We've already published a Skoda Rapid Spaceback review when we drove a prototype, but this was our first opportunity to drive the full production Spaceback and try the efficient new diesel.
Featuring a detuned version of the familiar 1.6-litre diesel already fitted to the Rapid Fastback (confusingly, also a hatch, but saloon-shaped), the Spaceback emits a mere 104g/km of CO2 and claims 72.4mpg when fitted with the optional £250 Green Tec pack.
Only 89bhp powers the front wheels via a five-speed manual box, so the new entry-level TDI is not the strongest performer. Also, the narrow powerband means you must change gear often to maintain momentum. Still, with 230Nm of torque (more than any of the petrol models), it’s more than capable of hauling the Spaceback (plus passengers and luggage) around and maintaining a steady long-distance cruise.
However, unlike the silky-smooth 1.2-litre TSI we tried previously, the diesel really struggles with refinement. There is a loud clatter on start-up and noticeable vibration through the gearlever, while at high speeds both wind and road noise also become intrusive.
It’s a shame, because in other areas the Spaceback trumps the more staid Rapid Fastback. Fresh materials fitted to the dashboard and a smart three-spoke steering wheel lifted from the Octavia add a level of sophistication missing from the Rapid Fastback.
The Spaceback introduces a few fresh mechanical tweaks, too, with a new electric power-steering rack and mildly retuned dampers that have been softened in an attempt to smooth out the ride. The steering is light and offers no real feedback, but it does make the Spaceback very easy to drive around town.
Handling-wise, the Spaceback offers few surprises compared to its sister car. It corners with a predictable amount of body roll and there is a reasonable level of grip from the front tyres. Push harder, though, and there’s no real driver engagement.
The suspension tweaks are less than successful, too. Even on fairly smooth surfaces the low-speed ride is busy and unsettled. The 16-inch wheels really amplify large bumps in the road, sending unpleasant thuds from the rear axle through the wheel and into the cabin.
At 4.3 metres long, the car brings Ford Mondeo levels of rear space to the compact hatch sector. The optional Style Pack includes a full-length glass roof that floods the cabin with light without restricting headroom.
Starting at around £14,000 when it goes on sale in January, this new bodystyle should widen the Rapid’s appeal to a younger audience – and it’s well equipped, too. However, we’ll wait for official prices to be confirmed before passing our final verdict.