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Czech carmaker Skoda has never been able to crack the code when it comes to selling to the masses in India. The company has been present in the Indian market for years now, though it still misses a big volume-driver car in its kitty. The Fabia hatchback was the closest the company came to sizeable volumes, but the product never really worked magic in terms of numbers.
The company is now ready with another new car, the Rapid sedan, to make yet another bid at the volume market. While it is nothing but the Volkswagen Vento in a Skoda avatar, the Rapid is being seen as a big model from the company's stable with potential to have a mass-brand appeal.
For the uninitiated, Skoda is a group company within the Volkswagen fold (just like Audi, Bentley and some others) and shares some of the platforms with its parent. The co-existence of the Rapid and Vento is just one example of how Skoda and Volkswagen will use a common factory, platform and engine to produce different badged cars, which will compete not only with others in the market but also with each other.
India is the first market where the Rapid debuts and it has been designed keeping Indian requirements and conditions in mind. The car - with a1600 cc petrol and diesel engine - has to compete with an imposing line-up, ranging from the Tata Indigo Manza, Maruti's Dzire and SX4, Toyota's Etios and the Ford Fiesta Classic to the Hyundai Verna and VW Vento.
So what makes the Rapid a car to watch out for? We drove the diesel version of the car, considering that this will be the variant that will be most in demand and eagerly awaited in the market.
Coming to the price first, this is one area where Skoda seems to have missed the bus. The Delhi ex-showroom price of the Rapid diesel is Rs 7. 95 lakh for the entry model, which is alarmingly close to the Rs 8 lakh range of the VW Vento, Hyundai Verna and Maruti SX4 and and much higher than the Toyota Etios, Maruti Dzire and Ford Fiesta Classic.
The price gets the car in direct competition with some strong models from rival companies. The expectation was that the Rapid diesel would be around the Rs 7. 75 lakh price range, leaving a big buffer zone between its entry price and that of other rivals.
Price apart, the lineage of the car certainly adds to its charm. The VW Vento is among the finest sedans in its segment and this flows down to the Rapid as well. While not being a great looker, the Rapid certainly has a solid build quality and a good grip when on the run. While sharing a lot of common features with the Vento, Skoda has done well to add its trademark characteristics to the car which are evident in its front grille and headlamps. Overall, the exteriors of the car are quite sedate, with not much of a wow factor to them. However, the car is certainly not boring and has its own subtle appeal. The interiors are in line with the overall modest mood, and there is nothing very flashy to talk about. The dash and the central console are again plain, and even come across as very basic in terms of their visual appeal. Efforts to contain costs are clearly visible on account of a number of absentees from the model, including the top-end diesel model that we drove. These include absence of steering-mounted audio controls (now pretty common even in most hatchbacks); a bluetooth device for easier driving;seat-belt warning alarm and parking sensors. The company has tried to give a lot of space for knick-knacks at various places, including in the handrest for the driver.
But space aside, the handrest proves to be a little irritating as it makes it a tad difficult to strap on the seat belt. The diesel variant is surely noisier, but throws good power to have a easy run on the road. The seats on the Rapid are comfortable and the rear has enough leg room, a separate airconditioning vent and an arm rest in the centre. Skoda has high expectations from the model and expects to sell at least 2, 000 units a month. This would certainly make it the highest-selling model in its line-up, even ahead of the Fabia hatchback that is likely to contribute half to the company's 30, 000-unit sales for this year. Skoda is offering an automatic option in the petrol variant and knows all too well that diesel is where the demand, and the fight, will be most.
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