The new Skoda Rapid offers the space of a family car for the price of a small family car; but does this 1.6-litre diesel make sense compared to the 1.2-litre petrol model?
The transition of Skoda into a brand to be taken seriously under Volkswagen’s ownership is well-documented. Skoda still stands for good value, and the new Rapid, offering lots of space for its price, aims to build on this proposition.
The design of most Volkswagen Group cars is becoming so clean that any interesting design features seem to be ironed out. We don’t think this approach works particularly well with the new Golf, but the uncluttered lines of the Skoda Rapid, with its ‘fastback’ shape, actually look good; it’s an improvement on the softer design of previous Skodas. The alloy wheels of this Elegance model help with its good looks. This view is in contrast to when we saw the first images of the Rapid, when we thought it had no design flair; in the metal, it looks better.
The interior also benefits from improved design compared to previous models, although it’s still not the most exciting of environments, and it’s very dark. There’s a good amount of storage space, even though the car has a conventional handbrake, which we like, and it’s even finished in leather, making it one of the nicer touches of the overall car.
One area where the Rapid scores highly is with interior space. Although it looks like a relatively small car, passengers have good levels of room – three child seats fit in the rear – and the boot offers huge amounts of space (550 litres). One thing to watch out for if you have kids in the back is that although the car has rear electric windows, there’s no control for the rear windows from the driver’s seat. This is not good when you’re in the lion enclosure at a safari park.
In terms of engineering, it will be no surprise to learn that there’s a 1.6-litre diesel engine from the Volkswagen Group parts bin under the bonnet. This is mated to a five-speed manual gearbox.
One important point about the Rapid is that it’s essentially a relatively small platform with the addition of a big boot, so it’s lighter than most other cars with similar space, which helps with efficiency and the driving experience. It certainly feels lighter on its feet than the new Golf 1.6 TDI (which has a cheaper rear suspension set-up than the more expensive Golfs). In comparison the Golf feels more secure, sturdy and refined. On balance, the Rapid is more fun and agile to drive; although it still has the predictable and safe front-wheel drive handling that is a hallmark of the Volkswagen Group.
Overall, the best way to describe the driving experience of the Skoda Rapid is ‘competent’, or perhaps unremarkable, which it is in most areas apart from one – its ride, which is quite firm and sometimes unsettled, translating imperfections in the road all too easily to the car’s occupants. Such ride quality is often the case with cars that have a very low ride height, but the Rapid sits high off the ground – it almost looks like a crossover.
Just in case you’re wondering, the Skoda Rapid is not actually rapid at all, and at tickover and at lower speeds you’re very aware that this is a diesel engine. There’s also some wind noise at motorways speeds.
The Skoda Rapid 1.6 TDI has an official combined fuel economy figure of 64.2mpg, with emissions of 114g/km CO2. This is good, but it’s 10mpg short of the Volkswagen Golf 1.6-litre BlueMotion Technology model, which has some additional energy-saving tech such as stop-start. The Rapid would also be better from a company car perspective if it was available with sub-100g/km CO2 emissions. In theory, the Rapid 1.6 TDI also has an excellent driving range on one tank. During our time with the car we achieved 60mpg during motorway driving, but overall after a week we averaged 54.0 mpg.
The Skoda Rapid 1.6 TDI Elegance costs £17,850. The new Golf 1.6-litre TDI S costs £19,565, so the Rapid is considerably cheaper, as well as significantly more spacious. However with its options – Black Magic pearl paint £495, Sat-nav Pack £550, Summer Pack £500, Style Pack £375, Reversible boot floor £75, its total price came to £19,845, which is back on par with the Golf. There are also lots of other very good cars out there for £20,000.
The Rapid has three trims to choose from: S, SE and Elegance. All models have remote central locking, curtain airbags, daytime running lights and electric front windows. SE trim adds 15-inch alloys, air-conditioning and Bluetooth. The top of the range Elegance models – as per our test car – gain 16-inch alloys, front foglamps, cruise control and rear electric windows.
Just as an observation, it seems that all the equipment of Volkswagen Group cars is controlled by accountants, who carefully manage the items of equipment that either go in or come out of Volkswagens, Audis, SEATs and Skodas, to make the pricing structure work – and the resulting profits.
Also of note is the Skoda Rapid 1.2 TSI 86 PS model, which has an official combined fuel economy figure of 55.4mpg – less than 10mpg short of the 1.6 TDI – and it starts at £13,700. This is cheaper than many superminis, yet the Rapid offers massive amounts of extra space. Unless you’re covering very high mileages, the 1.2 TSI 86 PS model makes more sense than the 1.6 TDI, which is expensive in comparison.
The Skoda Rapid 1.6 TDI is a competent car for the money; it offers lots of space, it’s reasonably efficient, and it looks clean and modern – all which may be enough for many car buyers. However it’s getting expensive in the 1.6 TDI Elegance spec of our test car, it would benefit from a more refined ride, and the name Rapid may be confusing to some, because it’s very hard to find any evidence to support such a description. If people get excited by the word ‘Rapid’, driving the car may result in some disappointment. We had very high expectations of the new Golf, but in 1.6-litre TDI form we were slightly disappointed. We didn’t have any such expectations with the Skoda Rapid, and we were pleasantly satisfied – which translates to a Green-Car-Guide rating of 7 out of 10.
Perhaps the big issue for the Skoda Rapid is competition such as the Kia Cee’d. Skoda stands for sensible no-frills value; now we have Kia and Hyundai offering cars at similar value, but often with more frills in the areas of design, interiors, equipment and driving refinement. Although Kia and Hyundai may have suffered from perceptions about their badges in the past, this is less the case today, and the badge on a car is something that potential Skoda owners are not likely to be particularly concerned about.