IN NOVEMBER 2012, Skoda released the Rapid, a somewhat misleading name given that it wasn’t really that rapid. January 2014 will see the arrival in showrooms of the Rapid Spaceback, a Rapid with, er, less space in the back.
So other than messing with our heads, what’s Skoda up to here?
The Spaceback comes in the nick of time for Skoda and the Rapid, which never really took off in the UK. There were grumblings about the Rapid’s handling and suspension, but the biggest turn-off for UK buyers was probably the saloony shape of the thing.
“It’s a milestone for Skoda,” says the firm’s chief executive, Winfried Vahland. “It means we are entering the strategically important segment of compact hatchback models.”
The Spaceback certainly has a more UK-friendly hatchback look, but those who have driven both the Rapid and the Rapid Spaceback also reckon that Skoda has been busy trying to iron out some of the earlier model’s shortcomings when it comes to refinement both outside and inside the cabin.
While the Spaceback is, at 4,304mm, 180mm shorter than the Rapid, its wheelbase is the same, and because most of that length had been snipped off the back, the car still boasts great legroom in the front and best-in-class kneeroom of 64mm in the back, and there’s more than enough headroom (best in class at 980mm) too. The boot is trimmed down to 415 litres – around a fifth smaller than last year’s Rapid. The shape is lean and keen. From the side, it looks a little like an Audi A3. From the front, it could be a Skoda Octavia. From the rear, as I tell anyone who will listen, a mid-1990s Vauxhall Astra.
Starting prices range from £14,340 (for the S-trim 1.2-litre TSI) to £18,900 (for the Elegance-trim 1.6 TDI DSG). There are five engines to choose from – three petrol and two diesel, ranging in power output from the 1.2 TSI’s 85bhp to the 1.4 TSI’s 121bhp.
The real draw here, though, are the economy and emissions figures, with the diesel engines capable of 70.6mpg and emitting just 106g/km of CO2 when fitted with the £450 GreenTech economy option. A GreenLine version is in the pipeline that the firm claims will achieve 74.3mpg with emissions of just 99g/km. For a car that could quite comfortably whisk five adults a few hundred miles along the motorway without too many complaints or cases of deep vein thrombosis, that’s impressive.
The 1.6-litre diesel engine is, however, somewhat noisy, the car is a little ungainly, and the too-short gear ratios in the manual version didn’t suit the hilly backroads of Verona in Italy, where the car was launched to the media earlier this year. The petrol-powered 1.2 TSI, on the other hand, may put out just 85bhp yet still feels perky, and noise is reduced, while the six-speed gearbox seems more natural and nimble.
The suspension has been revised since the Rapid, but things still get a little bumpy on rough roads. Other than that, the Spaceback handles tidily and is assured on bends, with good grip, and body roll is kept in check.
Along with all that space inside, there are plenty of nice touches, such as waste bins in the side doors, a phone holder and cup/bottle holders all over the place, but the overall feel is as luxurious as you might expect from such a modestly-priced car.
The Spaceback’s main rivals will be the similarly-priced Hyundai i30 and Kia Cee’d. It remains to be seen how it will fare against these two Korean models, but one thing’s for sure – it will definitely outsell its predecessor.
CAR Rapid Spaceback range
PRICE £14,340 to £18,900
PERFORMANCE Max speed 107-126mph; 0-60mph 9.4-13.8s
CO2 EMISSIONS 104-134g/km