Skoda Rapid first drive

Skoda Rapid2012 is the fourth consecutive year of record UK new car sales for Skoda, the Czech member of the Volkswagen family of brands.

With two months still to go, 2012 sales have already exceeded those of the previous full year record set in 2011. 

Their year-to-date new car registrations are 46,281, a significant 17.98 per cent increase over the same period last year, impressive against the 5.0 per cent increase for the overall new car market.

One of the main reasons Skoda say for this success are their value-for-money prices.

That rapidly brings me to Skoda’s all-new Rapid five door hatchback range which goes on sale from the 12 November.  This roomy, five door, five seater family car has pricing starting from just £12,900.  It joins the Skoda family as their seventh family member, probably to be known as the Magnificent Seven if their sales success continues again next year.

The Rapid is launched in the UK with an attractive offer of three years free servicing and low rate finance, just what today’s financial hard pressed buyers need.

The Rapid sits in the Skoda family range between the Fabia and Octavia models, in fact it is almost the same size as the Octavia, but the new model arriving next year will be larger than the current Octavia so the Rapid will be a logical fit.   A five door Rapid sportsback/estate type version will also join the line up next year.

Skoda forecast 6,000 annual UK sales for the Rapid five door hatchback and 9,000 registrations for the additional estate type version due next year.

Skoda RapidThere are five engine options for the Rapid hatch from launch, four petrol units and one diesel.  More fuel efficient GreenTech models with stop/start function and another lower CO2 diesel engine will follow next year.  For now there is the choice of the 1.2-litre, three cylinder normally aspirated petrol 75PS unit, the 1.2 TSI 86PS four cylinder turbocharged petrol unit, a 105PS version of the same 1.2 TSI engine, a 1.4 TSI 122PS turbocharged petrol unit and one diesel engine the 1.6-litre TDI 105PS with headline fuel economy of 64.2mpg and the lowest CO2 emissions in the range of 114g/km.

Four of the five engines are mated to five or six speed manual transmissions but for auto lovers the 1.4 TSI 122PS petrol unit is fitted with a seven-speed DSG twin-clutch gearbox as standard.

There are three well equipped levels of specification, S, the best selling SE and Elegance. Around 70 per cent of Rapid sales are expected to go to retail customers. Vicky Magill, Skoda’s UK product manager for Rapid and Octavia ranges estimates that the single best selling Rapid hatchback version will be the 1.6-litre diesel SE variant priced at £17,100 followed by my choice model, the 1.2-litre 86PS TSI petrol SE, at £14,650. 

For retail buyers, and after driving it, the 1.2-litre TSI petrol engine seems the clear winner because of its lower purchase price and the lower cost of petrol fuel over diesel. With CO2 emissions of 119g/km it has the same zero cost in First Year road tax and then £30 per annum from the second year onwards as the 1.6-diesel. There seems little point for retail buyers to spend £2,450 more on buying the diesel model. 

The ride comfort of the petrol model is also much better than the diesel which has really firm suspension settings.

Skoda RapidVicky Magill said the new Rapid sits in the price sensitive area of the C-segment family car market and it undercuts the new Hyundai i30 and Kia cee’d models which have become more expensive.  It also competes against the base models in the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra, Peugeot 308 and Renault Megane ranges but the Rapid importantly offers much more rear seat space, legroom and boot space and it is better equipped.

She added that the likely buyers could be retiring drivers who are moving out of company cars but still want the space, high equipment levels and performance but with frugal purchase and running costs. Other users will be families on a budget and anybody who is motivated not to spend a lot of money.

Peter Olah, Skoda Auto design co-ordinator, said the new DNA of the Skoda brand is ‘simply clever’.  The Rapid offers more space, more equipment all for less money than the competition.  We are not adopting the usual industry ‘bling bling’ approach in this sector. We have gone for sharp styling lines, simple easy to use layout of controls, a practical and easy to use wide and high opening tailgate with access to a huge boot boosted by the 60-40 split folding rear seats and with lots of useful storage spaces - all part of our keeping it simple programme.

