I ONCE watched a stand-up comedian do his turn in a packed club in the heart of Reykjavik in Iceland. Apparently he was hilarious, judging by the reaction of his audience who, if not rolling in the aisles, were having difficulty keeping control of their Viking reserve. That night, I went some way towards understanding what it must be like to be deaf, or at least hard of hearing.
The guy was clearly funny, but because his performance was delivered in the local lingo, I didn’t understand a word, and while everyone was in stitches at his one-liners, all I could manage was a polite smile.
As the years go by, I find the distance between me and my comprehension of my own language is getting wider, and particularly so with the car business. It has a language all of its own. I don’t mean all the technical stuff – torque, compression ratio and drag co-efficient, for example – I’m thinking of some of the terms which usually have marketing origins. When did second-hand become “pre-owned”, customers turn into “end users”, and storage areas and cubby holes start being referred to as “family-focused interior solutions”?
Some manufacturers boast of their cars having “lifetime warranties”, which turn out to last only for as long as you own the car and at the very most until 100,000 miles. We hear of “cockpits bathed in warm ambience”, or, as we used to call it, an interior light.
The most recent example of this form of double-speak came when I got the chance to drive the new Rapid from Skoda. This is a very fine car which sits between the existing Fabia supermini and the new Octavia, which will be replaced in the New Year. It looks like a compact saloon but is actually a hatchback and is impressive as a practical, straightforward and affordable car.
Which is all I wanted to know. Skodas are renowned for being great value for money – or, more succinctly, cheap. But no. According to the company, they appeal to “price-sensitive” buyers. If the marketing people spoke a different language it got even worse when the creative guys got their say. A splendid design-type chap from the company’s base in Slovakia had excellent command of English but let his imagination run free. He was clearly excited about the lighting on the new car, comparing the headlights and the lower two foglights to a four-leaved clover and the lights in general as sparkling diamonds. No, they are headlights. They help us see in the dark.
He had one reassuring parting shot – “this is clever engineering with a human touch” – before I finally got behind the wheel. From the outside the Rapid doesn’t look much different from the existing Octavia. It’s clearly a Skoda, and quite understated, but when you take a closer look there are some subtle differences. In a confident move, the new-look Skoda logo moves up from the grille to a more prominent place on a raised crease in the centre of the bonnet. There’s now a sharp shoulder (or surely a waist?) crease line running along the central sides of the car and at the back, the traditional C-shaped rear light clusters link into two distinctive diagonal creases either side of the number plate. The whole rear end lifts in one piece to reveal a cavernous boot.
The interior is simple, with lots of legroom, and there are some clever little touches which make this car special. You can have a removable bin in the door pocket; under the front seat there’s a holder for the high-vis safety vest, which is now compulsory in many countries and will undoubtedly follow here soon; there’s the option of a reversible carpet or rubber cover for the boot, and best of all is the small removable ice scraper which sits in a holder on the inside of the fuel filler flap.
Oh yes, I drove it too and it’s very good. Straightforward, capable, economical, well-built and it’s cheaper than a lot of the competition. That’s speaking the language of the price-sensitive.
CAR Skoda Rapid Elegance 1.6 TDI
PRICE £17,850 (£19,545 as tested)
CO2 EMISSIONS 114g/km
PERFORMANCE Max speed 118 mph; 0-62 mph 10.6 secs
FUEL CONSUMPTION (combined) 64.2 mpg