Andy Goodwin road tests and reviews the Skoda Rapid Spaceback — a proper hatchback version of the geeky little Rapid.
When the Skoda Rapid first launched in 2012 it was rather confusingly a hatchback, which looked like a saloon. If you want to get really geeky you can call it a ‘notchback’, but essentially it was a hatchback with a naffing-great 550-litre boot. Sadly we British don’t really like small saloon-looking cars, as they tend to be reminiscent of the kid in school who wore a rucksack with both straps. So, without further ado, say hello to the shiny new Skoda Rapid Spaceback, which is an actual hatchback. Like a Golf.
Sans-rucksack, the Skoda Rapid Spaceback is 180mm shorter than its studious brother, and it certainly looks better as a result. It follows the Skoda ‘Simply Clever’ design language, with fewer fussy design cues than Skodas of the early noughties. Chrome is used sparingly – always a good thing – and there’s just one sharp crease along each side of the car, excitingly called a ‘tornado line’. Steady on Skoda, you might blow your customers socks off. The big news design-wise is sadly an optional extra, which adds a full-length, black-tinted panoramic roof, rear spoiler and extended glass tailgate. It instantly makes the Rapid look lower, sleeker and more modern.
The Skoda Rapid notchback is still the one to go for if travelling light involves taking just the one kitchen sink. Cooler looks mean the boot shrinks from 550 to 415 litres in the Spaceback, but this still beats the Golf and Hyundai i30. There’s 1,380 litres on offer if you fold the back seats down. Cabin space remains unchanged and class-leading, with particularly spacious rear seats, fitting six-foot adults with room to spare. Because of its un-sporty pretensions, Skoda has fitted flat-bottomed seats, but they proved a bit firm for long trips and offer little lateral support if you ever make the mistake of going round a corner in a hurry.
Performance & handling
With the 85bhp entry-level 1.2-litre TSI petrol fitted, the Spaceback is a fly-weight 1,075kg, which is impressive for a supermini, never mind a family car. The same engine is also available with 104bhp, or there’s a 1.4-litre TSI with 120bhp, getting the Rapid to 62mph in 9.4 seconds. Choose diesel and you’ll get the same 1.6-litre TDI fitted in the Golf and Leon, with either 89 or 105bhp.
The Rapid notchback was criticised for its poor ride quality, so in response, Skoda has fitted the Spaceback with softer suspension, improving its comfort and refinement and rolling out the changes to both models. The steering system has also been swapped for a fully-electric one, which is accurate and nicely weighted, with fewer bumps transmitted through to your hands. The 1.2-litre TSI engine is the star performer – it is quiet and willing, but even in this guise the Rapid is still very much an A to B car, with none of the handling verve of a Golf or Ford Focus.
Economy & environment
Being so light is key to the Rapid’s success, and it is able to hit impressive economy figures, with both diesels capable of returning more than 70mpg without too much effort. GreenTech versions of each engine are available for £250 extra, adding stop/start and brake energy recovery and reducing CO2 emissions by 5-10g/km of CO2. The 72mpg and 104g/km of CO2 of the diesel GreenTech stack up well against competitors, with an equivalent Hyundai i30 returning 68.9mpg and 109g/km and the Focus 1.6 TDCi Edge managing the same emissions and 67.3mpg.
Equipment & value
Skoda has made its name on offering strong value, but there’s no doubting that the Rapid Spaceback is one of its more basic models. Trim levels are S, SE and Elegance, and you’ll really want SE for essentials like alloy wheels, Bluetooth and cruise control.
The interior of the Spaceback has been upgraded with improved dashboard trim while SE and Elegance models now get a three-spoke steering wheel, with telephone and stereo controls. Our pick would be a 1.2 TSI GreenTech SE, which costs £16,430 in a range starting at £14,340 and topping out at £18,900 for a DSG-equipped diesel Elegance. It’s the petrol models which offer the best value here, so we’d only recommend a diesel if you cover high annual mileages.
The Spaceback has been awarded the full five-star rating in Euro NCAP crash tests and features six airbags, anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control. There are three-point seatbelts for all occupants and ISOFIX mounting points with Top Tether straps for child car seats.
Skoda is fantastic at building cars which offer value and practicality, and in petrol guise the Rapid Spaceback just about ticks the boxes. Sadly with diesel models starting from £17,280 in SE trim, we can’t help feeling customers will just save up the small wad of extra cash needed to bag a Leon, Golf, i30, Cee’d, Focus or an Octavia, all of which are better cars to drive.
In fact, the Rapid’s main problem is the fact it is in the most competitive grouping of cars in the world, with the above list of contenders being just a handful of them. The Spaceback needed to really stand out, but class-leading rear legroom is unlikely to grab the attention of private buyers, and its best design feature – the panoramic sunroof and extended tail glass – is a cost option.
Model tested: Skoda Rapid Spaceback Elegance
Engine: 1.6-litre TDI 105PS, 1.2-litre TSI 105PS
Torque: 250NM, 175NM
Acceleration: 0-62 in 10.3, 10.2 seconds
Top speed: 118, 120mph
Economy: 72, 52mpg
Emissions: 119, 107g/km CO2
Price: £18,390, £16,890