Reliable? Certainly. Cool? Not quite

 
Ryan Borroff
Skoda has built a strong reputation on its solid, dependable cars. Now it’s aiming for something more stylish

SKODA’S transformation under the stewardship of Volkswagen Group has been nothing short of remarkable. In 15 years it has evolved to become one of the best-selling car brands in Europe. It is also one of the most decorated, in terms of awards.

So we know that Skoda makes good cars. But are they cool? Not really. Skoda’s reputation has been built on reliable and affordable practicality, but now it wants to make cars that are more desirable and attractive. Its latest model, the Rapid Spaceback, is a family hatchback designed to attract younger buyers to Skoda and follows on the heels of the stylish little city car Citigo, and the unusual-looking Yeti SUV, which has been extremely successful in the compact 4x4 segment.

The Spaceback is designed to be good value, practical and more stylish than its Rapid sibling, which has a rather more conventional saloon car look, despite also being a hatchback. The fact that it has more boot space than the Spaceback seems incongruous until you realise Skoda is marketing this car against rivals including the Kia Ceed and Ford Focus.

The spaciousness is enhanced by a panoramic sunroof that runs from the front to the back of the car. Anyone with young children will understand immediately the benefit of this in the baby-distraction stakes. Unfortunately, the sliding roof blinds are manually-operated which means it can be tricky to open and close them while driving.

I tested the 1.4-litre petrol model and the 1.6-litre diesel version which looks set to be the biggest seller in the UK. Both cars were comfortable and surprisingly quiet when underway with excellent ride, but the diesel model was marginally better. This is likely to be because its manual gearbox provided a more engaging drive. Both sets of figures are impressive. The turbocharged 1.4 TSI 122PS model is able to reach 62mph in 9.4 seconds and has economy of 51.4mpg with CO2 emissions of 127g/km. The diesel engine is available in two versions: a fairly powerful 105PS or an entry-level 1.6 TDI CR 90PS engine. I tried the latter, which can return up to 64.2mpg (combined) but as much as 74.3mpg if fitted with efficient GreenLine technology, including Start-stop and brake energy recovery and rolling resistance optimised tyres. Other aerodynamic features designed to reduce drag include a special front grille cover, covered air intakes, wheel covers and an optional rear spoiler. In this guise, it’s possible to achieve a tax-busting emissions rate of 99g/km.

On the road, the Spaceback isn’t exciting, but then it doesn’t pretend to be. It’s a practical, no nonsense, comfortable runabout that offers a predictably likeable drive. The interior is well-designed, if conservative in the way it’s put together. It doesn’t look or feel cheap; in fact it feels very German, similar to the VW Golf or Audi A3. The steering is slightly too light but it’s accurate enough. It isn’t luxurious but there’s a simple warmth to the interior that puts you in mind of a dependable workhorse, which should appeal to the masses.

It may not be the ground-breaking, brand-redefining car Skoda was aiming for, but if you’re looking for family transport in an unusual package that offers good value for money, you could do an awful lot worse.

THE FACTS: SKODA RAPID SPACEBACK 1.6 TDI 90PS

PRICE: £17,280
0-62MPH: 11.9 secs
TOP SPEED: 113mph
CO2 G/KM: 114g/km
MPG COMBINED: 64.2mpg

The VERDICT:

DESIGN Four Stars
PERFORMANCE Three Stars
PRACTICALITY Four Stars
VALUE FOR MONEY Four Stars