SKODA RAPID REVIEW
What’s hot: That low price of entry, interior space, beautiful little TSI engine.
What’s not: Cheap-feeling interior, ho-hum styling.
X-FACTOR: A bigger five-door hatch, but priced a segment lower. And a European badge, although still barely acknowledged by Australian buyers.
Vehicle style: Small hatch
Engine/trans: 1.2 litre petrol: 77kW/175Nm; 6-speed manual (only)
Fuel Economy claimed: 5.4 l/100km
The Skoda Rapid is a bit like a platypus. For a start, its name is not so much a description of what it is as a word seemingly chosen at random.
Then there’s the fact that it’s a mashing together of several beasts to create something a little bit unique. At first glance, it looks like a cheaper re-skinning of the Golf, but the Rapid is both more and less than that.
At 4.3m long, it’s pretty much bang on dimensionally, but is actually sitting on the smaller, and far cheaper, VW Polo platform.
So what you’re looking at here is a small person in a really big suit - think David Byrne in his weird Talking Heads phase.
Skoda’s designers have however pulled off the clever trick of maximising every bit of space, providing a cabin that’s roomy, with decent rear leg-room and a rival-bashing 550-litre boot.
What they haven’t managed, sadly, is a cohesive or entirely attractive design (that platypus thing).
The Rapid looks fabulous at the back, with plenty of Audi A3 touches, and can look even better if you pay the extra $1800 to $2100 (depending on spec) for the classy, glassy Style Pack. But, at the front, it’s disappointingly drab.
Perhaps the best trick Skoda has pulled off, though, is in the pricing department.
Pundits had been tipping a sticker north of $20K, but this six-speed manual entry Rapid is just $18,990.
That makes it cheaper than rivals from Hyundai, Toyota and Mazda, although, with its Polo-sourced, 1.2-litre 77TSI, it goes into battle against much bigger engines.
Will that price advantage be enough to make it competitive in such a packed part of the market?
- Air-conditioning, cruise control, trip computer
- Bluetooth with audio streaming (and mobile phone holder)
- AM/FM/CD/MP3 plus USB audio input
The immediate impression you get from inside the Rapid is that this is a car built to take on the Koreans, which is what Skoda does, quite successfully, in Europe.
After being told repeatedly about how the brand represents Euro quality, and every car is built in the Czech Republic in VW-approved factories, it comes as a surprise just how cheap and dull the cabin is.
But you have to remind yourself that this is a startlingly cheap, entry-level vehicle.
Possibly the biggest giveaway of cost-cutting is the seats, which feel thin and lacking in lateral support, with very little lumbar padding to speak of.
The steering wheel, allegedly leather, feels thin and a bit icky in your hands as well.
The stereo has Bluetooth streaming - although you have to stop to set it up - but it looks and feels like a very basic radio from days of yore.
The dash is made up of swathes of slightly unpleasant black plastic and the controls just don’t have the quality feel you get in the Polo.
The instruments are nice and clear though, and at least it doesn’t smell like a cheap chemical factory, the way some competitors do.
On the plus side, it’s a very spacious cabin with ample leg-room front and rear, and a capacious boot, which has a slot you can slide the parcel-shelf into when you’re not using it.
Other practical touches include a very handy mobile-phone holder.
You kind of expect the Skoda to feel nicer than a Hyundai i30 inside, but it’s actually pretty much line-ball, and if the perception of European quality isn’t there. It could be a struggle for Skoda to sell that idea.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine/trans: 1.2 litre 77kW/175Nm; 6spd manual (only)
- 0-100km/h in 10.2 seconds
- Suspension: MacPherson struts with torsion beam rear
- 16-inch alloys
- Fuel Economy claimed: 5.4 l/100km
"Rapid" is certainly not the word you’d use to describe your progress in this new Skoda hatch, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an enjoyable drive.
The base Rapid is a real reminder of how much fun a manual gearbox can bring to a car, particularly when paired with an engine as willing and clever as Volkswagen Group’s 77TSI.
Yes, it’s effectively a Polo engine attempting to drag around a car ‘one size up’, but it was considered good enough to do that job with the Mk VI Golf anyway.
Pushing 1179kg, the Rapid manages a 0-100km/h time on the wrong side of 10 seconds, but while you’re fizzing and flicking it through the gears, and the tiny engine is singing a happy tune right up to redline, you won’t really care.
You get to hear everything the engine is doing, of course, because a lack of sound-deadening is perhaps the biggest difference between this car and the Polo it’s closely related to.
Again, you get what you pay for, and not a dollar more.
Throw it at a series of bends and you can hear and feel a lot of desperate clawing action going on underneath, and it kind of seems possible that the whole shebang might let you down, but somehow it doesn’t.
Fact is, you can actually throw the Rapid around with some abandon, and little fear.
The electromechanical steering is really very good and the front-end grip is better than you might expect.
The only letdown here is that big bumps can send a shock through the chassis, and you’re suddenly aware of that big suit that you’re wearing as it jiggles and wobbles a bit before settling down.
You’re not meant to drive a base Rapid like Fangio, of course, and, in the day-to-day commuting battle for which it’s intended, it will actually cope quite well. (As long as you don’t mind being an active participant and keeping yourself busy with the gear-shift.)
ANCAP RATING: 5-Stars: the Rapid scored 35.7 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: Six airbags, ABS, EBD, brake assist, stability control and traction control, three-point seatbelts, anti-whiplash front headrests.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The asking of just $18,990 for the Ambition 77TSI model tested here, puts Skoda’s new Rapid in light car territory. But while it sits on the VW Polo platform, it feels a size bigger – Golf-sized in fact.
That gives it a price advantage over similarly-sized carpark rivals from Hyundai, Mazda and Toyota.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The selling point of the new Skoda Rapid is simple and singular; $18,990 is the cheapest European-built car you will find of this size.
What Skoda Australia also doesn’t mind alluding to is that it’s also the cheapest way you can get your hands on a world-leading engine from Volkswagen - that 77TSI jewel.
The problem is one of perception.
Do Australians feel that a car built in the Czech Republic, by a company whose name and logo have surprisingly little cut-through here after seven years in the market, carries the same worth as one built by the better-known Germans?
That perception question also applies to the interior.
Yes, it’s a cheap car, and it feels like it, but to sell it on the European-value equation it has to feel just a little bit better than the competition, and it doesn’t, or not enough anyway.
On the plus side, you are getting a great engine, a very practical and roomy body-design and, from behind at least, an attractive small car with good safety features.
In the end though, the Skoda doesn’t seem to have quite enough going for it to take on the established players in this very busy segment.
PRICING (excludes on-road costs)
- Rapid Spaceback Ambition 77TSI manual - $18,990
- Rapid Spaceback Ambition 90TSI DSG - $21,890
- Rapid Elegance 90TSI DSG - $23,750
- Style Pack [Ambition] - $2,100
- Style Pack [Elegance] - $1,800
- Sports Pack [Ambition] - $1,600
- Sports Pack [Elegance] - $1,000
- Sports Pack [Ambition with Style Pack] - $1,400
- Sports Pack [Elegance with Style Pack] - $1,000