What is it?:
This is Skoda’s new Rapid hatchback, which slots into the company’s range between the Fabia supermini and the established Octavia range. The Rapid, which will also be made in bespoke versions for India and China (which gets a saloon body and rather more chrome trim), has been conceived as the conspicuous value model in the Skoda line-up. It also introduces Skoda’s new design language and corporate grille design.
The arrival of the Rapid is part of the brand’s aim to sell 1.5m cars globally by 2018. Last year, Skoda shifted an impressive 880,000 vehicles but that leaves it trying to nearly double its output in just seven years. What Skoda calls the ‘compact A-segment’ today accounts for 36 percent of the global automotive market, but the company predicts this will rise to around 50 percent by 2020.
The Rapid is very similar in concept to the original 1996 Octavia and the 1991 Seat Toledo. It is very long for a car of this class (4.48m) but relatively narrow (just 1.94m across the mirrors). The notchback styling disguises a huge hatch tailgate and giant boot which, at 550-litres, matches many executive saloons.
Skoda will not say what is under the Rapid, other than it is ‘time-proved technology’. It is most likely a mix of more than one VW components set, partly from the Polo. It gets McPherson struts upfront and conventional and very compact beam axle at the back - one of the reasons the boot is so deep. That the rear track is 37mm wider than the front, rather underlines the mix ‘n’ match nature of the architecture.
Unlike its VW Group predecessors, however, the Rapid doesn’t trade boot space for rear legroom. The 2.6m wheelbase of the ‘modular platform’ is marginally longer than the Mk1 Octavia and the rear legroom noticeably better. It also weighs around 150kg less than the first Octavia model, coming in at 1140kg for the base model. Six airbags, ABS and ESP are standard in Europe.
UK pricing will kick off at just £12,995 for the entry-level 1.2-litre, three-cylinder, 74bhp petrol engine but with British sales over six months away, Skoda UK isn’t giving any more clues on the likely pricing of the rest of the range until September, when the Rapid makes its public debut at the Paris motor show.
Aside from the entry-level engine, there will be five other EU5-rated engines to choose from, including 84 and 104bhp 1.2-litre four cylinder turbocharged petrol engine and a 121bhp 1.4 TSi petrol engine. There are two 1.6-litre TDI engines in 88bhp and 104bhp forms, though the former will not be available for 12 months.
Five-speed manual boxes are standard on all engines, apart from the most powerful 1.2 TSI. A 7-speed DSG ‘box is standard on the 1.4 TSi and optional on the lower-power diesel engine. In the UK, there will be three trim levels S, SE and Elegance Exact specification levels released at the same time as the prices.
What's it like?:
Impressive in main, but with some concerns about the chassis refinement.
Although the Rapid is a little narrow, a slim centre console helps liberate enough shoulder room for two adults. Even with the seat set for a reasonably long-legged driving position, I could sit behind myself with a couple of inches knee room to spare. And, at a touch under six foot tall, I also had more than adequate rear headroom. Combined with the truly vast boot, the Rapid really does offer proper family-sized space. Conventional hatchbacks in this sector can’t hold a candle to the Rapid’s ability to swallow luggage.
There’s another practical advantage to the Rapid’s snake-hipped body is that the car is noticeably easier to manoeuvre through narrow gaps and slip into parking spaces. Compared to an MPV or Golf-class hatchback, the Rapid is a breeze in tight spaces, an advantage not to be underestimated.
Easily the most impressive technical aspect of this car was the turbocharged petrol engine. Even though it had just 1000 miles under its piston rings, and two decent size adults on board, on the motorway it was punchy, flexible and refined. Although it drives through a (pretty slick shifting) five-speed ‘box, the top ratio was long enough to allow the engine to be turning over at just over 2500rpm at motorway speeds. With a promise of 55.4mpg on the combined cycle, this unit shows how modern petrol engines are making more sense for the new car buyer than increasingly expensive diesel engines.
Also worthy of note are the brakes (strong and easily modulated), the fit, finish and utility of the cabin which, while not made of the most ritzily-finished materials, was tightly built and benefitted from some quality switchgear. Neat touches abound, such as the ice scraper which lives under the fuel filler cap and a high-visibility vest under the passenger seat. The effect was spoiled, most bizarrely, at idle, when the windscreen wiper motor could heard quite clearly in the cabin.
The downside with this particular test car was the rather rough-edged chassis. True, with a light touch from the driver, it could be made to flow along quite nicely at modest speeds and had a decent turn of speed on the open road.
But over series of joints on a section of concrete motorway, the Rapid bucked quite badly. On country roads marked by broken blacktop, it telegraphed too much of the surface and the suspension was prone to transferring a lot of noise into the cabin. On long, quickish, bends, the steering would also lighten appreciably resulting in a slightly disconcerting lack of feel.
However, a second test car, powered by the 1.6-litre diesel engine, was much less perturbed by poor surfaces, felt more planted and rather less on its tip-toes in long bends. Both cars rolled on the same 17in wheels, so the marked difference can only be down to significant sample variation in these early test cars.
Should I buy one?:
It is too early to say. Without more definitive pricing and without trying production cars out on UK roads, it is very hard to judge whether the Rapid is a very spacious family car at a great price or a car that is almost as expensive as a Kia C’eed SW estate, and hampered by a noticeably less sophisticated chassis.
Skoda Rapid 1.2TSi S
Price: £14,000 (est); 0-62mph: n/a; Top speed: n/a; Economy: 55.4mpg; CO2: 119g/km; Kerbweight: 1190kg (est); Engine type, installation: four cylinder turbocharged petrol, 1197cc, transverse; Power: 84bhp at 4800rpm; Torque: 118lb ft at 1500-3500rpm; Gearbox: 5-speed manual