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It's the Frankenstein's monster of the car industry, cobbled together from the parts bin of its parent yet against all odds, the creature is remarkably captivating.
Skoda, through its parent Volkswagen, has created its prettiest car yet that has been formed from pieces of the Polo and the Golf. The name, Rapid, implies performance but it's not the neck-snapping thrill but the name of one of its ancestors. And as the world's third-oldest carmaker, it has a few of those.
Rapid is a clever but user-friendly family sedan that has a huge liftback tailgate to become a versatile family ha uler. It has the biggest interior in its class and the most fuel efficient range. But though clever and pretty and logical, it faces an acceptance battle against a most difficult foe. You.
No prices yet but Skoda Australia's boss Matthew Wiesner indicates the three-engine range will start about $21,000. That suits the market and slots in neatly against rivals. But while the Rapid may appear to lose with its smaller-capacity engines, the fact is these powerplants are very responsive and very economical. Skoda adds a lot of neat features that purists - yes, Peugeot buyers - will adore.
These can be as simple as clever stowage systems or the reversible cargo mat. The Rapid is simple, very efficient in everything from its engine to the way the cabin is designed, and very attractive. It's also much, much bigger on the inside than its rivals. Don't expect gadgets - this is on for the pragmatic family.
Fresh, timeless and crisp is how designer Karl Neuhold describes his baby. A nd he doesn't miss the point. This is a pretty car that has an edge on its rivals which, by comparison, look dated. The Rapid is a surprisingly big car that looks small, yet its interior makes no excuses.
It has more legroom than the bigger Skoda Octavia and 10mm more headroom while the boot - hidden beneath a long and almost invisible liftback hatch, accepts more boot space. The wheelbase is 84mm longer than the Octavia, too, so delivering the bigger cabin.
Exterior styling is perfectly balanced and virtually dateless, though the cabin reflects many Volkswagen ideals. Not a bad thing because it all works but indicates Volkswagen's presence. Clever ideas - most from factory workers contributing to a suggestions box - include a plastic square for scraping ice off the car, pockets in the side of seats for water bottles and mobile phones, a reversible boot floor to carry wet items, rear seatbelt holders and the Euro-demanded safety vest under the driver's seat. Smart.
Drivetra in components are replicated from Volkswagen Group and include the more simple, economical and durable components. There is no twincharger engine, for example, and Rapid only gets three transmissions - seven-speed dual-clutch DSG auto and a five and a six-speed manual - attached to a turbo-diesel and 1.2 and 1.4-litre petrol engines.
The rear suspension is a torsion beam (rather than the more sophisticated multi-link systems chosen for superior road holding) because Skoda demands simplicity, cos t effectiveness and this design takes up far less room than the alternative. More room saved under the body means more room for occupants and their luggage. The steering is electric-assist and safety is up to the top of the class.
The Rapid is untested but I'm assured it's five-star crash rated. There's six airbags, all the normal electronic aids, corner foglights, a tyre pressure monitor, Isofix child seat/bassinet restraints and a full-size spare wheel.
Three cars were tested in Slovakia, two which we will get come March and the third a derivative taken for a spin to gauge its ride qualities. The 77TSI is a 1.2-litre turbo-petrol coming here with a five-speed manual gearbox and presents as a sparkling car with excellent roadholding and a good ride.
Roads were like Australia - rutted and crumbling bitumen - which produced some noise boom inside the cabin, while 100km/h-plus stints showed some wind noise. The 1.2-litre engine was quiet, responsive and just a joy to pun t hard. The 90TSI is a 90kW 1.4-litre turbo-petrol, attached to a dual-clutch DSG automatic, was more torquey and seamlessly worked with the gearbox.
It's as brisk as the 77TSI but not as rev-happy so was quieter and more torquey. It would be better suited to a car carrying more than two people. The turbo-diesel on test was a 77kW 1.6-litre unit that won't be coming to Australia. It was mated to a five-speed manual. Australia gets a 66kW version of this engine.
By comparison, the diesel shows mo re harshness and engine noise at low speeds. Yes, it's very torquey and quite brisk, but one of the petrol engines would suit buyers better. Dashboard controls are easy to find and use - the sat-nav is especially good and will be a popular option - while seat comfort is reasonable and visibility good, though Australia may like rear park sensors or a camera. It's too early to tell what spec we will get.
On looks alone it's a winner. People with more interest in a car that delivers on the promise of economy, affordability, comfort and safety will be first in line.
Skoda Rapid 77TSI
Price: est. $21,000
Warranty: 3 years/100,000 km
Resale: n/a Service interval: 15,000km/12 months
Safety rating: n/a Spare: Full-size
Engine: 1.2-litre 4-cyl turbo-petrol 77kW/175Nm
Transmission: 6-spd manual, front drive
Body: 4.5m (L); 1.7m (w); 1.5m (h)
Weight: 1179kg Thirst: 5.4 1/100km; 95RON; 125g/km Co2
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