Skoda Rapid 1.6 TDI review

The Rapid is an important representative for Skoda in the family hatchback segment. Jonathan Crouch looks at the improved 1.6 TDI diesel version.

Ten Second Review

Skoda's improved 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.

Background

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 got 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 115PS 1.6-litre TDI diesel you'll find in a Golf and across the Volkswagen empire. Recwebnt changes include small exterior styling changes and extra infotainment.

Driving Experience

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 115PS on tap, this 1.6-litre TDI diesel will take you past 62mph in around 10s on the way to around 120mph. 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. Updates made to this revised Rapid 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. 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 starts at around £16,000, but you'll be paying around £18,000 for this 1.6 TDI diesel version and more if you go for it in upper-spec guises. 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. As part of the most recent 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. 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. Included is 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), a combined cycle fuel figure of 74.3mpg is possible, though CO2 emissions still can't dip beneath the magic tax-busting 100g/km barrier that some rivals breach - expect 109g/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.

Summary

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.

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