The last Skoda to wear a Rapid badge was the quirky rear-engined coupe that was axed from the range nearly 25 years ago. While it was cheap to buy and run, this old-fashioned car was the butt of many jokes.
The company retains its reputation for value today, but its cars have gone from class clowns to class leaders – and the new Rapid promises to continue the success story.
Viewed in profile, the sober-suited Skoda looks more like a saloon than a hatch, with little of the design flair that marks out the Kia. Still, SE spec adds a body-colour finish for the door handles and mirrors, plus tinted glass. Our test car also featured the £375 optional Style Pack, which upgrades the 15-inch alloys to 16 inches and adds a space-saver spare.
It’s a similarly low-key story inside, with a simple layout. It’s clearly been built down to a price, but the upright dash is thoughtfully laid out and the VW-sourced switchgear feels robust. And while all the trim plastics are hard to the touch, the Skoda’s cabin looks and feels more upmarket than the low-rent Chevrolet.
The Rapid gets lots of kit as standard, too, with air-con, Bluetooth and a USB connection, plus a leather-trimmed steering wheel and useful trip computer. It’s not perfect: only the driver’s side electric window can be lowered with one touch of the switch, while there’s no facility to adjust the brightness of the instrument lighting. But you’ll overlook these issues when you see the room on offer.
There’s loads of space in the back, as the Rapid offers 50mm more legroom than the generous Kia. Storage space is also in plentiful supply, with deep door pockets front and rear, a useful centre console cubby and a large glovebox. And then there’s the boot. With the seats in place, it offers 550 litres of space – 137 litres more than the Cruze. And while the Rapid’s rear bench doesn’t fold flat, you still get an estate car-rivalling 1,490-litre capacity.
So the Skoda takes a comfortable lead on practicality, but can it stay in front on the move? Well, the tried and tested 104bhp 1.6-litre diesel is the least powerful here, plus it’s hobbled by a five-speed gearbox. Yet due to a low 1,179kg kerbweight, the Rapid performed well at the track, completing the sprint from 0-60mph in 9.6 seconds – a full 1.1 seconds faster than the Cee’d. It feels equally brisk in the real world, with strong in-gear response.
Well weighted steering, strong body control and decent grip ensure the car feels composed and capable in corners, while the progressive brakes are the strongest here, stopping the Rapid from 70mph in only 46.1 metres.
Sadly, this brisk pace and nimble handling come at a cost. The diesel clatters throughout the rev range, while the ride is unforgiving – bumps and potholes send a shudder through the cabin and the car fidgets on motorways.
This is a pity, as the £17,100 Skoda is great value. It costs £805 more than the Kia, yet has more kit and returned the best economy, at 50.8mpg. While there’s no pre-paid service pack, the Rapid has solid residuals, especially compared to the Chevy. It looks a strong choice.