BY JONATHAN CROUCH
Skoda's ordinary Rapid model launched in 2012 may have been a five-door hatch but it's wasn't a very conventional one. This separate Rapid Spaceback model launched in 2013 though, was much closer to the kind of thing that buyers in the Focus-sized family hatchback segment were expecting - the most class-competitive model the brand had yet bought us. It's bigger inside than most of its rivals from this period, plus was more affordable and better equipped. In short, used buyers should try one before simply opting for another Focus, Astra or Golf from this time. You might well be tempted.
If ever emphasis was needed of the importance of the Focus-sized family hatchback segment in the current market, this model provided it for back in 2013, it was Skoda's second offering in this sector. A year previous to this car's arrival, the brand had provided this class with its standard Rapid model. This Rapid Spaceback joined that design in the company's showrooms and together, these two cars aimed to more effectively bridge the gap in the Czech maker's model range between the supermini-sized Fabia and the larger Mondeo-sized Octavia.
The reason why Skoda needs a couple of Focus-class models is two-fold. I've already mentioned the issue of age demographic - Skoda needs to court younger buyers while continuing with products that satisfy older ones. But there's also the question of conventionality. The standard Rapid hatch, launched late in 2012, has saloon-like looks that run contrary to buyer expectations in this class. And it's not really designed to suit those in search of a bit of extra flair in this segment. People in search of, well.. maybe something like this.
The 'Spaceback' name might lead you to expect some sort of estate car - or at the very least, a variant with a bit more room than the standard Rapid model. In fact, this car is slightly more compact than its stablemate and the name is merely Skoda-speak for the kind of more familiar bodystyle more likely to appeal to the kind of buyer wanting a better value alternative to their usual Golf, Astra or Focus. It finally gave the brand a credible mainstream presence in this segment - and sold until it was replaced by the Scala in Spring 2019.
What You Get
Is this what the original Rapid model could and should have looked like? You could certainly argue that. It's certainly a crisp piece of design work - and one you could imagine appealing to someone who had never before either owned a Skoda or wanted to do so. As a result, I'm guessing that this Spaceback version will considerably out-sell its standard stablemate, despite its smaller size and slight price premium.
At first glance, it's not immediately obvious that all the stylists did here is to graft a more universally acceptable rear end onto the existing Rapid hatch. In fact, everything in front of the central B-pillar is shared with the standard Rapid, so the front end is characterised by the same distinctive chrome-framed 19-slat grille that flows smoothly into the headlamp clusters, dipping in the centre to accommodate the famous winged brand badge that sits centrally on a raised crease that rises from the bonnet to the base of the windscreen.
Shorter rear overhangs and a more upright extended hatchback-style roofline mean this car loses 180mm in length to the rather awkwardly-shaped standard Rapid model, though on the plus side, the boxier shape brings bonuses in rear seat headroom. The rear end features the neat triangular insets either side of the number plate holder that we're now familiar with from the brand's other hatchback models, but more readily apparent is the effect of an aesthetic optional 'must-have' for many original buyers, what Skoda called its 'Style Pack'. This adds a full-length panoramic glass roof stretching all the way from the windscreen to the rear window where it combines neatly with a 'prolong' tinted rear screen for a contrasting look that works especially well on pale coloured cars. Without this feature, this car is visually unremarkable but with the Style Pack fitted, your Rapid Spaceback will really stand apart.
The 'Spaceback' name is perhaps a piece of ironic Czech humour given that in actual fact, 'space in the back' has necessarily had to be reduced in comparison to the ordinary Rapid, due to this model's shorter length. Hence a reduction in luggage capacity from 550 to 415-litres. Mind you, that's still very good by family hatchback class standards from this period, 10% more than a Golf or a SEAT Leon, 20% more than a Vauxhall Astra and more than 30% more than you'll get in a Ford Focus. In fact, in this class, only Peugeot's 308 and Honda's Civic have larger boots - and even those two can't match the capacity this Skoda offers when its 60:40 split-folding rear bench is pushed forwards - 1380-litres, though unfortunately, the total loading area this creates isn't completely flat.
If you do need to use the back seats for passengers, then you'll be pleased to find that the standard cargo area is very versatile. The loading lip is low and wide, so it's easy to get awkwardly-shaped things in and out. And, once your stuff's inside, not only do you get bag hooks and tie-down points but there's also the option of a dual-height boot floor that you can adjust to suit taller or shorter loads. Plus there's also a clever double-faced boot floor option that almost all owners will want. Turn it rubber-side-up for muddy boots or dirty dogs. Or flip it back to carpet for suitcases or shopping bags. I'd also want the optional netting programme which enables you to subdivide the boot area and separate your eggs from your Iron-Bru.
And in the back? Well Skoda claimed the length reduction of this car over its standard stablemate had no impact on rear passenger accommodation and sure enough, when you enter through the wide-opening doors, you'll find the same comfortable space for two adults provided - though, as with any car in this class, three would be a squash. Headroom, as we suggested earlier, is aided by this Spaceback model's extended roofline and one adult six-footer can easily sit behind a driver of the same height, which can't be said of too many cars in this segment.
At the wheel where again, it's all pretty much identical to the standard Rapid model, 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, including a slot for your parking tickets and useful storage nets on the side of the front seat backrest where you can get at them easily. A 'V'-shaped centre console rises up from the foot well to the main dashboard and houses both ventilation and stereo controls. Through the sportier three-spoke wheel, you glimpse a large, clear twin-binnacle instrument display. Nothing then to especially catch the eye, but everything perfectly in its place.
