The launch of the new Skoda Rapid Spaceback marks the continuation of the successful and well-established Czech manufacturer's assault on the European C-segment, home to the likes of the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra and Kia Cee'd.
Longtime hatchback stalwart the Octavia, available as both hatchback and estate, is now so large that it’s almost become a more comfortable fit in the class above, and that leaves room below for two added-value five-doors: the utility-flavoured Rapid liftback, and this, the more stylish Rapid Spaceback.
Labeling what, in the UK at least, has the potential to be the most popular bodystyle of the Rapid as a quirky-sounding niche-market sideshow would seem to make questionable sense, especially since every man and his dog will wonder what on earth a Spaceback is.
Ironically enough, the term just describes a car that, outwardly and inwardly, resembles an utterly conventional five-door hatchback. One with a smidgeon more boot- and cabin space than the class norm, perhaps, but nothing nearly unusual enough to require its own entry in the car design lexicon.
In place of the regular Rapid’s long rear overhang, flat rear deck and long, flat boot, the Spaceback has an extended hatchback-style roofline, a D-pillar and a more upright hatchback boot. It’s 180mm shorter than the regular Rapid and, up to the window line, the boot is some 135 litres smaller.
That, primarily, is why this is not to be confused with a Rapid estate. However, the straighter roofline gives the Spaceback more second-row headroom than a normal Rapid and, though it’s fairly narrow of cabin for a full-sized hatchback, legroom in both rows is generous.
To look at, the Spaceback is largely identical to its sister car from the B-pillar forwards, but it’s much less ungainly than a regular Rapid when viewed from the rear. It has the kind of generic but tidy styling that’s likely to age well, which tallies closely with Skoda’s intention to produce a ‘timeless’ look.
The Spaceback’s interior is as functional and sparsely decorated as you’d expect from a Skoda with a particular budget ethos, but it’s comfortable and easy to interact with in the main. The dash plastics feel a bit cheap in places, meanwhile you get a slight flavour of austerity from the rudimentary factory sat-nav system with its particularly small screen.
Elsewhere, though the seat bases are a bit flat and unsupportive, there are attractive trims in places, and practical touches typical of Skoda: an ice scraper hidden in the fuel filler cap, cupholders in the second-row armrest and carrier bag hooks in the boot.
As for trims, there are three available. The entry-level S models come with a spartan level of equipment including steel wheels, USB connectivity, heated wing mirrors, air conditioning and front electric windows.
Upgrade to the SE Tech trim and you’ll find additions such as 16in alloy wheels, rear parking sensors, sat nav, Bluetooth, DAB radio, climate control and cruise control all as standard.
The range-topping SE Sport adds 17in alloy wheels, sport seats and a panoramic sunroof.
Suspension is via MacPherson struts at the front and torsion beam at the rear, and the engine range kicks off with 89bhp and 108bhp versions of the 1.2-litre TSI petrol, with the diesels being 89bhp 1.4 and 113bhp 1.6 units.
Though it isn’t widely known, Skoda is a bit of a centre of excellence for petrol engines, making both the 1.2-litre and 1.4-litre TSI powerplants for the whole of the VW Group. That shows in the Rapid Spaceback, where the 1.2 is definitely the engine of choice. The 1.6-litre TDI diesel engine, however, is beginning to show signs of antiquation. Slightly clattery at idle and a touch harsh at high revs, it’s far from the best economy diesel of its kind.
The 1.2-litre petrol, by contrast, is refined, responsive, flexible and considerably cheaper to buy than the diesel, and doesn’t give up much to the TDI on fuel economy or carbon emissions, either. In higher output 108bhp form, the 1.2 TSI is partnered with the only six-speed manual gearbox in the Rapid range, via which in-gear performance is improved significantly.
For our money, that high-output 1.2 TSI is the pick of Rapid range, and is capable of returning a real-world 50mpg in mixed use.
The Spaceback is a perfectly competent dynamic prospect out on the road, with consistent controls, predictable handling manners and unimposing rolling refinement.
The power steering’s the biggest departure on the car, a newer column-mounted system than the one fitted to the regular Rapid, and it seems to work well; steering precision, assistance levels and return-to-centre behaviour are all good.
Seldom do you experience any compromise to the car’s ride quality seeming to be caused by the torsion beam rear suspension since, on the 15in alloy wheels fitted to most trims, bump absorption is fine.
Our one note of caution concerns the 17in alloys that come as part of the top SE Sport trim level; they do significant harm to the Spaceback’s ride, making the car crash a little over sharper lumps and bumps, without adding much grip, directness or feedback to the handling mix. Avoid them if you can.
The Rapid Spaceback lacks the charisma to be a smash hit in the hatchback class, but combining keen prices with strong practicality, and for the most part offering excellent value for money, it’s an entirely adequate, functional and inoffensive sort of car that covers the bases well.
You’d need to have fairly low expectations of a family five-door for it to seem like anything special, but the Skoda is a creditable addition to the budget hatchback ranks nonetheless.