While it may look like a sedan, the Skoda Rapid is in fact a five-door hatch. Debuting Skoda’s new design language, also to be seen on the next Skoda Octavia, the Rapid is stately and sophisticated with a strong on-road presence.
Compared with the Toyota Corolla, the Skoda Rapid is longer (4483mm against 4275mm), slightly narrower (1706mm versus 1760mm), and rides on a 2mm-longer wheelbase at 2602mm. Despite the similarities in size, the Skoda Rapid is arguably more distinctive.
From the Skoda badge on its sleek nose sitting atop the familiar Skoda grille, sharp creases flow away up the bonnet. Narrow headlamps that help give the Rapid the appearance of width, are joined by a strong beltline down the car’s flanks.
The Rapid’s roofline gives it a sportier profile than a conventional three-box sedan, with the rear hatch bookended by C-shaped tail-lights for a unique look. There are also diagonal pressings on each side of the rear number plate, which show effort you wouldn’t expect in a cut-price model.
The interior is huge, especially in the rear. The Skoda Rapid’s class-leading 530-litre boot is accessible via a low loading lip, and the 60/40-split rear seats flatten for a massive 1490L.
The Rapid’s wheelbase is actually longer than the current Skoda Octavia (this will grow however for its upcoming replacement) meaning huge amounts of leg room and, while the sloping roofline limits headroom, still plenty of space for tall passengers.
Up front, a great driving position is easily attainable with the height adjustable driver’s seat, giving a clear view of the typically Skoda dash.
Good-looking hard plastics are joined by decent quality contact points that, while a little uninspiring to look at, present a clean and smart design. There’s a four-spoke steering wheel with chrome highlights that are limited to the top spokes, giving a slightly unfinished look.
The rest of the dash is harder to fault, with chrome again used but in a more subdued and effective manner. It’s not crass or nasty inside, with the feel of the rotary dials for the air-conditioning the only other clue that this is such an affordable car.
While Australian specifications are still to be confirmed, European markets see a three-tier Skoda Rapid range, starting with the entry-level S model that has a chrome grille, daytime running lights, remote central locking, electric front windows, CD/MP3 player, and 15-inch alloy wheels. Standard safety equipment includes driver and passenger airbags, curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes (ABS), electronic stability control (ESP), and hill start assist.
The mid-level Skoda Rapid SE gets colour-coded electric mirrors, leather for the handbrake and steering wheel, as well as an upgraded stereo and Bluetooth connectivity, while the flagship Elegance sports 16-inch alloy wheels – which fill the guards well – electric windows front and rear, cornering fog lamps, and cruise control.
There are five engine choices in Europe for the Skoda Rapid, but the Australian line-up will start with two petrol units: a 77kW 1.2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder mated solely to a six-speed manual transmission, and a 90kW 1.4-litre petrol engine offered only with a seven-speed dual-clutch DSG automatic. A 77kW/250Nm 1.6-litre turbodiesel four-cylinder with a five-speed manual transmission is yet to be confirmed but will likely join the local range later in 2013.
Both petrol engines are smooth and help make the Rapid surprisingly agile, with good throttle response off the mark and when overtaking. The diesel engine, though, while far from refined at idle, improves when things get moving. A little laggy initially, there’s strong low-down pull from 1500rpm where the oiler makes its peak 250Nm of torque, and above this point the Rapid is a solid performer able to sneak into gaps in traffic with good rolling response.
Driving it sedately around town, the five-speed manual’s gearing spoils the drive in the diesel, requiring the swapping of cogs far too often with the second and third ratios geared too far apart. The odd gearing helps the diesel achieve its excellent fuel figures, though, with a combined 4.4L/100km.
The petrol engines are better matched to their transmissions and much more lively to drive – the 1.4-litre the fastest to 100km/h in a Skoda-claimed 9.5 seconds while still returning 5.8L/100km. Helping efficiency is the Skoda Rapid’s impressive light weight. While the Rapid feels solid on the road, the heaviest model comes in at 1179kg, vastly lighter than either the 1310kg Toyota Corolla or 1454kg Ford Focus.
The ride is reasonably sound overall, though, little bumps and ruts are felt and larger potholes will upset the Rapid around corners. Despite overly light steering not weighting up at all, the Rapid has good turn-in and is easy to position.
There is a switch to turn off the stability control, but even when disengaged a brutal take-off won’t see much wheelspin or traction loss, as there’s plenty of grip. Body control, too, is surprisingly good considering the Rapid has no sporting connotations, with predictable, controllable roll making it easy to handle and adept at changing directions.
Can a car this affordable really deliver? The Skoda Rapid proves a resounding ‘yes’. It’s a well-made, reasonably well-equipped hatch that’s both super practical and stylish. And while it can’t match the Corolla or Focus for infotainment or passive safety technology, or a Mazda3 or Focus for driving entertainment, it’s one of the best examples of cost-effective motoring on sale.
But only when Skoda Australia reveals pricing will we know how strong a value proposition the Skoda Rapid really is.