Those with long memories will recall Skoda's original Rapid model of the Eighties. This one is nothing like it. Jonathan Crouch reports on the improved version of Skoda's family hatchback contender.
Ten Second Review
Skoda offers separate Rapid and Rapid Spaceback models for family hatchback buyers. It's the Rapid we look at here, which will be the car that'll most appeal to buyers seeking space. Rapidity may not be high on this car's agenda but with proven mechanicals and a refreshing lack of gimmickry, it aims to appeal to an assured kind of buyer who doesn't need to hide behind a badge to impress others. In other words, the kind of person who's traditionally bought a Skoda will probably very much like this one.
Back in the 1930s, the Skoda Rapid helped its Czech brand to become one of the largest automotive makers in Eastern Europe. And, with history repeating itself as it often does, this car, another Skoda Rapid, aims to play its part in accomplishing exactly the same thing. Which will mean a lot if the company can manage it. Eastern Europe, after all, is these days where virtually all the market's increasingly strong-selling budget brand cars are built, with Hyundai, Kia and Dacia factories respectively churning out i30, cee'd and Sandero models all aimed at the Focus-sized family hatchback sector which this Rapid arrived to target at the end of 2012.
This was a segment Skoda used to serve with its Octavia model, but with that becoming much larger and medium range Mondeo-sized in third generation form, a gap opened up in the marque's line-up that this Rapid has slotted right into. Not that this is a conventional offering for Focus folk. Those wanting that can opt for the Czech brand's more conventional-looking Rapid Spaceback bodystyle. The Rapid, in contrast, is much more like old Octavia models used to be, offering a simple, spacious, value-orientated, no-nonsense approach to family travel. Developed alongside SEAT's virtually identical Toledo, it's true to Skoda's core values, costing you a little less yet offering you a little more, with starting prices pitched a shade below the family hatchback norm and cabin space, particularly in the boot, a little above it.
'Effective' is a word you keep coming back to after a drive in this car. There's nothing particularly enjoyable about the way it goes about its business, but most likely buyers don't seek that in an affordable five-door family car. In any case, there are plenty of other attributes on offer that target customers will probably value more highly. They might find the ride a little on the firm side of comfortable but they'll very much like the narrow body that makes parking and road width restrictions easier to negotiate aided by the excellent all-round visibility, the light, consistently-weighted controls and the simple switchgear that, thank goodness, features a proper conventional handbrake.
Let's get the under-bonnet stuff out of the way, the big news being that this revised model is offering two completely new petrol engines, 95 and 110PS versions of the VW Group's three cylinder 1.0-litre TSI unit. There's also a 125PS 1.4 TSI option. Otherwise, it's a diesel-only choice, either a 75PS 1.4 TDI or a 115PS 1.6 TDI.
The 1.6-litre diesel powerplant certainly gives you more pulling power, but then it needs it thanks to the additional heaviness that the TDI unit adds to a kerb weight that on petrol models is significantly lighter than on other family hatchback rivals. Which makes petrol versions of this car actually quite agile through the twisty stuff if you really need them to be. You just won't find yourself seeking excuses to put that to the test.
Design and Build
I'll need to tell you that this car was styled by the same man, Jozef Kaban, who penned the million pound Bugatti Veyron supercar, for it's not something you'd guess on first acquaintance with this smart, clean but rather conventional shape. Actually, it's not very conventional at all by class standards, at around 4.5m long and under 2m wide significantly longer but slightly narrower than the Focus-sized family hatchback class norm. Updates made to this revised Rapid 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.
Out back, you lift a wide-opening tailgate that rises to reveal a simply enormous 550-litre boot, extendable to 1,490-litres and with a clever (but optional) double-faced floor carpet option that almost all owners will want. In other words, you're looking here at the kind of carriage capacity you'd get from a typical estate bodystyle in this segment. That's why, in contrast to rivals, the Rapid range doesn't need to offer one. It does however, include a slightly smaller but arguably more stylish Spaceback five-door hatchback variant.
At the wheel, those familiar with the brand will feel quite at home. As usual with Skodas, the design is clean, functional but not particularly exciting, with many of the surfaces quite hard to the touch and things like the unlined storage bins suggestive of budget brand pricing. Still, everything is nicely laid out and seemingly built to last and there are plenty of useful nooks and crannies.
Market and Model
Though list pricing suggests that you should expect to pay somewhere in the £16,000 to £20,000 bracket for your Rapid, I think you'd do better to budget from around £17,000, thereby avoiding the rather feeble least powerful petrol model and allowing for a couple of well-chosen extras on top of the cost of the 110PS petrol 1.0 TSI variant that arguably represents the sweet spot in the range. Europe isn't getting the saloon version of this car offered to Chinese and Indian buyers, but British customers do get a choice either of the hatch model we've been looking at here or a more conventionally styled 'Spaceback' version - which is slightly smaller inside.
As part of the most recent 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
If you really want an efficient drive from your Rapid, you'll need to plump for the 1.4-litre TDI 90PS diesel, a variant able to deliver 72.4mpg on the combined cycle and 101g/km of CO2. Stretch to the 115PS 1.6-litre TDI diesel and those figures rise to 74.3mpg and 109g/km. Petrol people can expect an impressive showing too. An average of around 65mpg should be quite possible with the 1.0-litre TSI engine in both its forms, plus the unit can get close to the important 100g/km of CO2 threshold.
What else? Well, with low Benefit in Kind (BIK) ratings, the Rapid 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.
Skoda understands its customers. Ease of ownership, value pricing and solid build are all priorities - and all satisfied here by this Rapid. That the brand can deliver more sophistication than this is not in doubt - the larger Octavia demonstrates that. But the point here is that a significant number of customers just don't need it. People being targeted precisely by this car.
It competes against many Focus-class family hatchbacks that feel more sophisticated, drive more dynamically or feature higher-tech trimmings. But almost all of these are smaller, less versatile and more expensive. At the end of the day, it depends on what you want. This isn't a car that'll leap out of a glossy brochure into your mental driveway - but then, day-to-day living isn't really very much like the pages of a glossy brochure. It's a rain-soaked, commuting-congested, family-frantic thing.
After a few days of which, at the wheel of one of these, you might rapidly come to the conclusion that though Skoda's take on affordable family motoring may not be what you once dreamt of, it could actually be what you need. Such is life.