We shared the Skoda Rapid Spacebacks specification and price with you last week, details that were hot off the press from the cars international launch in Verona, Italy.
We were there to drive the Spaceback too, getting behind the wheel of the 1.2-litre TSI and 1.6-litre TDI along some of the most beautiful and challenging roads in northern Italy. This is what we thought.
The Rapid Spaceback is, of course, a Rapid with a hatchback. The result is distinctive not least because of its somewhat bulbous nose (which it shares with the Rapid), which is becoming something of a feature of modern cars. The reason? Its all down to pedestrian safety legislation, which is forcing manufacturers to raise the bonnet level to provide a crumple zone between it and the engine beneath. This mandated gap twixt engine and bonnet is getting ever greater, so dont expect a return to sleek, low-line bonnets anytime soon, will you?
Other than that its a handsome car with enough quirky details to draw your eye in. We especially like the panoramic roof and extended tailgate glass options. They might cost extra (around 1,000 for the pair we were told) but they lift the car no end.
Its standard 21st Century Skoda inside, which means high-quality trim and some lovely detailing. Its also big enough in there for me to sit behind myself (if you know what I mean), and at six foot three, thats quite some feat. The boot is a good size too; 415-litres with the rears seats in use and 1,380 with them folded down.
Skoda has introduced 20 Simply Clever features in the Spaceback. Some are obviously a bit gimmicky (like the reflective safety vest holder under the front seat) but others are genuinely useful and some are super-cool.
Examples include an ice-scraper inside the fuel filler cap, a double-sided boot mat with rubber on one side and carpet on the other, a waste bin in the door pocket, and a smartphone holder (but, sadly, no integral charger) in the centre console. Clever indeed.
The Spacebacks suspension has been recalibrated following some criticism of the Rapids harsh ride. It now rides beautifully (helped by the fact that it only weighs just over 1,000kgs) and has kept the Rapids poise too, allowing you to enjoy the best of both worlds. (The changes to the chassis will be extended to the Rapid saloon too, starting early next year.)
Its no hot-hatch in the handling stakes, but the Spaceback has a neat and faithful chassis that was enormous fun to punt around the twisty roads that encircle Lake Garda. Given the cars marketplace position, and the use to which it will be put, few will find much to complain about.
The steering is, for the first time in the Rapid range, purely electric in its assistance. I wouldnt have known. Which is good.
The 1.2-litre TSI engine is a cracker and is available in 85 and 104bhp versions. We drove the higher-powered engine, which gives enough performance to allow easy high-speed cruising and safe overtaking. You might not be able to rely on the great gobs of low-down torque that are characteristic of modern-day turbo-diesels but the gearbox is nice enough to use that changing down to access the next level of performance is no hardship.
The 1.6-litre TDI engine available in 89 and 104bhp states of tune is a decent enough lump but seems a bit ponderous and coarse driven back to back with the TSI. High-mileage drivers might appreciate the TDIs superior fuel consumption but most owners will be better off with the equivalent petrol engine.
Value for Money
The Spaceback range starts at 14,340 for a base model 1.2TSI, rising to 18,640 for a top-of-the-range TDI GreenTech.
As is so often the case, the sweet spot of the range is the middle trim level; the 1.2TSI SE with 104bhp is 16,180 and there is probably no need to spend more apart from that lovely panoramic roof and boot option, of course
Skoda wants to sell 100,000 cars in the UK, with a target of one million worldwide. Thats ambitious, but, given its current form, eminently achievable; September was Skodas best-ever month, registering 10,380 cars in the UK - up almost 20% year-on-year - giving them a market share of 2.8%.
How has it done this? By building some great cars that appeal to car buyers in their own right. Buying a Skoda no longer marks you as a cheapskate; it marks you as a discerning and keen driver.
The Spaceback isnt ever going to get your pulse racing, but it is a worthy addition to the Rapid range and provides another layer to the brands range. Our recommendation is the sweet-revving 1.2 (or, if you must, the 1.4) petrol engine in SE trim. It really is all the car most families will ever need.