The Rapid is Skoda's new representative in the family hatchback segment. Jonathan Crouch tries the frugal 1.6 TDI diesel version.
Ten Second Review
Skoda's Rapid squeezes into a gap in the range between the Fabia and Octavia, but it's not a great deal smaller than its big sibling and its boot is huge. It's clear where cost has been taken out of the car but it still appears a quality product. And an efficient one in 1.6-litre TDI guise.
The Skoda Rapid is one of those cars that sparks wildly diverging memories. There won't be too many who remember the launch of the 1935 original. The badge will be more familiar to those who recall it on the rump of the rear-engined Rapid Coupe from the mid-Eighties. Seen as a bit of a joke car by many, those in the know loved the way it drove and motoring writers affectionately dubbed it the poor man's Porsche 911. Yes, it was a bit rough and ready but it was great fun and just stuffed to bursting point with character. Fast forward to 2012 and we have a new generation of Rapid. The quirks and idiosyncrasies might have been ironed out, but it's a long way from rough and ready. Although it looks like a saloon, it's actually a closet hatchback, with a huge boot and plenty of legroom inside. And it gets the frugal 105PS 1.6-litre TDI diesel you'll find in a Golf and across the Volkswagen empire. Let's try it.
With no backstory to fill you in, you'd probably peer under the Rapid and conclude that there's not a lot that's too exciting about this car. And you'd be right. There's a simple strut front suspension and a torsion beam rear end with tried and trusted Volkswagen Group engines like this 1.6 TDI plumbed-in under the bonnet. What's a little less predictable is the way this car has been created. The front end is a modified Polo platform, whereas the rear end comes from the Beetle. The result is a car which rides firmly and probably won't appeal to enthusiast drivers. Light steering and excellent all-round visibility make the Rapid an easy car to drive. There really is very little that's at all threatening or intimidating about this Skoda. With 105PS on tap, this 1.6-litre TDI diesel will take you past 62mph in 10.4s on the way to 118mph. This powerplant certainly gives you more pulling power than the petrol options, but then it needs it thanks to the additional heaviness the TDI unit adds to a kerb weight that on petrol models is significantly lighter than on other family hatchback rivals. Which makes this car actually quite agile through the twisty stuff if you really need it to be. You just won't find yourself seeking excuses to put that to the test.
Design and Build
The Rapid is an unusually proportioned car. Fairly long and relatively narrow (4.48 metres in length, 1.7 metres in width), it's a hatchback that looks much like a saloon and is also a good deal bigger than you first expect and indeed expect at its price point. The chassis is shared with the SEAT Toledo which will have its work cut out against the Skoda. It's not extrovertly styled in any way and this feeling of sparse utility is really rather refreshing in a market rammed with gaudy attention seekers. The interior is unconventional in its own way as well. There are any number of arriviste rivals that have tried to up the quality of the materials used but still haven't got the hang of an elegant and classy look. The Rapid is the opposite. Touch many of the cabin plastics and they're rather hard and scratchy, but it looks well built. It looks elegant. It looks, above all else, as if it's not trying too hard. And if there's a better definition of cool than that, I've yet to hear it. Rear legroom is excellent although shoulder room is a pinch for three. Headroom is good as well, while the boot is bigger than that of a Ford Mondeo and accessed through a huge tailgate. Grumbles? The 60/40 split/fold rear seats don't go completely flat and the load sill is fairly high.
Market and Model
Rapid pricing start at around £13,000, but you'll be paying around £17,000 for this 1.6 TDI diesel version and more if you go for it in super-frugal 'GreenTech' guise. Still, it helps that the standard specification runs to remote central locking, curtain airbags, daytime running lights, rake/reach-adjustable steering wheel, a height-adjustable driver's seat and electric front windows. SE trim starts at around the £15,000 mark and adds 15-inch alloy wheels, body-coloured door mirrors and handles, air-conditioning, a Maxi-dot trip computer, an MDI (Multi Device Interface), a leather steering wheel and Bluetooth connectivity. Buyers opting for range-topping Elegance models benefit from 16-inch alloys, cornering front fog lamps, cruise control, a height-adjustable passenger seat, rear electric windows, chrome interior detailing and a four spoke multi-functional steering wheel. Whichever Rapid trim level you choose, you'll probably want to allow a little extra for useful touches like the reversible boot mat that you can switch round to suit either muddy dogs or your dry cleaning. You might also want to consider a few optional safety touches too - like the safety pack that gives you tyre pressure monitoring along with Hill-Hold-Control that stops you from drifting backwards on uphill junctions. Or the cornering front foglamps that light your way around the bends.
Cost of Ownership
Though this Rapid isn't the most efficient contender in the Focus-class family hatchback sector, it probably does just about enough to satisfy most owners. Most effort has been reserved for the eco-orientated 'GreenTech' version of this 1.6-litre TDI diesel, which at launch was the only variant in the range to get a Stop/start system able to cut the engine when not needed, say when you're stopped at the lights or waiting in traffic. Thanks both to this and features like low rolling resistance tyres and kinetic energy recuperation (which gathers in energy that would otherwise be lost when cruising or braking), fuel savings of between 5 and 8% and a combined cycle fuel figure of 70.6mpg are possible, though CO2 emissions still can't dip beneath the magic tax-busting 100g/km barrier that some rivals breach - expect 106g/km. An ordinary Rapid 1.6 TDI like this one without the GreenTech gadgets manages 64.2mpg and 114g/km. What else? Well, it'll probably help here that maintenance costs will be affordable, with a choice between servicing regimes based or either fixed or variable mileages, depending on whether the annual distance you cover is short or long. There's a three year/60,000 mile warranty that you can extend to four or five years if you wish.
The Rapid might seem unremarkable on the face of things but Skoda has in fact built something rather intriguing. It has brought to market a car that doesn't rely on gimmicks in any way. That presupposes a real maturity from its customers and it would be heartening to see the Czech brand's faith repaid. The Rapid is a car that can only be bought by the self assured customer; the sort of person who doesn't need to hide behind a badge to impress others. Overall? Well, perhaps we are entering an age of pared back utility. And if you appreciate that, you'll certainly like this frugal 1.6 TDI diesel model. A car that will appeal to the buyer who'll never be deemed a try-hard. We like that.