Lots of space for little cash
Prices start from just £14,340. That's £3090 less than the cheapest five-door Volkswagen Golf. And despite costing so much less than the Volkswagen, the Skoda is more than competitive in terms of passenger and luggage space. There's plenty of room for adults to be comfortable in the back, and a 415-litre boot is among the biggest in the small hatchback class.
That said, the Rapid on which the Spaceback is based has even more room for bags, but then the Spaceback should attract a different kind of customer. Skoda says the modern but conventional hatchback styling will appeal more to younger buyers than the three-box profile of the Rapid. Given that car has all the youth appeal of the Antiques Roadshow, that won't be hard.
So, it's big, it's cheap and it rests easy on the eye. In other respects, however, it feels more like a car that's been built to a price. The plastics on the dashboard are hard and don't have the quality finish you'll find in other recent Skoda models like the new Octavia. The dashboard is uncluttered and the controls are logical but it's rather bland. The Hyundai i30 and Kia Cee'd compete with the Rapid Spaceback on price but offer more stylish cabins.
The driving position is mostly sound but the steering wheel is slightly offset to the left. Otherwise there's a good range of adjustment for the seat and wheel and more than enough room for drivers of most shapes and sizes. That's even true with the panoramic sunroof fitted (part of the £1100 'Style' pack), which steals less headroom for front and rear-seat passengers than most full-length glass roofs.
Behind the wheel
Out on the road, don't expect the Rapid Spaceback to match the ride and handling of an Octavia but at a lower price. The ride is too firm over sharp bumps but isn't especially controlled over dips and crests. It's far from awful but there's clear daylight between the Spaceback's on-road behaviour and the best small hatchbacks'.
We tried the 1.6 diesel in both 90PS (89bhp) and 105PS (104bhp) versions. Prices start from £16,140 for the 90PS and £16,790 for the higher powered engine. Both sound rather clattery and intrusive, although the 105PS in particular performs well from around 1500rpm and should cope with pulling a lightweight tourer. In official tests both engines return 64.2mpg on the combined cycle, although we missed that figure by just over 10mpg on our test drive.
Limited to lightweight tourers
However, with low kerbweights and modest towing limits the Spaceback is only suitable for towing a small caravan. Even the 1.6 diesels have a 1200kg legal towing maximum and kerbweights top out at 1280kg (including 75kg for the driver). If you take a belts and braces approach to outfit matching, that gives an 85% match figure of 1088kg.
We also drove two petrol engines, the 1.2 TSI 105PS and the 1.4 TSI 122PS with a Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG). Despite its modest size and power output, the 1.2 doesn't feel overwhelmed. If you have a large car for towing your caravan and are looking for an inexpensive second car for day-to-day driving, it's good value with prices starting from £16,180. That buys you a car in mid-spec SE trim as Skoda doesn't offer this engine in the more basic S spec.
Go for the 1.4 TSI and the extra power is noticeable, but it's not a night-and-day difference. The seven-speed DSG transmission swaps gears smoothly and quickly, and is well worth considering if you'd prefer to rest your left leg. However, we'd take either diesel over the petrols for towing duties.
Whichever engine is chosen, there's no doubt the larger and pricier Octavia is a much better car. But if you couldn't give two hoots for soft-touch plastics and can forgive a mediocre driving experience for the sake of space and value for money, the Rapid Spaceback is worth considering.