So much promise, so little achieved! This could well sum up the Skoda Rapid's innings in India since it took to the roads in 2011. Once called the Vento, the renamed sedan definitely had a better road presence than its cousin from Volkswagen.
However, after the initial euphoria, there weren't many takers for the car. The Rapid was not a flawed product, far from it, but Skoda had such a poor service network that buyers were unwilling to commit to a purchase.
The Czech car maker has since been trying to revamp its entire service set up, but one has to give the company a realistic time frame to put things in order. It's not simply the service that Skoda is improving.
The new Rapid is its first car to receive an upgrade aimed at bridging the gap between Skoda products and the competition.
At a glance, you might not be able to see the subtle changes the Rapid has received, but take a closer look and you will notice that the headlamps are bigger and slightly swept back.
The front fascia has now got a chrome surround on the grille in an effort to give it a more upmarket look.
Skoda has also tried to inject a dash of sportiness by changing the design of the 15-inch alloy wheels. Even in the entry-level variant, 15-inch steel wheel rims have replaced the 14-inch ones.
Keeping in mind that parking can be quite a task in cities squeezed for space, the Rapid now comes with rear-parking sensors. This not only makes parking simpler, but also saves the car from getting unnecessary dents and scratches. However, adding a rear camera would have been helpful.
The cabin remains virtually untouched from the earlier version. You will be welcomed by the dual tone mocha-ivory interiors, which somehow impart a sense of space to the cabin.
A new feature is the cruise control mounted on the headlamp stalk. Skoda has also changed the design of the steering wheel, so the Rapid now has a three-spoke steering, similar to the Octavia's.
While retaining all the comfort and entertainment features that the previous edition came with, the Rapid's 2-DIN music system has finally got the much-needed USB port, a convenience that is not even present in the high-end Yeti.
Coming to the business end of the Rapid, the major upgrade is the new 1.5-litre diesel engine. This has been mated with the 7-speed DSG gear box. Yes, this is the same engine that also powers the new Polo, but unlike the hatchback cousin with its 88.7 bhp power, the Rapid is tuned up all the way to 103 bhp.
This new engine is technically the same 1.6-litre diesel engine but with smaller, 2.5 mm valves and bore. The diesel powerplant rattles and hums quite audibly inside the cabin.
Step on the accelerator and you feel a slight lag till the 1,500-rpm mark when, out of the blue, you feel the power kicking in. One has to get used to this power surge. With the gear box's precise shift, especially in the low range, the Rapid easily meanders through slow-moving traffic.
The automatic transmission comes in two modes: D and S. The D mode is perfect for general commuting. As expected, the rpm needle responds cautiously. It is tuned to get the best mileage - around 21.6 kmpl - in this stretch.
The S mode is more about driving the Rapid on your terms and playing with the rev meter, taking the needle as far as 5,000 rpm.
In terms of ride quality, the Rapid's suspensions have always been ideal for Indian conditions. It was and continues to be one of the best handlers in the segment along with the Vento.
The car feels secure on the road as well as when it negotiates corners.
Skoda has taken out a sporty avatar of the Rapid called the Black Package. This option is only available in the top variant - Elegance - and at an additional cost of Rs 13,000.
It comes with a matte-black grille, black alloy wheels and black housings for the fog lamp. It also has smoky headlamps and glossy black outside rear view mirrors.
You can opt for a contrasting roof colour, but keep in mind that all these options only add to the visual appeal.
The Rapid's build quality remains flawless, the 1.5-litre engine is powerful and more refined than the previous 1.6-litre, providing the best ride quality in its class.
In particular, the 7-speed DSG transmission makes the sedan a joy to drive, even if the interiors feel basic. The features are limited and people still don't trust Skoda's service centres.
The Rapid, therefore, represents a decent buy, and with the DSG transmission available from the mid variant - Ambition - on, the Rapid can be value for money.
Skoda Rapid 1.5 Tdi AT
Engine: 1,498 cc, 4 cylinders, diesel
Torque: 250 NM @ 1,500 - 2,500 rpm
Power: 103 bhp @ 4,400 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Price: Rs 10.84 lakh to Rs 10.97 lakh (Ex-showroom, Delhi)
Arup Das is Features Editor at Auto X