What is it?
Having deftly wedged a new model, the Rapid, into the gap between the Skoda Fabia and Skoda 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.