Price: Approx £15,500 (range will start around £12,995). On sale January
Engine: 1,598cc, four cylinders, 16 valves, turbodiesel, 105bhp
Transmission: Five-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel drive
Performance: 118mph, 0-62 in 10.6sec, 64.2mpg, CO2 104-114g/km
If your memory reaches back to the 1980s, you might remember the Skoda Rapid. It was a coupé version of the S130 saloon, and it topped the last range of rear-engined, old-school Skodas.
That Rapid was no joke; it made you smile for reasons mainly to do with the amount of driving fun you could have for so little outlay. Autocar even likened it to a bargain Porsche 911 without entirely forfeiting its journalistic licence.
Rapid was a relative term, of course, but at least some sportive amusement was implied. It is harder to recognise this attribute in the new Skoda, which sits in today's range between the small Fabia and the middle-sized Octavia – an in-between place in the market where car-makers tend not to venture.
But why shouldn't they? Cars keep getting bigger than they should be, so we should be pleased that we have here a correctly sized family car. It is roomier than the previous-model Octavia, and like that car it has an enormous boot. Yet it doesn't look overly bulky at its tail end, an effect helped by the body's clean lines.
It also has amazingly crisp sculpting of its surfaces, and very neat laser-welding of, for example, the vertical, tucked-under part of the tailgate to the overhanging piece above. No press tool could have made the panel in one piece.
The next Octavia, due next year, will be "re-premiumed" to distance it from the well-made but stark Rapid and make it into, effectively, an Audi for less money. Many buyers, though, might find the Rapid entirely adequate for their needs; a typical owner, Skoda says, might be someone keen on DIY who likes to take control of life rather than spending extra to get things done by others.
There are some clever ideas in this car, including storage nets on the sides of the front seats' backrests where you can get at them easily, but my favourite feature is the ice-scraper stored in the fuel-filler flap, which also doubles as a magnifying glass for those long-sighted owners who might struggle to read the tyre-pressure data also within the flap.
And to drive? The Rapid's front mechanical half, including engines, is related to the Volkswagen Polo while the rear is more VW Jetta with its simple, space-efficient rear suspension. There are three 1.2-litre petrol engines, two of them turbocharged, ranging from 75bhp to 105bhp and a 122bhp turbo 1.4, plus 1.6-litre turbodiesels of 90bhp or 105bhp with predictably lower CO2 scores – although all are impressive here.
I tried the last of these, in optional Green Tec guise with stop-start and 104g/km, and it moved along with a gruff vigour which made its occupants more aware of the Rapid's low price than they might otherwise be. The 1.2 TSI petrol unit with the same power is much smoother and quieter, and ultimately a little faster while still light on fuel.
That's clear enough; what is harder to report upon is the way the Rapids cope with bends and bumps. Some of the cars felt overly stiff and fidgety, yet the possible "sportiness" this might signify was not evident in either the precision of the steering or the Rapid's keenness to engage its driver in dynamic interaction. Others moved with suppleness and flowed with their drivers' intentions, as good Skodas tend to do. The engineers admit there is some final tuning to do on the suspension before the Rapid's UK launch in January. If they get it right, this will be a lot of very useful, capable and sensible car for not a lot of money.
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