The Rapid model name was first used by Skoda in 1935 but the Second World War ended its use until the early 1980’s. Today it is resurrected again this time has a five door, five seater family car competing for sales in what the industry terms the C-segment, we know as Ford Focus, VW Golf, Vauxhall Astra territory.

Skoda RapidWith access to the Volkswagen Group technologies and components Skoda could be seen as the budget brand of VW but their products do not exactly copy those of the parent company or its other family members of Audi or SEAT.  The Rapid for instance uses latest technology engines and transmissions from the VW family but the core platform is based on the outgoing VW Golf but design Skoda engineers have lengthened the wheelbase giving the new Rapid probably its best feature, significantly better rear seat legroom than other models in this sector. There is also a huge boot with a high and wide opening rear tailgate and the rear split seats fold down as well.  Space is a big consideration for today’s family motorists so the boot load capacity of 550-litres, around four suitcases in practical terms, is a good sales feature. Fold down the rear seats and this goes up to 1,490-litres which is huge in this sector.  The rear seat legroom is also another reason that families will like what they see. Perhaps the rear seat headroom for six-footers is not so impressive but overall the interior space is for me the most impressive feature of the new range.

Price too in this day and age is also important so for a car of this size with a starting price of just £12,900 has to be taken seriously.  There is a sensible range of engines, four petrol and one diesel for now, ranging in size from 1.2 to 1.6-litres, all good for fuel economy, and all good enough for performance.  Although 60 per cent of Rapid customers are likely to be retail buyers, the best selling version Skoda in the UK thinks will be the 1.6-litre TDI 105PS turbodiesel with SE specification and costing £17,100. 

For me, having driven both units, I feel for £2,450 less than the 1.6-diesel, the 1.2-litre TSI 86PS turbocharged petrol unit in the Rapid with the same SE specification priced at £14,650 is the best model.  The road tax charges are the same, petrol fuel costs less but the diesel does more mpg. The petrol version is cheaper to insure, it’s also nicer to drive as the diesel Rapid has really firm suspension while the petrol model has softer settings so the ride comfort is better.

Skoda RapidThe 86PS turbo petrol engine is no ball of fire in performance terms but it is responsive, it accelerates briskly from zero to 62mph in 11.8 seconds and has a top speed of 114mph.  Only when fully loaded driving up steep hills will it run out of puff.  The 105PS turbodiesel unit is more responsive because it produces more torque, 185lb ft from 1,500rpm rather than 118lb ft from 1,500rpm for the petrol, but I could live with that and save £2,450. 

On my media test drives held prior to its 12 November on sale date, the 1.2-litre petrol Rapid returned a real-life 34.2mpg, nowhere near to the official figure of 55.4mpg but I know from driving this engine in other VW products this engine should return over 40mpg.   The 1.6-litre diesel did much better with 62.4mpg on our test drive routes, just 2mpg lower than the official figure.

There is much to like about the new Skoda Rapid, mainly its roomy size, good specification, price and it’s a decent drive.  It might look a bit bland from certain angles and perhaps some of the interior plastics are a bit flimsy but it doesn’t look cheap even if the prices are.

MILESTONES. Skoda Rapid SE 5-Door Hatchback 1.2 TSI 86PS. Price: £14,650 (My choice model but the range starts at £12,900). Engine/transmission: 1.2-litre, four cylinder, turbocharged petrol, 86PS (85bhp), 160Nm (118lb ft) of torque from 1,500rpm, 5-speed manual. Performance: 114mph, 0-62mph 11.8 seconds, 55.4mpg (34.2mpg on test), CO2 119g/km, VED road tax £0 First Year rate then £30 per annum second year onwards, BIK company car tax 14%. Insurance group: 10E. Dimensions/capacities: L 4,483mm, W 1,706mm, H 1,461mm, boot/load space: 550 to 1,490-litres.  For: Roomy family car,  comfortable, well equipped, value for money pricing, low tax and insurance costs, eager to please brand and dealers. Against: Bland styling from some angles, diesel version has a very firm ride, rear visibility.  Miles Better News Agency

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