Skoda offers two distinct Rapid models, but it's the more conventional-looking Spaceback version that's proved easier for buyers to like in the Focus-class family hatchback sector. It's now better value too. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
Skoda's ordinary Rapid may be a five-door hatch but it's not a very conventional one. Potential buyers uncomfortable with that will be far happier with this Spaceback variant, a car designed to go head-to-head with the Focus, Astra and Golf class leaders. It's now better value than before and though a little smaller than its stablemate, is certainly more stylish. Overall, the under-rated Spaceback gives this Czech brand a really credible contender in this important sector.
Skoda is changing. Once a brand exclusively the preserve of older buyers, it's now courting younger ones, not only with its sporty vRS hot hatch models but also with mainstream fare - cars like this one, the Rapid Spaceback. If ever emphasis was needed of the importance of the Focus-sized family hatchback segment in the current market, this model provides it for it's Skoda's second offering in this sector. Previous to this car's arrival here in the Spring of 2014, the brand had provided this class with its standard Rapid model - as it still does. Since this Rapid Spaceback joined that design in the company's showrooms, together, these two cars have more effectively been able to bridge the gap in the Czech maker's model range between the supermini-sized Fabia and the now larger Mondeo-sized Octavia. Now the Spaceback range looks particularly good value thanks to a pricing realignment.
Let's get the under-bonnet stuff out of the way first. Skoda offers two diesel and three petrol engines. Diesel-wise, there's a choice of either a 90PS 1.4 or a 115PS 1.6. For petrol people, the entry-level powerplant is a 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol unit that packs 90PS but is also offered in 110PS form if you want a little more pulling power. And there's a 125PS 1.4-litre TSI petrol option only offered with a DSG auto gearbox. That auto transmission can also be ordered as an option on the pokier 1.2-litre petrol variant, plus the 1.4-litre diesel model. As with the standard Rapid model, this Spaceback variant's mechanicals don't include the high-tech MQB floorplan developed for all of the Volkswagen group's other family hatchback contenders. Skoda chooses to reserve these underpinnings for its larger and now Mondeo-sized Octavia model, so the Rapid range has instead to rely on a mix and match of suspension and chassis parts borrowed from almost every crevice of the Wolfsburg parts bin. Perhaps that's why on the move, there's nothing particularly enjoyable about the way this Spaceback model goes about its business. Still, most likely buyers don't seek that in affordable five-door family transport. In any case, there are plenty of other attributes on offer that target customers will probably value more highly. They might find the ride a little on the firm side of comfortable but they'll very much like the narrow body that makes parking and road width restrictions easier to negotiate aided by the excellent all-round visibility, the light, consistently-weighted controls and the simple switchgear that, thank goodness, features a proper conventional handbrake. For this car, Skoda's engineers developed a more accurate C-EPS Column-Electric Power Steering steering system. It could still do with a bit more feel but it certainly makes the car a more willing dynamic companion.
Design and Build
The Spaceback's bodywork is new from the B-pillars back and it's a crisp piece of design work. The rear end features neat triangular insets either side of the number plate holder and if you choose the optional panoramic glass roof, it then combines neatly with a 'prolong' tinted rear screen for a contrasting look that works best on pale coloured cars. The Rapid hatch already had a huge luggage capacity, so losing a bit of that for the sake of a perter rear end doesn't exactly mean you'll have to travel light. This goes down from 550 to 415-litres, although rear passenger space hasn't been affected. The luggage bay can be specified with a double floor to ensure that valuables are kept out of sight. Fold the 60/40 split rear seats and you get up to 1,380-litres of luggage capacity (down from 1490-litres in the standard Rapid). The interior is unconventional in its own way. There are any number of 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 family 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.
Market and Model
Rapid Spaceback pricing is now much keener than it was at launch, sitting in the £13,500 to £18,500 bracket, so it now easily undercuts the standard Rapid model. There's a choice of three trim levels - S, SE Tech and SE Sport - and buyers choose between 1.2 and 1.4-litre TSI petrol engines and either 1.4 or 1.6-litre TDI diesels. 1.4-litre petrol and diesel variants offer the option of a DSG auto gearbox. Standard specifications see air conditioning as standard across the line-up, along with curtain airbags, front electric windows and a height and reach adjustable steering column. Mind you, nice as these little details are, they aren't things that'll set the neighbours' curtains twitchng or give you that special feeling when you see the car parked in the driveway. Which is why most customers are ideally going to want a Rapid Spaceback variant with a bit more about it - probably one fitted with the extra-cost 'Style Pack' that includes a fixed panoramic sunroof, extended tailgate glass, a black rear spoiler, black door mirrors, black rear lights and black cornering front foglamps. To be able to specify that, you have to at least stretch to a mid-spec model, which in turn will also entitle you to alloy wheels, rear parking sensors, cruise control, a trip computer, Bluetooth connectivity and a standard set of those front foglamps. As for safety kit, well you can't specify any of the really high-tech features you get on some rivals. But then typical Skoda buyers probably wouldn't want to stretch to these anyway. What's important is that basic safety provision is very good - well up to five star Euro NCAP standard. On all models, expect to find ISOFIX childseat fastenings, twin front, side and curtain airbags and a full set of safety acronyms.
Cost of Ownership
If you really want an efficient drive from our Spaceback, you'll need to plump for the 1.4-litre TDI 90PS diesel, a variant able to deliver 78.5mpg on the combined cycle and 94g/km of CO2. Stretch to the 115PS 1.6-litre TDI diesel and those figures rise to 67.3mpg and 109g/km. Petrol people can expect 60.1mpg and 109g/km from the 90PS 1.2-litre TSI version, 57.6 and 111g/km from the 1.2 TSI 110PS variant or 48.7mpg and 134g/km from the 1.4 TSI DSG auto model. What else? Well, with low Benefit in Kind (BIK) ratings, the Rapid Spaceback is expected to provide a boost to the brand's rapidly expanding fleet sales. And 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 Spaceback might at first seem an answer to a problem entirely of Skoda's own making. People are comfortable with conventional hatchback shapes. Challenge them with something a bit different and it often becomes a niche seller or worse, ignored altogether. The Rapid hatchback is a good car but it's different, refusing to fit neatly into the pre-defined categories many buyers expect. In contrast, this Spaceback version will be a much easier sell. Although its angular shape doesn't look immediately like a Focus or an Astra, customers can clearly see that those kinds of cars offer direct competition. It's a solid piece of design work too. The interior isn't going to win any prizes for flair, but if you want to make a choice that's supremely reliable and which is available at a good price, the Rapid Spaceback more than justifies its existence.