The Skoda Rapid
is a brand new small family car from Skoda, sitting between the Fabia
in the range. However, it's much closer in size to the larger of those two cars; in fact, it's 30cm longer than our favourite small family car, the Volkswagen Golf
Despite that, though, the range is expected to cost from less than £13,000, and higher-specified models will undercut a similarly equipped Ford Focus or VW Golf by more than £3000.
What might well also surprise you is that, although the Rapid looks more like a saloon, it's actually a hatchback, with the emphasis on space as much as it is on low prices.
With the car due to go on sale in November, Skoda is yet to confirm full details of the range, but we can expect a line-up of familiar VW Group engines, and a choice of trims in keeping with Skoda's other models: S, SE and Elegance. What's the 2012 Skoda Rapid like to drive?
We've driven two versions of the Rapid so far: the 1.2 TSI petrol and the 1.6 TDI diesel, both of which have 104bhp and have five-speed manual gearboxes.
That might not sound like much power for such a big car, however both engines suit the car very well. They pull strongly from low revs and respond well through the mid-range, making for easy progress. The 1.2 TSI engine, in particular, is a cracker, pulling across a wider rev range than the diesel and with greater refinement. It might look like a saloon, but the Skoda Rapid is actually a hatchback
Whichever engine is under the bonnet, the Rapid is a fine car to drive, with well balanced handling and a solid feel on the road. True, it doesn't have the class of, say, a Ford Focus or VW Golf, but it's not far behind.
Around town, the light steering and good visibility to the side and front (if not the rear, where the high bootlid restricts your view) make it easy to manoeuvre, and the Rapid sits securely on the motorway. Only the relatively large amount of wind noise disturbs your otherwise calm progress.
Across country, there's a similarly sure-footed feel through the twists and turns, and you have to be pretty brutal to upset the Rapid's composure. It turns into corners well, and any body roll is well controlled. The Skoda Rapid is composed and sure-footed, but you pay with a firm ride
The only real downside is that such control and composure have been achieved by relatively firm suspension settings, and the ride can occasionally be a little uncomfortable – especially on the petrol-engined car. What's the 2012 Skoda Rapid like inside?
It's inside where Skoda's cost-conscious development is most obvious – the simple appearance and back-to-basics nature of the cabin see to that.
However, what the cabin also demonstrates is that there's a difference between being cost-conscious and feeling cheap, because – despite the wide use of hard black plastic, occasionally flimsy/flexible materials and odds and sods from other VW Group models – the last thing the Rapid looks and feels is cheap.The cabin uses economy materials, but it certainly doesn't feel cheap as a result
In fact, if you avoid the all-black interior and choose some contrasting colours on the dashboard and doors, the cabin is a smart, classy space. There's certainly no faulting the layout of the controls, the amount of stowage up front or the fine driving position, which is achieved by combining a reach- and rake-adjustable steering wheel with generous head- and legroom.Family-car buyers will be impressed by the Skoda Rapid's rear legroom and access
However, it's the space in the back that will really impress family-car buyers: not only is access to the rear seats excellent, there's as much legroom as there is in the largest small family cars, and only passengers over six feet tall will suffer from any shortage of headroom.
To cap it all, the boot is huge, and accessed through a high-opening, wide tailgate. Never mind it being bigger than a Focus's, it's bigger than a Mondeo's, and we have only two quibbles: first, the 60/40 split rear seats don't fold down completely flat because the bases are fixed; and, secondly, it's quite a drop from the sill to the boot floor, making it awkward to load and unload heavy items. Should I buy one?
This is a hard question to answer, given that the most important elements in the equation – the price and specification – are still a couple of months away from being confirmed.
However, what our brief experience of the car has shown is that it has real potential. It's a spacious and practical car that's also a fine vehicle to drive; and, at a time when value-for-money is a top priority for most, the Rapid is sure to tempt Focus and Golf buyers. It will even tempt those who are turning towards so-called 'budget' brands such as Kia and Hyundai. The boot is huge – bigger than a Ford Mondeo's, in fact
There's no doubt the Rapid should be on the shopping list of anyone in the market for a small family car – and with the right package of kit and cost, it could well be at the top of that list.
If you want to wait, sister car, the Seat Toledo
is launching in the spring of next year.
Read the full Skoda Rapid review >> Rivals:Hyundai i30Kia Cee'dWhat Car? says…Andy Pringle