Skoda's Rapid Spaceback is the brand's most competitive try yet at the Focus-sized family hatchback segment. We reckon the 1.2-litre TSI petrol variant is the one to choose. Jonathan Crouch puts it to the test.
Ten Second Review
Skoda's ordinary Rapid may be a five-door hatch but it's not a very conventional one. This separate Rapid Spaceback model though, is much closer to the kind of thing that buyers in the Focus-sized family hatchback segment will be expecting - the most class-competitive model the brand has yet bought us. It's bigger inside than most of its rivals, more affordable and better equipped. Let's check it out in 1.2-litre TSI petrol form.
Skoda is changing. Once a brand exclusively the preserve of older buyers, it's now courting younger ones, not only with its sporty vRS hot hatch models but also with mainstream fare - cars like this one, the Rapid Spaceback.
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 can offer. 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 gives the brand a credible mainstream presence in this segment - and it's a car we're going to put to the test in 1.2-litre TSI petrol form.
'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 isn'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 either 1.4 or 1.6-litre TDI diesels. The petrol option comes in either 90 or 110PS guises and would be my personal pick. The pokier of the two units improves the 0-62mph sprint time from 11.2s to 9.7s and raises the academic top speed from 114 to 123mph. I'd also point out that the 110PS 1.2 TSI variant we tried 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.
Design and Build
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.
At the wheel where 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 footwell 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.
Market and Model
A pricing realignment now means that this Rapid Spaceback model sells for slightly less than a standard Skoda Rapid hatch when equipped with this 1.2-litre TSI petrol engine. That means pricing for this Spaceback variant that in this form starts from around £13,500. That's with the 90PS version of this powerplant. If you want the 110PS unit, you'll have to graduate up from base 'S' to mid-spec 'SE Tech' trim, which means that you'll need a budget of around £15,500 for 110PS 1.2-litre TSI 110PS Rapid Spaceback motoring. There's also a top 'SE Sport' variant.
Equipment includes all the basics you'll need but most customers are ideally going to want a Rapid Spaceback variant with a bit more about it - probably one fitted with 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. To be able to specify that, you have to at least stretch to a mid-spec model, which in turn will also entitle you to alloy wheels, rear parking sensors, cruise control, a trip computer, Bluetooth connectivity and a standard set of those front foglamps.
Cost of Ownership
Though this Rapid Spaceback isn't the most efficient contender in the Focus-class family hatchback sector, it probably does just about enough to satisfy most owners. In 90PS guise, a 1.2 TSI variant manages 60.1mpg on the combined cycle and 107g/km of CO2, returns that aren't significantly affected if you opt for a pokier 110PS version that manages 57.6mpg and 111g/km.
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.
This more conventional-looking Rapid Spaceback model will be a much easier sell than its standard Rapid hatch stablemate. 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 buyers 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 in this 1.2-litre TSI petrol guise - 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 visit a Skoda showroom. Just as the brand intended.