Our most recent cover story took us on a quest to find the best mid-size sedan out there today. Going through the usual rigours of a comparison, I set about to find out that which of the three - the Hyundai Verna, Volkswagen Virtus or Honda City - delivered the best experience. They are all sporty, look good, practical and comfortable in their own right. And the Verna deservedly won the test. But all cars in that test were missing one key ingredient - simplicity!
This simple thought occurred to me when I was driving back from Haridwar to Delhi late one night in my very own 2016 Skoda Rapid. I had gone the previous night, had barely slept two hours, and it had been a hectic day at work - I was dreading the drive back. I make this journey often and the last few times, I have had the company of office cars. Mostly, they have been new cars with the latest features and most of the times have been an SUV. And every single time I drove back in one, I would be dead tired by the time I reached home, but in my Rapid, I wasn’t. Heck, I could turn around and drive back to Haridwar if I wanted to!
Coming to the Skoda Rapid in question - it has a 1.5-litre diesel engine from the good old BS-III days and the transmission is a 7-speed DSG unit. The plan with this car when we bought it new was to buy a full maintenance package, an extended warranty package and roadside assistance to match it. We did. And then, we would sell it after four years once the “trouble” period of the Skoda started. But four years is a long time and when the time came to say goodbye, I couldn’t, or rather, nobody in the family could. And let me tell you, there are not all speed freaks like me.
So, what was it about the this particular Skoda Rapid that made it so hard to let go? Quite simply, it’s a simple car. It can do the daily grind in its sleep, highway commutes are simply a matter of slotting into seventh gear and simply leaving things on cruise control, and the fuel efficiency is off the charts! It has gone as high as 26.8 km/l for me but legend says that the driver bhaiya at home once got close to 29 km/l! And while it does all of that, it goes a step further as it is a true joy to drive in the hills!
Then there are perks like no touchscreens to distract you or hurt your eyes at night, or no pesky ADAS to switch off every time you set out to drive. Why would you want to switch off ADAS? Well, most systems work quite well on highways but in the city, they often have a habit of automatically braking when it is not required, which could lead to some potentially disastrous consequences. Quite simply, there is less stuff to go wrong! But, then, most of you might argue that Skoda's from that era were notorious for, let’s say, throwing tantrums and refusing to cooperate. I have a solution for that too. The money you would spend on buying a new car, set it aside and instead invest it on keeping your old car running new.
This also applies to buying a second hand car, and putting money in it to bring it back to being new-like. And this technique works. I am close to crossing the 1,20,000 km mark on my odometer and my journey with the Rapid hasn’t been trouble free. But, every time something is about to go wrong or does go wrong, I simply put in the money that I would have spent on a new car, and use it to make the Rapid new again. And before you go calling me a Skoda ‘fanboy’ (I’ll admit, I am one), you can do this with any car, as long as basic maintenance has been taken care of periodically. For me, I spend about 80,000 rupees a year, including service, to keep my Rapid running.
Sure, that might seem a lot to maintain a car. But, from the experience I have had over the years, such an approach works. Also, newer cars cost a bomb to buy today compared to what they did back in 2016 and first year insurance costs are similar in nature. With an old car like my Skoda Rapid, those costs come down. I have even gone to the extent of switching to third-party insurance, and the money I save there can actually be used to repair the car in case of a mishap.
Now I am not going to say that the new sedans you see on our May cover are not doing their job of revitalising the mid-size segment. They are fantastic machines in their own right and have set the bar high for sedans and SUVs to follow. But for some people like me, or you, who don’t really need their cars to do complicated things, maybe the bar doesn’t need to be that high.