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. Jonathan Crouch reports on the revised model.
Ten Second Review
Skoda's Rapid Spaceback represents the Czech maker's bid to go head-to-head with the Focus, Astra and Golf class leaders. It's good value and now makes more sense with petrol power than it did before. Yes, in terms of luggage space, it isn't quite as versatile as the brand's normal Rapid model but there's still more trunk room than many rivals can offer. Overall, the under-rated Spaceback gives this 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, the big news being that there are two completely new petrol engines, 95 and 110PS versions of the VW Group's three cylinder 1.0-litre TSI unit. Otherwise, it's a diesel-only choice, either a 75PS 1.4 TDI or a 116PS 1.6 TDI. 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 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 quite a willing dynamic companion.
Design and Build
Updates made to this revised Rapid Spaceback model are subtle and mostly limited to plusher trim levels. At the front, there are modified foglights, a redesigned bumper and plush variants get some extra chrome, plus the headlamps can be ordered with bi-xenon beams. At the rear, the tail lights now have black-tinted covers and can be ordered in LED form. Otherwise, it's as you were. As before, we'd recommend the optional panoramic glass roof which combines neatly with a 'prolong' tinted rear screen for a contrasting look that works best on pale coloured cars. Inside, the ambience of the cabin has been lifted with new door inlays, while the airvents, the instruments and the air conditioning controls have been redesigned. That's all this interior really needed. It was, after all, already pretty practical, especially out back. Though you don't get the 515-litre luggage space of the standard Rapid bodyshape, the Spaceback's 415-litre trunk should still be quite sufficient for most families; that's around 100-litres more than you'd get in a rival Ford Focus. 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).
Market and Model
Rapid Spaceback pricing is now much keener these days, sitting in the £14,000 to £20,000 bracket. That means is signficantly undercuts the standard Rapid model, though partly that's because this Spaceback derivative offers more affordable trim options. 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. As part of this model upgrade, Skoda has introduced plenty of extra tech to the car, a good example of that being the optional 'Skoda Connect services' package. This consists of two things; 'Infotainment Online' gives you online traffic information and can update you on things like fuel prices, parking spaces, current news and weather. Then there are the so-called 'CareConnect Services' which allow you to monitor your car from your smartphone, plus the set-up includes a breakdown call function and will automatically alert the emergency services if the airbags go off in an accident. There's plenty of safety tech too, including 'Front Assist' autonomous braking, fatigue detection and 'multi-collision brake' which after you've hit something, applies the brakes to stop you from going on to hit something else.
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 an impressive showing too. An average of around 65mpg should be quite possible with the 1.0-litre TSI engine in both its forms, plus the unit can get close to the important 100g/km of CO2 threshold. 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 has proved to be a much easier sell for Skoda than its standard Rapid stablemate. People are comfortable with conventional hatchback shapes. Challenge them with something a bit different - as the Czech brand did with the ordinary Rapid model - and the car concerned often becomes a niche seller or worse, ignored altogether. The Rapid Spaceback hasn't fallen into that trap but it also hasn't so far made much progress for its maker in the tightly-fought Focus and Astra-sized family hatchback statement. Hence the need for the changes made in this important mid-term update. We reckon that it's a solid piece of design work. The interior still 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.