A family car to beat the budget
Road Test:The new Skoda Rapid is one of those cars you could lose in a cul-de-sac. It’s ideal for private detectives, as nobody notices it. It blends into traffic like another stretch of tarmac. It’s that forgettable. In terms of looks, it’s basically an Octavia that has been put through the printer at 80 per cent.
The Rapid is a car for motorists who don’t really care about cars. It’s for those for whom the budget comes first and foremost – in other words, most people on the road these days. And that’s why this car should sell.
Underneath the saloon-like hatchback body is, in essence, a supermini platform; the Rapid shares many of its working parts with the VW Polo. Yet it looks much more substantial than a supermini; in fact it looks like a regular family saloon-styled hatchback. That’s because it is. With January’s next-generation Octavia set to get bigger and slightly more upmarket, the Rapid will replace the current version in all but name.
You need to bring a measuring tape to see that it’s not quite the same size as the Octavia. In fact the “larger” Skoda is just 1mm taller, 86mm longer and 63mm wider. Those sorts of differences mean it’s effectively the same size to anyone but the most pedantic buyer.
Four engines are on offer, but you would be hard pushed to opt for any of them over the 1.2-litre petrol. That said, most Irish sales will still be of the 1.6-litre TDI diesel, largely because Irish buyers are fixated on diesel these days.
But even Skoda is open about the fact that the 1.2-litre petrol makes far more sense for most buyers. Take the version we tested with an average of 15,000km a year. Compare it with the equivalent 1.6-litre-diesel Rapid. The petrol version costs €3,450 less than the diesel. Given that both incur the same motor tax, and with diesel at €1.62 a litre and petrol at €1.72, it would take the diesel owner 14 years to recoup the difference in price and start to make savings over the petrol buyer. Even in the 14th year the net benefit to the diesel buyer is just €2. The average Skoda Rapid buyer is not going to be a high-mileage motorist, so the decision to opt for petrol over diesel would seem to be a no-brainer.
We would, however, opt for the 86bhp version of the 1.2-litre petrol over the entry-level 75bhp engine. It has lower emissions, better fuel economy and a little more power. It costs about €1,000 more, but it’s worth it.
The Rapid clearly doesn’t live up to its name on the road, yet it never felt underpowered. The test car cruised along without a problem at motorway speeds. It won’t tear up the nation’s roads, but it will get you where you want to go without huffing or puffing. The ride is not as sophisticated as some rivals’, but, again, for the money it’s an admirable package that never leaves you feeling short-changed.
The interior, however, is functional but drab. It’s a world of solid plastics reminiscent of Volkswagens from the previous decade, functional but no fun.
The most common question I was asked in my week with the Rapid, after what it was like to drive, was what the standard €16,000 version is like – does it mean you get manual windows, steel wheels and a cassette player? You do get steel wheels and manual rear windows, but the rest is pretty much what you might hope to find in a modern family car. It gets the same safety features as the rest of the Rapid range, for example, including front, side and curtain air bags, and ESP stability control. It’s not a bad offering, but it could all feel pretty frugal.
It costs €1,800 to move up to the Ambition specification and another €1,800 to move up to Elegance. The Ambition pack is where you need to be for any comfort. The Elegance pack might seem a bit expensive for price-sensitive buyers, but it brings rear parking sensors, cruise control and those all-important rear electric windows.
You also get dual-zone air conditioning and Bluetooth (from Ambition grade up), but on the test car the air con took an age to warm up the car on cold mornings, and my smartphone and the car’s Bluetooth system refused to co-operate with each other.
Arguably, the specification is our greatest gripe with this car. The standard version – and certainly the midlevel one – should have some more comfort features. Other superminis for this money leave the Rapid in the shade in that respect.
Overall, though, it’s hard to fault the package. You get a relatively spacious family car for less than you’d have to pay for the average hatchback. As we prepare to feel the sweaty hand of Government reach into our pockets once more for whatever loose change we might have left, the Rapid seems a hard car to ignore in 2013, even if you might struggle to find it in the car park.
The lowdown: Skoda Rapid 1.2 TSI Elegance
1,198cc three-cylinder petrol generating 86bhp at 4,800rpm and 160Nm torque at 1,550rpm
0-100km/h in 11.8 seconds
5.1 L/100km (55 mpg)
119g/km (€160 motor tax)
Entry models come with 14in steel wheels; front fog light; front, side and curtain air bags; ESP stability control with ABS braking; three-year warranty; holder for safety vest under front seat; ice scraper in fuel-cap door; central locking; CD radio with four speakers; front electric windows. Ambition adds 15in steel wheels; air con; split folding rear seats; electrically adjusted door mirrors; Bluetooth; multifunction steering wheel. Elegance adds 16in alloys; rear parking sensors; cruise control; dual-zone air con; front and rear electric windows.
€20,745 (starts at €15,995 for 75bhp 1.2-litre version)
Renault Fluence 1.5 dCi 90bhp €20,540; Toyota Corolla 1.33 Terra €20,380; Hyundai i30 Crosswagon €20,995; Kia Cee’d 1.6 TD SW €21,165
A hard car to ignore in 2013, even if you might struggle to find it in the car park.