I HAVE TO admit to being a bit of a Skoda fan. Back when I worked for What Car? I ran two Skoda long-term test cars, and if I look out of my front window there’s an Octavia Estate on the driveway. It’s not a press car, but the car I chose to spend my own money on.
So having driven more miles in Skodas than just about any other make, I’d been looking forward to driving the new Rapid, a hatchback which sits between the Fabia and Octavia in Skoda’s line-up. I got my chance earlier this week, spending a day driving around the Cotswolds and West Midlands.
The morning started in a 1.2 TSI 86PS SE. After a few miles, I was struggling to find much to get enthusiastic about, despite my soft spot for the brand. The ride was too firm, the steering too light, and the wheel offset slightly to the left. At motorway speeds the car felt solid and planted but wind noise was intrusive at the legal limit.
I preferred the 1.6 TDI 105PS Elegance I drove in the afternoon. It was livelier than the petrol, pulling cleanly from low revs with a strong enough mid-range to suggest it will do a respectable job hauling lightweight caravans. It has a 1200kg legal towing limit, 300kg higher than that of the 1.2 TSI 86PS. The diesel’s kerbweight is 1254kg (including 75kg for the driver), the petrol’s 1161kg.
Even so, the diesel still seemed distinctly ordinary from behind the wheel, and the hard cabin plastics look and feel unappealing.
The Rapid does have its strengths, though. First of all, it’s exceptionally roomy, with rear legroom a close match for the bigger Octavia and a huge 550-litre boot.
Secondly, if it seems a bit cheap, that’s because it is. Prices start from just £12,900. That’s £3385 less than the cheapest VW Golf Mk7. The most basic Hyundai i30 is £1700 more, and you’ll need to find another £1495 to buy a Kia Cee’d.
You have to rough it a bit in the most basic S trim, though, which doesn’t even have air-con as standard. Six out of ten buyers are expected to go for the mid-range SE models, which come with a respectable list of kit (air-con, 15-inch alloys and a leather-trimmed steering wheel) and start from £14,650.
Skoda knows the Rapid isn’t as polished or refined as the new Golf, but at these prices it doesn’t need to be. If value and space are your priorities, the Rapid deserves serious consideration.
The new Octavia, due in showrooms next March, looks like the car to wait for if you want a roomier alternative to the new Golf. If it’s as good to drive as the VW, but more spacious and cheaper to buy, I might even get my chequebook out.