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Skoda Rapid Spaceback

 

Skoda is having a second try at the small-car segment with a new, more stylish version of the Rapid called Spaceback. We test the TSI petrol version.

Base price: $29,700.

Powertrain and performance: 1.4-litre turbo petrol four, 90kW/200Nm, 7-speed dual-clutch automated gearbox, front-drive, Combined economy 5.8 litres per 100km, 0-100km/h 9.4 seconds.

Vital statistics: 4304mm long, 1459mm high, luggage capacity 384-1349 litres, fuel tank 55 litres, 16-inch alloy wheels with 215/45 tyres.

We like: Sprightly powertrain, space, a little out of the mainstream.

We don’t like: Dour cabin, smaller boot than standard Rapid, option spend essential.

How it rates: 7/10

WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW? The Skoda Rapid is being phased out. But welcome to the Skoda Rapid Spaceback.

The Czech brand’s supermini-size liftback has not exactly been setting the sales charts alight, despite a great powertrain and spacious cabin. The reason, say the local Skoda people, is that its sedan-like shape (although it does indeed have a fifth door) is too conservative for Kiwi small-car buyers.

It’s not just that we like our hatchbacks. We like them to look like hatchbacks, too.

Skoda is hoping to make a bigger impact with this, the Rapid Spaceback. It’s essentially the same car, but wrapped up in a much more stylish two-box shape.

WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE? Surprisingly sprightly. Skoda is part of the Volkswagen Group, so the Rapid benefits hugely from access to the company’s great big parts bin. Its 1.4-litre TSI engine and dual-clutch Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) are the same as you’ll find in any number of VW Group products. The powerplant is crisp and strong, the DSG a quick-shifting marvel. It’s very sporty for an inexpensive small car.

There are some downsides to the powertrain. The DSG’s automated clutches can be hesitant in low-speed work or on hills. More middle ground in the gearbox calibration would be good as well: in Drive, it can labour in urban work as it tries to hold onto the highest possible gear to maximise fuel economy. But in Sport, it’s a little too busy, holding onto lower ratios for ages and feeling a bit hyperactive.

Either of the above issues would be addressed by having gearshift paddles as standard, so that you could intervene with one click. As it stands, you have to move the DSG lever over to manual-shift mode to exercise more control.

The chassis is set up for comfort, which is no bad thing for a mainstream small car. As a result there’s body roll when you press-on through corners, but any change in attitude is well telegraphed.

Overall the Rapid has a level of powertrain and chassis sophistication that belies its cheap-and-cheerful status.

IS IT EASY TO LIVE WITH? One of our biggest complaints about Skoda product is dour interior design and the Rapid is no exception. It’s ergonomically sound and beautifully put together, but completely lacking in flair and texture.

This is perhaps the downside of being part of a larger group. You get the feeling that VW goes to a lot of trouble to ensure that Skoda models are just that little bit less impressive inside than the equivalent VWs, because Skoda has a lower place in the family pecking order.

But clean and functional it is, as long as you can live with the dark tones. It remains a spacious machine, with impressive rear passenger accommodation and a large boot. However, interesting that the Spaceback has considerably less cargo capacity than the standard version: 384 litres versus a massive 530.

Our test car had the optional $1250 Enhancement pack, with handsome 17-inch alloys and Climatronic air conditioning. Worth the money for the lift in visual attitude alone.

It also carried the optional panoramic glass roof, which lifted the interior ambience a little. A further option is a striking extension of this feature, with the glass running from the roof down the back and into the lower part of the tailgate.

The elongated roof (not pictured) comes with the $2400 Style pack, which also brings an extra spoiler, darkened tail lights and black mirrors.

SHOULD I BUY ONE? If you’re a Skoda fan to start with, the Rapid Spaceback isn’t a hard sell. It’s a little different to run-of-the-mill Japanese and Korean superminis, it’s good to drive and very practical.

Those coming to the car with completely fresh eyes may find it harder to connect with the car’s conservative styling (giant glass roof or not) and frumpy cabin.

But it’s definitely a car that grows on you and it has a really cool name.

EQUIPMENT CHECKLIST

  • Air conditioning: Manual (Climatronic with $1250 Enhancement pack)
  • Audio: CD, USB
  • Automatic lights/wipers: No
  • Blind spot warning: No
  • Bluetooth: Yes
  • Cruise control: Yes
  • Driver footrest: Yes
  • Head-up display: No
  • Heated/ventilated seats: No
  • Keyless entry/start: No
  • Lane guidance: No
  • Leather upholstery: No
  • Parking radar: Rear
  • Power boot or tailgate: No
  • Power seat adjustment/memory: No
  • Remote audio controls: Yes
  • Satellite navigation: No
  • Seat height adjustment: Yes
  • Self-parking technology: No
  • Split/folding rear seats: 60/40
  • Steering reach adjustment: Yes
  • Stop-start: Yes
  • Trip computer: Yes

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