What is it?:
Having deftly wedged a new model, the Rapid, into the gap between the Fabia and Octavia, Skoda is setting about maximising its new niche with another body style in the shape of this, the Rapid Spaceback.
The inaugural Rapid has offbeat ‘notchback’ styling, but this one features more conventional compact hatchback looks.
Also now on offer is a less powerful diesel option. The 89bhp 1.6-litre lump augments the 104bhp unit that’s been the sole oil-burner on offer since the Rapid’s launch last year. It is this lower-powered diesel that we drive here in pre-production form, ahead of its official unveiling at next month’s Frankfurt motor show.
Chief among the Rapid Spaceback’s rivals are cars such as the Kia Cee’d and Hyundai i30, although Skoda likes to think that its pragmatic new offering might also tempt some increasingly budget-conscious customers away from their Ford Focuses, Vauxhall Astras and Renault Méganes.
Production of right-hand-drive Rapid Spacebacks begins next month, with UK sales likely to commence in January.
What's it like?:
On looks alone, it is easy to imagine the Rapid Spaceback holding more appeal for UK buyers than its rather staid sibling.
The car is identical to the regular Rapid as far back as the B-pillar, but its restyled rear end makes it 179mm shorter at 4304mm, and slightly shorter than the Kia Cee’d.
The truncated rear end means the boot volume is reduced from the Rapid’s 550 litres to 415 litres, expanding to 1380 litres when the rear bench is folded down (although it doesn’t go completely flat). Mind you, that ranks it at the head of the class when it comes to usable space for haulage, eclipsing the 380 litres offered by the Cee’d.
The boot also has a very low lip, at 677mm above the ground, to make loading bulky items easy, as well as a floor that can be positioned at two levels. This serves two purposes: it makes it possible to hide possessions out of sight of prying eyes, but also allows heavier items to be slid straight into the boot, rather than up and over the lip.
That big boot doesn’t come at the expense of passenger space. The Rapid Spaceback provides generous rear legroom that won’t have passengers pleading to stretch their legs at every service station, and headroom is good for all but the tallest of passengers.
Up front, there’s a refreshing lack of clutter about the layout of the major controls. Switches and controls don’t convey the sense of a car that’s been ruthlessly built down to a budget.
The Rapid Spaceback features a different steering system and revised suspension to that found on the existing Rapid. This is in response to feedback on the original car from customers, who highlighted the car’s unsettled ride over rippled road surfaces. Skoda has changed the set-up of the dampers to offer better cushioning right at the top of the damper travel, a tweak that will be transferred onto the standard Rapid too.
Our test drive occurred as part of a controlled convoy on predominantly smooth roads near Munich, which made it difficult to fully assess the impact of the new suspension, although there were hints of an unobtrusive and more settled ride that could prove welcome on the UK’s gnarly roads.
A new electric power steering replaces the outgoing electro-hydraulic system. The new kit, referred to by Skoda as ‘column-electric power steering’ or ‘C-EPS’, brings a 2-3kg weight saving, but also offers the driver a more stable straight-ahead feel. The car feels light and easy to position on the road, but isn’t remotely involving.
The lower-powered diesel churns out the same amount of CO2 as the more powerful variant, but accelerates more slowly. Mated to a seven-speed DSG transmission, the front-wheel-drive takes 12.1sec to hit 62mph from a standstill compared to the 10.3sec taken by the 104bhp car.
Press the throttle pedal and there’s a noticeable lull before the power arrives, but thereafter there’s smooth acceleration and the unit isn’t found lacking in everyday driving situations.
The engine possesses a lively thrum that filters through to the cabin and leaves you in little doubt that there’s an oilburner in the bow. By modern standards, that feels just a touch unsophisticated.
Should I buy one?:
The Skoda Rapid Spaceback majors on practicality and clever touches. It’s a thoroughly sensible car, if not a particularly dynamic or engaging one. This version offers slightly less space than the regular Rapid but adds a touch more design flair.
Although it lacks the vibrant character of other cars in Skoda model range, such as the popular Yeti, its appeal lies in its no-frills attitude, straightforward engineering and useful standard kit.
Pricing and trim level specifics are still being determined, although Skoda says the car sits alongside the existing Rapid in the range, as opposed to above or below it, so we can expect an entry-level car to start at around £13,000.
Our calculations suggest this variant, equipped with the DSG gearbox, could cost in the region of £16,000, which should provide a more reasonable entry point for the diesel side of the Rapid Spaceback line-up.
Skoda Rapid Spaceback 1.6 TDI DSG
Price £16,000 (est); 0-62mph 12.1sec; Top speed 113mph; Economy 63mpg; CO2 118g/km; Kerb weight 1280kg; Engine 1598cc, 4 cyls, turbodiesel; Power 89bhp at 4200rpm; Torque 170lb ft at 1500-2500rpm; Gearbox 7-spd dual-clutch auto