The Skoda Rapid introduces the brand’s first new nameplate to be launched in Australia since 2011, and while its name may conjure images of a sleek, sporty model, the new five-door hatch is actually a practicality-focused small car that the brand says is a vital addition to its ranks.
The Rapid is a crucial car for the Volkswagen-owned Czech brand’s local arm. It fits in the country’s extremely tough small car segment – and it undercuts many rivals such as the the Toyota Corolla (from $19,990), Hyundai i30 (from $20,990), Mazda 3 (from $20,490), Ford Focus (from $19,990) and Holden Cruze (from $19,490), while it sits level with the Nissan Pulsar (from $18,990). It also sits below its German sibling model, the Volkswagen Golf (from $21,490).
But despite the low cost of entry, the Skoda Rapid pays a price when it comes to standard equipment.
No Rapid model can be had with a potentially life-saving reverse-view camera – a feature available on all of its aforementioned competitors. Many rival cars at least offer reversing sensors, but Skoda charges buyers for that technology unless they choose the top-spec model.
It also lacks a touchscreen stereo system, and satellite navigation is unavailable. However, all Rapid models do have six airbags, electronic stability control and a five-star ANCAP crash rating. (See the full specifications and pricing breakdown for the Skoda Rapid here).
The Skoda Rapid is offered with a pair of familiar low-capacity four-cylinder turbocharged engines – a 77kW/175Nm unit in the base model Ambition that is available with a six-speed manual only, and a 90kW/200Nm unit mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic that is standard in the mid-range Ambition and top-end Elegance variants.
We didn’t get a chance to sample the entry-level engine, but the 90TSI with the self-shifting gearbox we drove is expected to be the bulk-seller.
As it is in the VW range – and the recently updated Skoda Yeti compact SUV – the engine is a willing and robust little unit, revving happily from 1500rpm. It is punchy and quick to respond to sudden throttle inputs, with enough push for overtaking manoeuvres. It also coasts quietly at highway speeds, and is reasonably efficient with claimed fuel use is 6.0 litres per 100km.
As is the case in the Yeti, the dual-clutch automatic offers snappy shifts on the move, and rarely gets caught out in the wrong gear. But in slow-speed situations there is some hesitancy from the gearbox, which can stutter and jerk from a standstill.
The Skoda Rapid isn’t based on the Volkswagen Group’s clever MQB modular underpinnings, instead riding upon an older platform.
The suspension has been set up with a firm edge, which makes it feel unsettled on rough country back tracks and a bit hard over urban potholes. There is also noticeable suspension noise, which adds to its unsophisticated feel.
It does corner quite well – the steering has a nice amount of weight to it, and up to a point there is enough grip at the front of the car for some fun to be had. Go into a corner hard, though, and the nose will start to push straight while the rear’s basic torsion beam suspension set-up can get wobbly over mid-corner bumps.
When it comes to the interior, the Rapid's is bland and uninspiring. The lack of a touchscreen media system – or any colourful elements whatsoever on the dash – means it feels drab and economy-focused. The ‘Swing’ radio system is plain, though at least offers Bluetooth phone and audio streaming.
The plastics used across the dash and throughout the front part of the cabin are hard (though not scratchy), while the materials used on the doors is quite harsh.
The Rapid’s rounded body means the rear seat headroom is copious, while legroom is also well above average for this class of car. However, there’s not much in the way of comfort inclusions – the seat is flat and unsupportive, and there are no rear air-vents.
The brand also seems to have forgotten its “Simply Clever” mantra with the back seat – there is no Varioflex sliding function as is seen in the Yeti, which allows the outer seats to be slid fore and aft for more or less boot/leg room.
Rapid’s cargo hold, though, is larger than average at 384 litres (four litres more than the Golf's boot0, and consists of a low flat floor with a space-saver spare hidden underneath. With the 60:40 rear seats folded down, the space increases to 1349L.
Small item storage is otherwise well sorted, with large door pockets, twin rear seat map pockets, decent cup holders for front seat occupants and a pair of clever seat-side pockets. However, you can’t hide your phone or music device as the USB/auxiliary jack is out in the open.
Skoda has not yet announced the costs involved with the capped price servicing campaign that will be offered for the Rapid, but if it follows the brand’s existing models it should have six years coverage with servicing every 12 months or 15,000km.
If a no frills, spacious small hatchback is what you’re after, the Skoda Rapid is certainly worth a look.
But we can’t ignore its equipment shortcomings and blandness in what is the most competitive segment of the market. For us, the Rapid is a miss when Skoda Australia really needed it to be a hit.