What to Look For
Most Rapid Spaceback customers in our buyers' survey seemed pretty satisfied, but inevitably, there were a few issues. Check the alloy wheels for scratches and also check for any damage to the bodywork and bumpers, because paint and body repairs can be pricey. The Rapid uses a number of cheaper plastics in the interior that are generally tough but may be scratched, so have a check for damage. Two recalls have been issued for this Rapid model. The first applies to cars produced between 25 November 2015 and 14 April 2016 and concerns child door locks that might disengage without warning. The second is to do with the possibility of parts in the seatbelt pretensioners becoming dislodged when they engage in an accident. It affects vehicles built between 1 May 2016 and 31 October 2016.
If your Rapid Spaceback features a diesel engine, it'll be fitted with a diesel particulate filter (DPF). This means that the car will need to be taken on regular motorway journeys to ensure that the DPF can regenerate, because this process is only triggered at high speeds. Check how the previous owner has used the car if you are unsure. Other potential problems with DPF-equipped cars come if it has been shut off part-way through a regeneration. The result could be contamination of the oil system with fuel, leading to the oil level rising gradually over an extended period. This may cause damage to the engine.
(Estimated prices, based on a 2014 year Rapid Spaceback 1.2 ex Vat) An air filter will be priced at around £10-£13. An oil filter is around £4-£8. Front brake pads are around £25-£58 for a set. Rear pads are in the £12-£31 bracket. You're looking at around £26-£65 for a front brake disc. Rear discs are in the £23-£37 bracket. A wiper blade is £6-£20. A water pump is in the £29-£38 bracket. And a radiator is around £90-£120.
On the Road
The 'Rapid' name dates all the way back to a Skoda model of the Thirties which was strong, solid, also 1.2 and 1.6-litre powered and so reliable that in 1936, one was driven from one side of Africa to the other and back again without a hitch. You feel this Rapid would do the same, its tried and tested Volkswagen Group mechanicals almost certain to maintain the brand's dominance in customer satisfaction surveys the world over.
As with the standard Rapid model, this Spaceback variant's mechanicals don't include the high-tech MQB floorplan developed for all of the Volkswagen group's other family hatchback contenders - SEAT's Leon, Volkswagen's Golf and Audi's A3. Back in 2013, Skoda chose to reserve these underpinnings for its larger and now Mondeo-sized Octavia model, so the Rapid range had instead to rely on a mix and match of suspension and chassis parts borrowed from almost every crevice of the Wolfsburg parts bin. Still, as this Czech maker had already proved by 2013 with its Yeti crossover model, it's an approach that can produce a remarkably effective end result.
And '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 affordable five-door family transport. 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. For this car, Skoda's engineers developed a more accurate C-EPS Column-Electric Power Steering steering system. It could still do with a bit more feel but it certainly makes the car a more willing dynamic companion.
And under the bonnet? Well there isn't really a bad choice to make here, given that the feeble three cylinder 75PS petrol engine that props up the standard Rapid range wasn't offered to Spaceback buyers. Otherwise, the two cars are identical beneath the bonnet, almost all buyers choosing either 1.2-litre TSI petrol power or a 1.6-litre TDI diesel. A 1.4 TDI was also offered. The petrol option comes in either 86 or 105PS guises and would be our personal pick. The pokier of the two units improves the 0-62mph sprint time from 11.7s to 10.2s and raises the academic top speed from 112 to 120mph. We'd also point out that this 105PS 1.2 TSI variant is the only model in the range to be fitted with six rather than five speeds in its manual gearbox, which makes the car that bit more relaxed on motorway trips. At the top of the petrol line-up, there's a 122PS 1.4-litre petrol TSI model that manages 9.4s and 126mph, but that has to be had with a less efficient 7-speed DSG automatic gearbox.
You can get that same auto 'box as an option on a 1.6-litre TDI diesel Rapid Spaceback. Here again, there's a choice of tune, either 90 or 105PS. The faster unit reduces the 0-62mph sprint time from 11.9s to 10.3s and ups the maximum speed from 113 to 118mph. Only the lower-powered variant though, can be found in super-frugal Greenline guise. The TDI powerplant certainly gives you more pulling power (there's a hefty 250Nm of torque), but then it needs it thanks to the additional heaviness this engine adds to a kerb weight that on petrol models is significantly lighter than on other family hatchback rivals. If you can stick with the petrol TSI, you'll get yourself a car that's actually quite agile through the twisty stuff if you really need it to be. You just won't find yourself seeking excuses to put that to the test.
This more conventional Rapid Spaceback model was a much easier sell for Skoda than the ordinary Rapid model. Although its angular shape is distinctly different from that of, say, an equivalent Focus or Astra, customers can clearly see that those kinds of rivals offer direct competition. People like what they know - and they know what they like.
So will used buyers in the family hatch segment previously foreign to the Skoda brand be won over by this car? Possibly. It won't suit those always yearning for a spirited drive but otherwise, its list of attributes ought to be enough to earn a place on your family hatchback shortlist. After all, this car's more affordable than most of its rivals - and more spacious too. Plus it's well built, acceptably efficient - and really quite stylish too, if you stretch to the extra-cost Style Pack with its smart, extended panoramic glass roof.
Think of it as a much more affordable take on something like an Audi A3 Sportback and you'll probably have summed up for yourself what this car's really all about. Younger buyers will like that. So will older ones. Both groups then, have reason to try a Skoda. Just as the brand intended.