Skoda's Rapid Spaceback might well be at its most attractive in frugal 1.4 TDI guise. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
Is the 1.4 TDI diesel version of Skoda's recently improved Rapid Spaceback family hatch the car that best embodies the corporate ethos of this Czech brand? It's affordable to buy and cheap to run, but nevertheless offers decent quality and practicality. No, it's no thriller to drive but in offering more than you think for less than you expected, this family hatch is well worth consideration.
It's probably fair to say that the Spaceback version of Skoda's Rapid has slipped under the public's radar a bit. Despite a name that appears to promise plenty of room in the back, this is nevertheless a smaller car than the standard Rapid model from which it's spun. Perhaps this is why customers are still a little baffled by the Spaceback. Nevertheless, it makes a lot of sense thanks to thoughtful design and now improved media connectivity. Especially in this frugally-focused 75PS 1.4-litre TDI diesel form.
The 75PS 1.4-litre TDI diesel version of the Rapid Spaceback takes around 12s to get to 62mph en route to around 112mph. You get a set of low rolling resistance tyres that are a little less forgiving in the sidewall, making an already firm riding car that bit stiffer. There's also a brake energy recovery system that lends the pedal quite an aggressive feel. It's something that you'd get used to in a couple of days with the car but on first acquaintance you'll need to cultivate a sensitive right foot. The five-speed manual gearbox seems a bit old school for a car that seems to have left few stones unturned in its quest for economy and there's no option of a DSG twin-clutch transmission.
Otherwise, this Rapid Spaceback runs on a similar platform to the Rapid hatch, so there aren't any great surprises regarding the way it drives. That means you get a fairly rudimentary chassis setup with a simple strut front suspension and a torsion beam rear end. The chassis is interesting though, using a front end that's been modified from the VW Polo while the rear chassis structure and suspension are identical to that which props up the posterior of the VW Beetle. It's similar to the Rapid hatch and shares its 2602mm wheelbase but breaks the tape at 180mm shorter due to a reduced rear overhang, giving it that perter appearance.
Design and Build
Updates made to this revised Rapid Spaceback model are subtle and mostly limited to plusher trim levels. At the front, there are modified foglights, a redesigned bumper and plush variants get some extra chrome, plus the headlamps can be ordered with bi-xenon beams. At the rear, the tail lights now have black-tinted covers and can be ordered in LED form. Otherwise, it's as you were. As before, we'd recommend the optional panoramic glass roof which combines neatly with a 'prolong' tinted rear screen for a contrasting look that works best on pale coloured cars.
Inside, the ambience of the cabin has been lifted with new door inlays, while the airvents, the instruments and the air conditioning controls have been redesigned. That's all this interior really needed. It was, after all, already pretty practical, especially out back. Though you don't get the 515-litre luggage space of the standard Rapid bodyshape, the Spaceback's 415-litre trunk should still be quite sufficient for most families; that's around 100-litres more than you'd get in a rival Ford Focus. The luggage bay can be specified with a double floor to ensure that valuables are kept out of sight. Fold the 60/40 split rear seats and you get up to 1,380-litres of luggage capacity (down from 1490-litres in the standard Rapid).
Market and Model
Pricing starts from just over £16,000 for this 1.4-litre TDI diesel model in base 'S' guise. All variants get the equipment basics you'd expect, things like heated door mirrors, height-adjustable head rests and a reach-and-rake adjustable steering wheel. Inside, there's is a height-adjustable driver's seat, air-conditioning and a Maxi-DOT trip computer. As before, we'd recommend the extra-cost 'Style Pack' that includes a fixed panoramic sunroof, extended tailgate glass, a black rear spoiler, black door mirrors, black rear lights and black cornering front foglamps.
As part of this model upgrade, Skoda has introduced plenty of extra tech to the car, a good example of that being the optional 'Skoda Connect services' package. This consists of two things; 'Infotainment Online' gives you online traffic information and can update you on things like fuel prices, parking spaces, current news and weather. Then there are the so-called 'CareConnect Services' which allow you to monitor your car from your smartphone, plus the set-up includes a breakdown call function and will automatically alert the emergency services if the airbags go off in an accident.
There's plenty of safety tech too, including 'Front Assist' autonomous braking, fatigue detection and 'multi-collision brake' which after you've hit something, applies the brakes to stop you from going on to hit something else.
Cost of Ownership
This 1.4-litre 75PS TDI diesel Rapid Spaceback should certainly be very economic to run. The figures suggest it can return over 75mpg on the combined cycle and well under 100g/km of CO2.
What else? Well, with low Benefit in Kind (BIK) ratings, the Rapid Spaceback is expected to provide a boost to the brand's rapidly expanding fleet sales. And it'll probably help here that maintenance costs will be affordable, with a choice between servicing regimes based or either fixed or variable mileages, depending on whether the annual distance you cover is short or long. There's a three year/60,000 mile warranty that you can extend to four or five years if you wish.
It's tempting to think of the 1.4 TDI diesel version of the Skoda Rapid Spaceback as an ideal car for people who don't like cars. It's not a model that will induce any great passion. Instead, this is merely a very good tool to do a specific job, namely making the act of owning a car less onerous and costly than it need be. Look beyond that, however, and this entry-level diesel variant comes into its own. It's actually a very likeable thing. A car this economical and practical is a real enabler, something you'd take out for a drive when you'd probably leave a thirstier car in the garage.
In that regard at least, the Rapid Spaceback 1.4 TDI turns back the clock, to a time when you might just go for a drive to see what's over the next horizon. Yes, you could spend more on a car with a flashier badge or a more adventurously-styled interior but you'd be trading off an element of freedom. Skoda might have finally hit upon the right stuff with this one.