI we were driving. Thus, we frantically scrambled around to arrange for test driving a petrol MT, before we left for the airport.
Since we only had about 45 minutes, we couldn’t take it to the distant highway. The suspension setup was very similar to the automatic, and was softer than the diesel. However, the car was super silent. That supported our belief that a lot of the noise in the automatic variant was coming from the transmission, rather than the engine.
Since we mostly drove slowly, we tried to stall the engine. Not possible. We had to really strain our ears to listen to the very mild lugging noise. Doing 40 kph in 5th gear was just strange, and there was no protest from the engine. I finally decided to just let go of all the foot pedals in 1st gear. The car kept crawling on level roads and even in a slight incline. When we came across a big speed bump, I expected the car to start coughing. But no, it coolly climbed the speed bump and continued crawling. Unlike the TDI, there was no surge as the engine neared the stalling point. Instead it kept moving at 8 kph at a very steady rpm. I haven’t seen this behavior outside of old school diesel vehicles. This is going to be very useful in stop-n-go traffic.
The gearshift was very smooth; in fact, a lot smoother than the TDI, which itself was not bad. The only observation was, one has to let go of the clutch pedal immediately after shifting gears. I am used to cars that expect the accelerator to be pressed to some extent before letting go of the clutch. Doing that resulted in unexpected revving. This clutch wants to be engaged just as the accelerator is pressed.
We could test up to speeds of 100 kph, but not more. In that range, it was very easy to drive. Regarding highway driving, we won't say that the Rapid petrol is a performance sedan. If you are looking at speed & open-road performance, don’t look beyond the diesel Rapid. Suspension, Steering & Brakes
Driving the Rapid Petrol MT over potholed village roads was a breeze. The suspension on the Petrol is the exact opposite of the diesel, and is softly sprung. While this is good for the same sharp, broken roads that the diesel Rapid would thump over, out on the highway it’s a different story. There’s unwanted vertical movement over undulating roads and you can always hear the suspension working, especially at the rear. It’s much better than the Verna and Honda City, but compared to the Rapid diesel, it’s just not as solid. At higher speeds you don’t get the same confidence as in the diesel, and you are always wary of the speeds you’re doing. It doesn’t mask the speed as well as the Diesel either. On the same stretch of road where the diesel Rapid was rock solid, the Petrol AT was making us aware of the uneven roads beneath. The steering on the petrol was super light too. The diesel’s additional weight helps the steering stiffness, but in the petrol, it’s a typical electric unit. Vid6639 adds that it’s lighter than the steering of his Toyota Altis (which he thought was the lightest till date). Even as the speedometer climbs, the steering doesn’t weigh up enough to inspire confidence. Braking is top notch in both, the AT and MT petrols. Upgrading to wider tyres will do wonders for the Rapid’s dynamics.