We have finally driven the Monte Carlo variant of the Skoda Rapid TSI, with its new 1-litre TSI engine
I don’t think any Skoda in the recent past, not even the Octavia RS 245 rising from the ashes of the previous RS, has sparked as much of a conversation amongst enthusiasts as the new Rapid with its TSI engine has. And a lot of that has to do with the pricing. The fact that you can own a car with an award-winning TSI engine (this engine is straight outta the Volkswagen Up! GTI) from Rs 7.5 lakh rupees makes it hugely appealing. We have been bombarded with questions about the Rapid TSI on social media, and we have finally gotten our hands on it. Okay, it isn’t the Rider variant that you have been clamouring for a review about, but the Monte Carlo Edition — the most expensive Rapid on sale today. But before you shut this tab and continue scrolling through the depths of your social media feeds, let me remind you — the mechanical bits of the Rider are more or less the same as the Monte Carlo. So stick around, we’re going to tell you everything you what you want to know about the Rapid TSI.
Barely anything has changed on the outside. Even as a hardcore enthusiast, you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between the 2020 Rapid and the one it replaces when it is rolling down the road. Mostly because the wheels (that happen to be hard to identify when a car is rolling) are different, and there’s a subtle boot-lip spoiler that is new. Otherwise, the Rapid remains identical to the facelift it received it 2016. The overall design may be familiar, but it is handsome in my opinion. The design has aged well and the sharp lines on the Skoda don’t look as outdated as a car this old should look.
On this Monte Carlo edition, there are a few subtle tweaks to make it look ‘sportier’. The grille surround is blacked out (instead of chromed), there is a neat looking Monte Carlo badge on the B-pillar, and the roof and boot-lip spoiler and blacked out. Neat touches, I like them. The Monte Carlo edition is also available in different paint schemes — this one is called Flash Red and there’s a Candy White on offer. On the outside, the only criticism I can level at the Rapid is the lack of LED lights. This Monte Carlo variant does get halogen projectors, with DRLs, though. The Rider, mind you, doesn’t get projectors, DRLs or fog lamps.
Because just like the exteriors, the interiors are a familiar place. To start with, it is very easy to get in to a comfortable driving position as the steering wheel is adjustable for both reach and rake, while the seat is height adjustable. Not many people realise this, but a good seating position and good visibility (which the Rapid has) goes a long way in making you a faster, as well as safer driver. The dials are legible and you get a multi-information display between them. The seats themselves are comfortable though and and this Monte Carlo edition gets seats with red and grey accents on them, with an all-black dash.
The dash is familiar too, with the only change here being the 8-inch infotainment screen. Now this is a screen that has been developed in India, specifically for this car and won’t be seen on any global model or any other model in India either. It is an Android based system, with a ton of functionality — it has all the regular bits like radio and bluetooth connectivity. You can hook your phone up to it, but you need to do so with a third-party app that you need to download on your phone. It can connect to your wifi hotspot, and you can surf the internet using the Chrome app! Our test car also had the YouTube and Netflix app but they needed an update so I didn’t get a chance to test them. However, strangely, being an Android-based system, I could also take screenshots. And that is my issue with it — it has a lot of functions that would not be out of place in a tablet but are out of place on a car’s dashboard. The interface too isn’t like what we’ve seen on Skodas before and it looks aftermarket, and not like something from an OEM.
As for the backseat, you get a comfortable bench with a good amount of support. Space is adequate in terms of knee room and headroom. In terms of creature comforts, it gets sunblinds that have to be manually installed and removed which will be a boon in our hot summers, and two cushions with ‘Monte Carlo’ embossed on them — a nice touch, though you might want to throw them in the boot before you head out to the hills as they slide around a fair bit when you’re really gunning it.
In terms of features, the Rapid gets automatic climate control as standard on all variants, and this Monte Carlo edition also gets automatic headlamps, automatic wipers and a reversing camera.
And now the bit that you have been waiting for — the driving. Let’s get the numbers out of the way first. This new 1-litre TSI engine makes 108bhp and 175Nm, which gives it 5bhp and 20Nm more than the 1.6MPI engine it replaces. The engine, it comes mated to a six-speed manual only — there is no automatic on offer for the time being. A torque convertor, just like the one in the new Polo GT TSI should make an appearance later this year. The drivetrain is identical to the one in the new Polo, and as time goes by, it is going to get more and more familiar. We have already driven it on the Polo TSI edition, and it is also under the hood of the Rapid’s cousin — the Vento TSI. It will also make an appearance on the VW Taigun, and the Skoda Vision IN (or whatever the production version will be called) next year.
What’s it like on the go? It’s punchy, that’s for sure. The turbocharged engine likes to get a move on, and it hustles the Rapid with serious intent. Under 2000rpm, there is a fair bit of lag and it does feel out of breath but that is a typical characteristic of a blown engine. Once you’re in the boost though, you’re set — the Rapid takes off, with the tacho needle flying to the redline. The fact that it has six-speeds and the ratios are well-spaced means you don’t have to worry about dropping out of boost too often, though it does mean rowing up and down the ’box a fair bit. But hey, we all love a bit of involvement, don’t we? The gearbox itself is easy to use — the throws are short and the clutch is light, but the shift action isn’t as crisp as say, a Ciaz. Being a three-cylinder motor, it also makes a bit of noise. Now that’s all great when you’re driving it hard in the hills — it adds to the sense of drama and sportiness of the car. However, for someone who wants a family car that is quiet, the Rapid falls a bit short. The NVH is manageable if you short-shift and keep the revs low, but as the tacho needle rises, so do the decibels in the cabin.
As for the chassis, the Rapid has always been a treat. The steering is heavy and direct, and that infuses you with a sense of confidence to push the limits of the car. The suspension is set up to be slightly stiff so some amount of the road’s undulations does filter in to the cabin, however, in return you have a car that handles superbly. In the corners, the car has a good amount of grip and sticks to its line. It is very predictable and it encourages you to manage that grip with the throttle. There’s a slight amount of roll, but not as much as some of the other cars in this class that can be rather softly spring in the interest of comfort. The Rapid feels like a sporty car — and not because of the flashy Monte Carlo garb. It feels like a sporty car because it has a chassis that enjoys being pushed, and enjoys pushing you. The Rapid also feels very stable at high speeds, staying flat and not getting unsettled by crests and dips in the road. It’s a car that tempts you to break the speed limit, but also reminds you not too — 120kmph beep, remember?
The Rapid Rider’s driving experience should be largely the same, however, you need to remember that the Rider gets 15-inch steel wheels compared to the 16-inch alloys on the Monte Carlo, and other higher-specced variants. So while they may improve ride quality, they will also increase unsprung weight and dull handling and acceleration ever so slightly. Nothing stopping you from buying a set of alloys and upsizing, though!
Is the Rapid a value-for-money performance car? Hell yes. At Rs 7.5 lakh, you miss out on equipment (and a fair bit of it), but you get a lot of car. The drivetrain, the chassis, the space — all the important bits remain and that makes the Rapid Rider tremendous value for money. As for the car I’m driving? The Monte Carlo costs Rs 11.79 lakh, and it still undercuts competition like the Verna. I do need to point out that the Verna is better equipped and a more modern car with features like a sunroof, start stop, cooled seats, a wireless phone charger and also happens to have a DCT gearbox. So the Monte Carlo may not deliver the same value as the entry-level car, but it will still make you stop to consider it before you make your decision. The Rapid then, is a simple car, with its priorities in place. It appeals to someone who wouldn’t mind trading in a few snazzy features, for a driving experience that is dialled in. Someone like me.