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Skoda Rapid review (2012 onwards)
What: Skoda Rapid
Where: Vienna, Austria - Bratislava, Slovakia
Date: July 2012
Price: from under £13,000 (TBC)
Available: late 2012 / early 2013
We like: lots of space, big boot, thoughtful touches, fuss-free design, well built
We don't like: not that great to drive, functional anti-fashion aesthetic won't appeal to everyone
Like a big-bottomed Golf, but costing much less, the new Rapid reboots the concept of a value for money Skoda by offering loads of space and lots of clever features for little cash.
The Skoda Rapid is potentially a bit of a confusing car. Starting with its name. Rapid by badge does not mean rapid by nature - especially if you pick the entry-level 1.2-litre petrol version, which offers just 75hp. Rather, this is the return of a moniker from Skoda's past.
Then there's the positioning. The Rapid is a 'compact saloon' that joins the Skoda range above the Fabia. Which means it looks and sounds like a replacement for the Octavia - right down to the fact it's actually a five-door hatchback and not a saloon at all.
Emphasising Skoda's value-for-money roots
Only one problem with that theory: there's a new generation Octavia coming next year. The Rapid will allow this car to go further upmarket, taking over where the original Octavia began. In the process it debuts Skoda's new styling direction, while strongly re-emphasising the brand's value-for-money roots.
Delivering that value, the Rapid deliberately shuns soft touch plastics and damped grab handles, and instead concentrates on generous amounts of space inside and user-friendly innovation. It's specifically targeting budget-conscious families with its no-nonsense build quality and stuff that actually helps out.
Think of it like a Skoda Yeti - or better still, Roomster - only in a more conventional shape. Set to start at less than £13,000, the pricing is certainly aggressive. But have too many costs been cut back to achieve this, or has Skoda pitched it just right?
At launch in the UK the Rapid will be offered with a choice of four petrol and two diesel units. The petrols range from that 75hp 1.2 to a 122hp 1.4-litre TSI turbo, with a pair of 1.2-litre TSI turbos in between offering 85hp and 105hp. On the diesel side there's a 1.6, available in 90hp and 105hp variants.
We tried both 105hp options. It seems evident that Skoda has saved a little money (and weight) by not going overboard with the sound deadening. While diesel refinement is fine in terms of vibrations - there aren't any - you certainly won't be mistaking the 1.6 TDI for a petrol, inside or out.
A sixth gear ratio would make it a more relaxed motorway cruiser. But even with its five-speed gearbox the noise isn't overly intrusive, and the 184lb ft of torque that comes with the volume dispatches slower traffic in a safe and predictable fashion.
The 1.2 TSI is easier on the ear, and also goes well enough. Yet despite a standard six-speed gearbox it's tougher to keep on the boil - meaning you have to plan your overtaking manoeuvres more carefully, and often find yourself forced to change down from higher gears to get any meaningful acceleration.
Ride and handling
Skoda has become very adept at delivering cars that astutely balance the ability to cover bumpy ground with poise and comfort, yet don't roll around too much in the corners. In other words, cars that are often ideally suited to the UK.
It only takes a short journey on the roads of Slovakia to understand how this might have happened. The country right next door to Skoda's home nation (the Czech Republic), Slovakia has some brilliantly awful surfaces. Perfect suspension tuning fodder it would seem.
The diesel especially seemed far too firm
Sad, then, that the Rapids we drove often had a hard time dealing with them. The diesel especially seemed far too firm: crashing over ridges and potholes, fidgety on the motorway. The petrol was better, but still not as forgiving as we've come to expect.
The troubled ride would be more understandable if the car had a generally sporty character from the driver's seat. But instead the steering is rather dead and lifeless, and quite vague around the straight ahead, making it difficult to precisely judge your inputs. The resulting handling is best described as 'safe'.
So it's not much fun to drive fast, and occasionally somewhat irritating to drive slowly. But the Rapid more than makes up for this with the quality of thinking that's gone into the interior - from the exceptional packaging to the clever user-friendly features.
By packaging we mean space. The Rapid is intended to exist between traditional segments, so compared to an ordinary family hatchback it gives you a lot more car for your money. There's enough rear legroom, for example, to comfortably seat your average adult, while the boot is a class-leading 550 litres big.
Not only that, it's been specifically designed with a low lip and a large tailgate, to make loading as easy as possible. A particularly wide rear axle design, dug up from the Volkswagen Group parts bin, has allowed Skoda to give the Rapid a very low boot floor as well. When you first look inside it's like a cavern.
A set of three nets can be added to stop things rolling around, the seats naturally split-fold - freeing up a massive 1,490 litres of room - and new for the Rapid is a reversible boot floor mat. One side is carpet to protect delicate items, the other rubber for muddy shoes.
While soft touch plastics are largely absent from the cabin, Skoda has carefully moulded the hard stuff to give a pleasing effect and maintain an unflinching impression of solid build integrity. The overall design is neat, uncluttered and with controls all sensibly laid out - typically Skoda.
Further new features include waste bins in the door pockets, a special storage area under the front seats for fluorescent safety jackets and an ice scraper that stows away on the inside of the petrol filler flap. This even doubles as a magnifier, helping you make out the small print on the tyre pressure label.
In total Skoda reckons there are no less than 19 'Simply Clever' features either standard or available; other favourites include little mesh pockets on the side of the front seats and the now familiar parking ticket holder. In the UK S, SE and Elegance trim levels will be offered, but exact spec is yet to be confirmed.
Economy and safety
The Rapid is a modern car with a modern crash structure, six airbags and ESP. While it isn't available with any of the latest safety gizmos, such as the Citigo's autonomous braking function, we would still anticipate a solid Euro NCAP test result - though that hasn't yet taken place.
As for the economy, even the very worst offender in the initial range - the 75hp 1.2 petrol - still claims 46.3mpg with 137g/km CO2 emissions. Greenest choice is the 90hp 1.6 TDI diesel, which manages 67.2mpg with 109g/km CO2, according to official figures - though the 105hp alternative is only slightly behind.
"Greentech" versions will appear shortly after launch; these are set to reduce CO2 to as little as 104g/km and achieve as much as 72.4mpg, thanks to the use of stop-start, brake energy recuperation and low rolling resistance tyres. As ever, take all these figures with a pinch of salt. They aren't real world.
The MSN Cars verdict
Interesting car, the Skoda Rapid. It's banking on an audience of no-nonsense buyers, who want a practical, sensibly-shaped primary vehicle with clean lines, and are strongly motivated by value for money.
In many respects it could be taken as a step back for a brand that has spent so long building up a credible reputation as alternative to the mainstream. But to us it seems like a refreshingly straightforward proposition from a company confident in its ability to deliver exactly what a sizable section of its audience wants.
If it's priced as sharply as we've been led to expect, the current economic climate will only make the Rapid seem more attractive. Add in those small but meaningful innovative features, and we reckon Skoda's swiftly going to have a hit on its hands.
Need to know
Engines, petrol: 1.2, 1.2 TSI (85), 1.2 TSI (105), 1.4 TSI
Engines, diesel: 1.6 (90), 1.6 (105)
Torque: 82-184lb ft
Top speed: 108-128mph
Mpg combined: 46.3-67.2mpg
CO2, Tax: 109-137g/km, 15-18%
Specific model rated: Skoda Rapid 1.6 TDI Elegance
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