Forget the old jokes ...Skoda's got a winner

By Damien O'Carroll

Damien O'Carroll checks out the new Skoda with the vintage name

Rapid is a well-established Skoda name, but this version of it has many features which dispose of the old Skoda and seem certain to make it a success. Pictures / Damien O'Carroll
Rapid is a well-established Skoda name, but this version of it has many features which dispose of the old Skoda and seem certain to make it a success. Pictures / Damien O'Carroll

At first glance, the Skoda Rapid would appear to be the new boy in the Skoda range slipping gently in, as it does, between the Fabia and Octavia.

But look a bit deeper into Skoda's history and you will find that the Rapid is one of the elders of the family, albeit with a patchy model heritage that runs back to 1935 and the first range of "modern" cars produced by Skoda after the introduction of a radical new chassis with independent suspension all around.

Back then the line-up consisted of the small Popular, the Rapid, the Favorit and the Superb. Available as a four-door saloon, a two-door coupe and a two-door convertible, the original Rapid boasted a mighty 19kW 1.2-litre six-cylinder engine and was in production from 1935 until 1947, when the name was dropped.

It was revived in 1984 for a coupe version of the rear-engined 130/135/136 sedan, again with a 1.2-litre engine - this time an inline four-cylinder with 40kW of power.

This version stayed in production until 1990.

Then in 2011, the Rapid name was dusted off again for an Indian market version of the Volkswagen Vento (or Golf Mk5 sedan). The following year a Rapid for the European and Chinese markets was revealed that, while on the surface looked very much like the Indian car, was totally different.

Based on the same platform as the Roomster, with components from the VW Polo, the new Rapid boasts considerably more power than its ancestors, with a 1.2-litre turbo four-cylinder engine that pumps out 90kW of power and an impressive 200Nm of torque.

The Rapid marks the end of a product lull for Skoda, being the first new model introduced by the company in New Zealand in three years - the last was the Yeti.

It also marks the start of an avalanche of new product for Skoda, with eight new or revised models being introduced over the next six to eight months, six of which we will be seeing in New Zealand.

This includes a new Octavia (including a vRS model with the 162kW engine first seen in the Golf GTI), a facelifted Superb and Yeti, the Citigo city car and the Rapid Spaceback - otherwise known as a hatch - that will appear in the first quarter of next year.

So if the hatch is coming next year, that means we have a Rapid sedan here now, right? Well, no, because while the new Rapid looks very much like a sedan, it is - like its bigger brother Octavia - a liftback. A liftback with an impressive amount of boot space - 530-litres to be precise - and rear seat legroom.

While this adds up to an impressive experience inside, it does give the Rapid a slightly long, slightly awkward look similar to that of the Superb.

Not that it is unattractive; it just looks slightly ungainly from some angles.

Generally speaking though, the Rapid is an attractive small car. A new Skoda corporate face makes its appearance on the Rapid, replacing the old-fashioned grille with a far more modern and attractive chrome grin and a honeycomb lower intake that was previously reserved for vRS models.

The Rapid comes standard on 16in alloy wheels, front and rear fog lights, body-coloured mirrors and door handles, daytime running lights and electrically adjustable (and heated) door mirrors.

On the inside, the Rapid gets a multifunction, four-spoke steering wheel, a Bluetooth telephone connection with voice control, a tyre pressure monitoring system, cruise control, a six-speaker audio system and cloth trim.

While the interior is nicely put together and well laid out, it does have quite a lot of hard plastics and it all looks a bit dark and dull.

There is a fix in place for this, but it won't be arriving until next year when the MY14 updates appear.

These will include a new three-spoke multifunction steering wheel and brushed aluminium-look dash trim that breaks up the dark look of the interior.

One thing that the first shipment of Rapids to hit our shores also misses out on is a USB input or any kind of iPod integration, something that is increasingly being taken for granted these days.

This will be remedied with the next shipment.

Skoda NZ has a $2000 "enhancement package" available that adds 17in alloy wheels, climate air conditioning, rear parking sensors and an improved stereo to the basic package.

Also coming is a "sports package" that will add a different design of 17in alloys, sports seats, black mirrors, a spoiler and a decal set. While a price is to be finalised for this, the goal is $2000 for this as well.

Out on the road, the Rapid is a surprising little package, with an impressively comfortable ride and a decent turn of performance from the strong VW Group 1.4-litre turbo four.

The 200Nm of torque is particularly useful on the open road, where the little Skoda is able to effortlessly ride the torque wave at (and above) the speed limit.

There didn't seem to be a particularly discernible difference between the 16in and 17in alloys in ride comfort or handling, with a well balanced compromise between the two being present on cars with either sized wheels.

Through the winding stuff, the Rapid displays a wonderful blend of nimble agility and composed comfort that is particularly impressive for such a small car.

The engine is up for whatever fun the chassis decides to get into, with an eager, revvy nature mixing well with the fat band of torque.

The seven-speed DSG transmission is the icing on the cake, with the traditionally super-fast, smooth operation we have come to expect from the VW Group's dual-clutch transmissions.

While it is not the most lavishly equipped car on the market, the mix of handsome, unique styling, remarkable packaging and interior space, strong engine, impressive blend of ride comfort and handling and a decent base spec make the Rapid a remarkably good prospect for the money.

With the brilliant Golf 7 dropping in at its new incredibly low price of $34,750 for the DSG-equipped car, the Skoda had to be a decent amount below this to impress and be competitive - and it certainly has, with the sole base model priced at $29,990.

Even with one (or both) of the options packages added, the Rapid remains incredibly competitive in the segment and even in absolute basic trim it is remarkable value for money with a strong, modern engine and a slick DSG at base Korean model prices.

Like the Iron Curtain, the old Skoda jokes are long gone and there is no better proof of that than the Skoda Rapid.

- NZ Herald

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