SKODA is on a roll. The Czech outpost in the Volkswagen empire has never had it so good.
Like other emerging car makers (Kia and Hyundai race to mind), its sales are rising.
The other week it was in a Cotswolds hotel, holding court for the all-new Rapid five-door hatch built out of VW bits with bespoke bodywork.
The Rapid takes its name from a 1930s saloon which was upright, black and solid by all accounts. Two scientists chose one for a drive to Cape Town in 1936 – it survived to get them home too, over roads which would test a modern Skoda to its core. In fact I’d not wish to do it in the Rapid because despite its showroom appeal (massive luggage capacity, clean styling, Volkswagen hardware, decent passenger space in the back and some neat ergonomics), the Rapid is not the most comfortable ride I have had this year in a new car.
The suspension on most of the route was restless, always busy, rarely relaxed even on a motorway. Some surfaces created vibration in the rim of the steering wheel. Some had the car jolting and trembling. It’s as if the engineers had forgotten to finish the job – or just did not notice the need for more refinement and comfort. Sorry, Skoda, because you do try hard to bring in cars at an affordable price – in this case below £13,000.
The better news is that the firmness gives the Rapid decently nimble handling and rapid response to the steering. The design team are proud of their details too, such as the bag hooks in the boot, the slots in the rear seats to hold the seatbelt buckles in place and a piece de resistance – behold, the ice-scraper housed inside the petrol filler flap. The amber plastic blade is also a magnifying glass (for map reading, say). You can specify a boot mat which has a wash-down rubber underside. In return for these user-friendly details you feel some cost-saving. A third rear headrest is not standard. The sun visors and grab handles slap back, crudely old-style, when released; the electric window motors start with a noisy jerk and do not have a courtesy delay when the ignition is switched off. And the folded rear seats leave a step in the load floor.
The test route was 70 miles each way, reaching Stratford on Avon. We saw the Cotswolds and surroundings in the charm of late autumnal shades. We ate at one of those places where lovely ladies lunch (Baraset Barn if you are passing).
The outward drive was in the only diesel (a cheaper one is on the way) and back was in the weaker of the 1.2 TSI petrol engines. Both were on 16-inch alloy wheels. The diesel was powerful but too noisy. In top gear (fifth) is was turning at just 2000 revs at 70mph yet sounded stressed and as harsh as the suspension. The trip computer said 53 miles a gallon.
The petrol engine was quieter, which made the fidgety ride more bearable. At 70 in fifth, the engine was churning faster than the diesel but it sounded and felt less anxious – except for the unwanted rattles in various areas. The trip computer showed 48 miles a gallon. On the basis of these two drives there is not an economic reason for buying the diesel. It costs a stack more, weighs an extra 100kg, will take longer than you own the car to pay back with lower running costs and is too raucous.
Why buy a Rapid? There is definitely a showroom appeal. It looks smart. You may like the body shapes, the ways the panel surfaces have been manipulated to catch the light, prices are tempting and you get a lot of car. Just don’t sign up until you have been for a long test drive. There are cars which are nicer to drive, but maybe you don’t care. «