Skoda's Rapid Spaceback might well be at its most attractive in frugal 1.4 TDI 90PS guise. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
Is the 90PS 1.4 TDI diesel version of Skoda's Rapid Spaceback family hatch the car that best embodies the corporate ethos of this Czech brand? It's affordable to buy and cheap to run, but nevertheless offers decent quality and practicality. No, it's no thriller to drive but in offering more than you think for less than you expected, this family hatch is well worth consideration.
It's probably fair to say that the Spaceback version of Skoda's Rapid has slipped under the public's radar a bit. Despite a name that appears to promise plenty of room in the back, this is nevertheless a smaller car than the standard Rapid model from which it's spun. Perhaps this is why customers are still a little baffled by the Spaceback. Nevertheless, it makes a lot of sense thanks to thoughtful design and recent pricing reductions. Especially in frugally-focused 90PS 1.4-litre TDI diesel form.
The 90PS diesel version of the Rapid Spaceback uses the otherwise familiar 1.4-litre TDI engine and takes 11.6s to get to 62mph en route to 114mph. You get a set of low rolling resistance tyres that are a little less forgiving in the sidewall, making an already firm riding car that bit stiffer. There's also a brake energy recovery system that lends the pedal quite an aggressive feel. It's something that you'd get used to in a couple of days with the car but on first acquaintance you'll need to cultivate a sensitive right foot. The five-speed manual gearbox seems a bit old school for a car that seems to have left few stones unturned in its quest for economy and there's no option of a DSG twin-clutch transmission. Otherwise, this Rapid Spaceback runs on a similar platform to the Rapid hatch, so there aren't any great surprises regarding the way it drives. That means you get a fairly rudimentary chassis setup with a simple strut front suspension and a torsion beam rear end. The chassis is interesting though, using a front end that's been modified from the VW Polo while the rear chassis structure and suspension are identical to that which props up the posterior of the VW Beetle. It's similar to the Rapid hatch and shares its 2602mm wheelbase but breaks the tape at 180mm shorter due to a reduced rear overhang, giving it that perter appearance.
Design and Build
Compared to the standard Rapid, the Spaceback's bodywork is different 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-itres, 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. 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
Pricing starts from just over £15,000 for this 1.4-litre TDI diesel model in base 'S' guise. Stretch up to mid-range 'SE Tech' trim and the price rises to just over £16,000, plus there's the option of a DSG auto gearbox for around £1,100 more. If you want top 'SE Sport' trim, you'll nered around £17,500 and here again, there's the DSG auto option. All variants get the equipment basics you'd expect, things like heated door mirrors, height-adjustable head rests and a reach-and-rake adjustable steering wheel. Inside, there's is a height-adjustable driver's seat, air-conditioning and a Maxi-DOT trip computer. 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.
Cost of Ownership
This 1.4-litre 90PS TDI diesel Rapid Spaceback should certainly be very economic to run. The figures suggest it can return 78.5mpg on the combined cycle and 94g/km of CO2. 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.
It's tempting to think of the 1.4 TDI 90PS diesel version of the Skoda Rapid Spaceback as an ideal car for people who don't like cars. It's not something that will induce any great passion, it's merely a very good tool to do a specific job, namely making the act of owning a car less onerous and costly than it need be. Look beyond that, however, and this entry-level diesel variant comes into its own. It's actually a very likeable thing. A car this economical and practical is a real enabler, something you'd take out for a drive when you'd probably leave a thirstier car in the garage. In that regard at least, the Rapid Spaceback 1.4 TDI turns back the clock, to a time when you might just go for a drive to see what's over the next horizon. Yes, you could spend more on a car with a flashier badge or a more adventurously-styled interior but you'd be trading off an element of freedom. Skoda might have finally hit upon the right stuff with this one.