What is it?
This is our first steer in the UK of Skoda’s new small family car, the Rapid, which sits between the Fabia and the Octavia in the ever-expanding Skoda line-up.
Also expanding, as a result, will be the next-generation Octavia, which will arrive next year, bigger and pushed further upmarket to allow sufficient space for the Rapid to breathe.
At launch, prices of the Rapid range from under £13,000 to as much as £18,000 before options, although we reckon the best value is had at the lower end of the range. Lower, not lowest: that honour goes to a three-pot 1.2-litre petrol producing just 74bhp which, we suspect, would struggle to even pull a banner saying “loss leader”. We can but suspect, though, because, perhaps sensibly, Skoda didn’t have any that we could try.
We have driven the next up in the range: the 1.2 85bhp petrol, which is a turbocharged four-pot driving the front wheels through a five-speed automatic gearbox.
This review, though, is of the Rapid range’s only diesel, the 1.6 TDI with 104bhp.
What is it like?
Skoda’s quite keen that its brand and its models all represent the same thing – space and value - regardless of where in the world they’re sold.
So the Rapid exudes precisely the sort of style you’d expect. Inside, it’s almost a non-style, so functional, clear and basic are its dials and materials.
It’s also spacious – tall adults can sit behind tall adults quite comfortably. And although the Rapid is only 4.48m long (a touch bigger than the Focus/Astra/i30 norm) it’s so well packaged that apparently there’s more room inside than in a current Octavia (short for its class, at 4.57m long).
The little notchback makes the Rapid look like a saloon but it’s actually a very practical hatch, with 550 to 1490 litres of luggage space depending on what you do with the rear seats.
The 1.6 TDI motor rouses to a bit of a grumble, louder I think than the class average, but still acceptable. And the Rapid retains the pleasing control weights and characteristics that are a feature of other Skodas: it’s all positive yet light, easy yet precise. The (five-speed) gearbox stirs slickly, and engine response is positive. Skoda says the diesel Rapid is good for 0-62mph acceleration in 10.6sec and that it can return 64.2mpg. I believe the former, and returned economy approaching 50mpg in mixed driving.
The Rapid is an undemanding companion. It rides reasonably, although lacks the ultimate suppleness and control that marks the best cars in the class. Its rear suspension is by torsion beam (unlike the most sophisticated small family cars, which generally have a multi-link arrangement), and I think you can tell. The ride’s a little noisy at times: nothing significant, but enough to remind you it was built down to its price. Motorway cruising is comfortable; the engine more audible than it would be with a six-speed ‘box. But, again, it’d be churlish to criticise harshly.
There’s not a great deal here for the enthusiastic driver, but you’d expect that too. The Rapid hangs on gamely before falling into predictable, manageable understeer. It steers with precision and ease in a straight line, and its offer of consistent, feeless accuracy is all we’d have asked for in the twisties.
Should I buy one?
Maybe, if you approach it with a mindset of sensibleness, rather than from a car enthusiast’s perspective. There are keener drives in the class, including the Hyundai i30, so the Rapid is best viewed as a fuss-free, uncomplicated and easygoing small family car. A loaf of unbranded brown bread in a world of speciality baking.
At more than £17,000, though, the competition starts to look quite fierce for the diesel Rapid, which sits a long way above this car’s starting price.
Towards the bottom end of its range, the Skoda seems to have more to offer. It shows impressive levels of space and good performance and economy for its price. That’s where we’d point our recommendation.
Skoda Rapid SE 1.6 TDI CR 105PS
Price: £17,100; 0-62mph: 10.6sec; Top speed: 118mph; Economy: 64.2mpg; CO2: 114g/km; Kerb weight: 1254kg; Engine type, installation: 4 cyls turbodiesel, 1598cc, transverse; Power: 104bhp at 4400rpm; Torque: 184lb ft at 1500-2500rpm; Gearbox: 5-spd manual