Skoda Rapid SpacebackRapid in the form of speed goes to the record breaking UK sales of the VW Group brand Skoda

who have had four consecutive years of record new car sales and already in 2013 they have exceeded the total sales of 2012. By the end of October Skoda had sold 55,217 new cars, a 19.3% increase over the same period last year.

Skoda says their rapid increase in sales has been achieved by the rapid launch of new models and having the right products at the right price at the right time to meet market conditions.

This makes Skoda the fastest accelerating VW family group brand in the UK in the terms of sales growth. Audi have increased 13%, SEAT by 15.2% and VW by 4.3%. The UK is now the fourth largest global market for Skoda after China, Russia and Germany. Around one million cars have been produced by Skoda in China in the last six years.

Globally Skoda has delivered over 685,000 vehicles to customers so far this year and will end up with over 950,000 sales worldwide in 2013. Their target is to reach 1.5 million annual global sales by 2018.

Skoda Rapid SpacebackSkoda Rapid SpacebackRapid is also the name of Skoda’s latest new model - the Rapid Spaceback. Exactly a year ago Skoda introduced the Rapid four door, five seater C-segment (lower medium) saloon designed to give class leading rear seat passenger legroom but still with a large boot. Although technically a saloon it had a discreet rear tailgate. The reason for this compromise in design was the fact that saloons are more acceptable to customers in some emerging markets such as Eastern Europe, China and Russia. The Rapid range sits between their best selling Fabia models and the new and highly rated Octavia hatchbacks and estates.

On sale in the UK from January 2014 the new Rapid Spaceback is a genuine five door family hatchback with a proper tailgate. Adding the word Space to the newcomer’s title would suggest this new Rapid version is even roomier than the original Rapid saloon. Not so because the Spaceback is actually a few millimetres shorter than the saloon meaning it offers 415-litres of boot space instead of the 550-litres litres for the saloon. With the rear seats folded the Spaceback has 1,380-litres of space versus 1,490-litres from the Rapid saloon. According to one of the car’s designers attending the UK media launch, the word ‘Space’ refers to the extra ‘spaciousness’ provided for rear seat passengers by the extended roofline and larger rear side windows.

Prices for the Rapid Spaceback start from £14,340 and rise to £18,900. Although offering less load space confusingly that is around £450 to £650 more than its slightly larger Rapid saloon. But Sam Ashworth, Skoda’s UK’s product manager, explained this by saying the Spaceback had different levels of specification, some different engine power outputs and a wider range of personalization options.

Skoda Rapid SpacebackSkoda Rapid SpacebackShe said they expect to sell around 8,000 Spacebacks in the UK in 2014 and around 4,000 units of the original Rapid saloon. It is expected that 60% of UK customers will be retail buyers and 67% of sales will be for diesel powered models.

Whereas UK customers for the Rapid saloon tend to be over 50 years in age, the Spaceback is likely to attract buyers in their late 30s. These are more likely to be younger families who are now attracted by the wide range of personalisation options some of which are not available for the Rapid saloon.

She added the most popular Spaceback version will be the 1.6 TDI 90PS turbodiesel with SE specification priced at £17,280. This model is expected to account for 27 to 29% of UK sales and includes the Greenline 99g/km version costing £17,195. The Greenline Spaceback with its slightly lower spec level than SE is only expected to account for 2-3% of sales.

The next most popular model will be the 1.2 TSI 86PS turbocharged petrol unit again with SE spec priced at £15,480 and will appeal to an estimated 24% of customers. The 105PS version of the same engine, again with SE specification, costs £16,180 and should achieve 23% of sales.

Other engine options are the 1.4 TSI 122PS turbo petrol and the 1.6 TDI 105S turbodiesel. There are four core levels of specification, S, Greenline, SE which will appeal to 70% of UK buyers, and Elegance. Factory fitted personalisation options and packs include larger alloy wheels and a £1,100 Style pack with fixed panoramic glass roof, elongated tailgate glass, black rear spoiler, black finish door mirrors, black rear lights and black cornering front fog lights. A £1,600 Sport pack includes sports seats, sunset glass, leather trim and 17-inch alloys.

From the vast range of other options I would recommend taking the £300 sports seats as the squabs on the standard front seats feel far too small. But I would object to paying an extra £75 for a set of mats and £75 for a temporary steel spare wheel.

Skoda Rapid SpacebackThe predicted best selling SE level of specification includes front and rear electric windows, electric door mirrors, air conditioning, cruise control, rear parking sensors, on-board computer, 6 speaker sound system, central door locking, Bluetooth, front fog lights and 15-inch alloy wheels.

At the UK media press launch I tried the 1.6 TDI 90PS SE Sportback as it is forecast to be the best selling version despite it being £1,800 more expensive than the 1.2 TSI 86PS SE version, which for retail customers I think is the better choice. With the 1.6 diesel having CO2 emissions of 114g/km and the 1.2 petrol 119g/km, they both fall into the £0 cost VED road tax First Year rate and then go up to only £30 for year two onwards. For company car drivers the petrol engine actually incurs less BIK tax rated at 15% whilst the diesel is rated at 17% because of the extra 3% tax levy on diesel. As for fuel economy, the petrol unit will return 55.4mpg in the official Combined Cycle (45.4mpg on test) whilst the 1.6 diesel will return 64.2mpg but only 49.4mpg on my test using the same route.

The petrol unit was quieter, nippier and more responsive although the performance figures are much the same; around 113mph with zero to 62mph taking around 11.9 seconds. High mileage customers should go the diesel route, lower mileage users should take the petrol unit. With the cheaper cost of petrol fuel and the lower price of the 1.2 petrol 86PS modeI I think it is the best option for most retail buyers.

The Rapid Spaceback doesn’t match the VW Golf or Ford Focus in terms of handling sophistication or ride comfort but it’s not far behind. I drove one version on the standard 15-inch alloy wheels and the ride was more compliant and less noisy than the model I tried with the optional 17-inch wheels. So my advice is stay with the standard 15-inch ones but pay £300 extra for the more supportive larger sports front seats.

The Rapid Spaceback scores heavily over the Golf and Focus for having more rear seat legroom. Indeed it scores heavily over all other C-segment cars in that area. It is disappointing that the Spaceback doesn’t live up to its name by offering more space in terms of load carrying capacity over the standard Rapid saloon, although it’s best in its hatchback class.

MILESTONES. Skoda Rapid Spaceback SE 1.6 TDI 90PS (Expected best selling model). Price: 17,280. Engine/transmission: 1.6-litre, 4-cylinder, direct injection turbodiesel, 89bhp, 170lb ft (230Nm) of torque from 1,500rpm, 5-speed manual. Performance: 113mph, 0-62mph 11.9 seconds, 64.2mpg Combined Cycle (49.4mpg on test), CO2 114g/km, VED road tax £0 First Year rate then £30 per annum year two onwards, BIK company car tax 17%. Insurance group: Group: 12 tbc. Warranty: 3-years/60k. Dimensions/capacities:  L 4,304mm, W 1,706mm, H 1,459mm, boot/load space 415 to 1,380-litres. For: Roomy for passengers, class leading load space, well equipped, attractive pricing, wide range of engine options. Against: Rear seat backs do not fold completely flat for ease of loading long items, not as spacious for load carrying as the Rapid saloon, standard front seats feel small so the sports seat option is recommended, some cheap feeling plastic trim, larger wheel option give a harsher ride.  Miles Better News Agency

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