Skoda Rapid – big space, big talent, big value

Skoda's new Rapid hatchback offers huge space and value for cost-conscious motorists

Skoda's new Rapid hatchback offers huge space and value for cost-conscious motorists - Credit: AndyMorgan Photography 2012

Skoda is in seventh heaven with its price-sensitive Rapid, says motoring editor Andy Russell.

My grown-up sons mock their poor old father about my having to 'justify' spending money by persuading myself that I really need something rather than their simple philosophy of 'I want it'.

It's not just a generation gap thing, more a case that when money is tight you have to reassure yourself you are getting good value.

It's something Skoda has recognised with its new Rapid, bringing its UK range to seven models for the first time. So the next time my boys accuse me of being mean I'll use the far more appealing description Skoda uses for the Rapid – price-sensitive.

The Rapid is a similar size to the current Octavia hatchback, which will move upmarket with a higher specification when the new model is launched in March, resulting in the Rapid being more of a value model.

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But don't think Skoda has cut corners and made the Rapid a low-budget model just to get the starting price to £12,900 for it is a cracking, quality family hatchback – robust and durable with functional rather than frivolous equipment and simple, clever touches rather than being loaded with technology.

The Rapid is also the first model featuring Skoda's new DNA, designed to be timeless so models remain fresh and attractive which should help resale values. The face is dominated by a new grille, with a tasteful thin chrome frame, while the Skoda badge – now just silver and black, losing the traditional green – moves to a more prominent position on the bonnet. Bold, precise lines, elegant curves with a pronounced 'tornado line' below the windows accentuate the car's length and create a fusion of light and shadow, shown off to best effect in bright metallic colours.

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The Rapid is not just a pretty face though for it is an accomplished car to drive and live with.

Though shaped like a saloon, the Rapid is a hatchback which creates more space. Legroom in the back is positively enormous – better than the current Octavia, itself a very spacious car – thanks to the long wheelbase but not at the expense of boot space which is a class-leading 550 litres with the rear seats up. Design co-ordinator Peter Olah did his impression of a magician pulling a rabbit from a hat to unload from the Rapid's boot a large suitcase, three medium ones, three aircraft cabin cases and a bag of 10 footballs! Fold the 60/40 split rear seats flat and it grows to 1,490 litres.

Thoughtful Simply Clever touches are the icing on the cake – an ice-scraper inside of the fuel filler cap, a high-visibility jacket holder beneath the driver's seat, Skoda's standard car park ticket holder on the A-pillar and an optional reversible boot carpet with a rubber side for muddy dogs and walking boots.

Given its price-sensitive ethos, many owners will go for petrol hence four choices – 75PS normally-aspirated 1.2 and 86PS and 105PS 1.2 TSI and 122PS 1.4 TSI turbo, the latter only with a seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox. A 105PS 1.6 TDI turbo diesel will be joined by a 90PS version along with eco GreenTech models.

At launch only the 105PS diesel and 86PS 1.2 TSI were available and while the flexible diesel is so quiet you notice tyre noise more than the engine, the petrol model was the more dynamic drive, surprisingly brisk and rev-happy. The lighter petrol engine makes the Rapid more lively on twisty roads where it acquits itself with aplomb, feeling reassuringly safe and predictable even though the suspension is tuned more for comfort than entertainment.

Anyone who has driven a Skoda will feel quite at home behind the wheel with everything in its place and a place for everything with simple controls and switchgear. The fascia is not fancy but it's functional - nothing wrong with that.

Available in S, SE and Elegance, entry-level S, only with the 75PS 1.2 petrol engine, includes curtain airbags, stability control, alarm and remote central locking. SE costs £950 more but gains £1,620 of value including 15in alloy wheels, air-conditioning, mobile device interface and Bluetooth phone connection. Elegance costs £750 more, but gets an extra £1,270 of value, with 16in alloys, cornering front fog lights, cruise control, chrome interior trim and multi-function steering wheel.

Skoda admits the Rapid is targeting people who want a new car without spending a lot of money… and it's not hard to justify given its talents and honest value.

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