Video review: Skoda Rapid recovery from the bottom of class
Updated Rapid now makes the grade second time around but Octavia still the smarter buy
I had them. You must have had them too. Surely we all – at one time or another – did. Those little notes scribbled in a corner of your school report card. “Must try harder.” As childhood phrases go, it’s right up there with “if you don’t learn now it’ll be much harder later” and “I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed.” It’s deflating.
Pity poor Skoda then when it launched the new Rapid saloon in 2012. After close to a decade of unalloyed praise for every new Skoda that came along (yes, even for the Roomster) the Rapid just fell a bit flat. Yes, it was affordable, spacious and well made but it felt awful to drive, with rear suspension that skipped crudely over bumps. It also committed the cardinal sin of being just a touch too bland to look at.
That could and should have been it, the final verdict. After all, the Rapid was designed to be a cheap family motor for those who don’t really concern themselves much with the finer points of handling and dynamics. Kudos then to Skoda for having a good hard look at the Rapid’s critical performance and coming back with something better.
The Rapid Spaceback is to the standard Rapid as the Audi A3 Sportback is the the regular A3. While, as I’m sure you remember, the standard Rapid is a hatchback (with a long, huge fastback covering a massive boot) so too is the Spaceback, but it looks a little more hatch-y, a touch estate-y. It looks better than the standard car, frankly.
It only moves from better to actually really good looking if you shell out €1,200 for the optional Style Pack which brings with it a panorama glass roof, nice alloys and some sexy blacked-out panels around the bumpers, rear hatch and mirrors. It really lifts the style of the car onto another level and it’s well worth the extra, even at this price-sensitive end of the market.
All told, the extras fitted to our test car (a 1.2 TSI petrol in mid-spec Ambition trim) lifted its price from €19,350 to €20,999 – not an insignificant rise for a car such as this, and it compares to a basic model price of €17,495. However, it did include such niceties as sat-nav, a DAB radio receiver, cruise control and a nice three-spoke steering wheel with multi-function controls. So while our test Rapid’s price was inflated well into (larger) Octavia territory, it came laden with toys that would cost that much more again to fit to an Octavia. A classic trade off between size, prestige and toys.
There’s no doubt but that the Octavia, with its fully-up-to-date MQB platform underpinnings, is a vastly more sophisticated and modern car than the Rapid (which is based on a mix of old Polo and Golf bits) but Skoda has really worked wonders with the mechanical updates that come with the Spaceback. It’s really only a minor suspension tweak but suddenly the Rapid feels far more stable, sure-footed and it no longer does that annoying kangaroo-hop over undulations. It still rides a little too harshly at times, and the steering feel and feedback is not great but here at last is a Rapid which feels pleasant, rather than actively off-putting, to drive.
Inside, the keeps the narrow but long cabin layout which can make for a bit of shoulder rubbing if two large occupants are in the front seats. Otherwise though the cabin is largely successful. It feels well bolted together, even if you can tell that some of the plastics are a bit of a downgrade from Skoda’s other models.
Again, the Style Pack makes its presence felt here – the glass roof really lifts the cabin ambience. On the practical front, the 415-litre boot actually loses some space compared to the saloon but it’s still big, deep and square. Skodas are always practical at heart and from this the Rapid does not deviate.
In a world of diesels, the Rapid’s 86 bhp 1.2 TSI petrol should be an outcast, but it’s actually pretty good. It’s smooth and revs crisply round to its cut-off and thanks to the dinky little light pressure turbo, it never feels out of puff even on long motorway runs.
A sixth cog might have been nice though, and would have helped to reduce the fuel consumption on longer runs, although at an average of around 6-litres per 100km (Skoda claims 5.1-litres per 100km or 55mpg) it’s actually comparable in day-to-day driving with many supposedly more economical diesels.
While it remains a choice more rooted in its bargain nature than its dynamic repertoire, the Rapid has nonetheless graduated from the dunces chair into the middle grades. The Octavia is still a vastly more sophisticated car, but this Spaceback at least now makes a decent case for itself.
Skoda Rapid Spaceback 1.2 TSI Ambition
Price €20,999 as tested. Spaceback pricing starts at €17,495.
Top speed: 180kmh.
Claimed economy: 5.1l/100km. (55mpg)
Co2 emissions: 119g/km.
Motor tax: €200.
Our rating: 3/5