This is the Skoda Rapid Spaceback, which takes the elongated Audi Sportback hatch-cum-estate template and applies it to Skoda’s lacklustre Rapid.
However, being 180mm shorter overall and 135L inferior in the bootspace department, it’s not an open-and-shut case that the Spaceback is the one to go for. After all, it has less space in the, ahem, back. And at £1435 more than its notchback sister in basic form, the Spaceback has some ground to regain. Read on for the CAR verdict.
What’s the Skoda Rapid Spaceback got going for it?
Styling – it looks neater and better proportioned than the paint-dryingly dull standard Rapid. It’s also a more UK-targeted proposition: though the regular car has a larger boot, its small saloon profile isn’t one we Brits tend to fall for – see also VW Golf versus Jetta.
The dog-friendly tailgate makes more sense over here – though there is a hefty loading sill lip to conquer before Fido starts moulting over the 430L boot floor.
What about further forward?
The cabin is actually something of a surprise. Look at the rear quarters from outside and the dingy bench looks as inviting as a 3am bus shelter. But, climb aboard and there’s actually loads of room – easily enough for six-foot passengers to ride behind a six-foot driver with no headroom or leg-cramp complaints. And in the front seat, the news gets better still, with ample space for taller drivers.
We drove a mid-sped Rapid Spaceback SE, which sits above basic S but below the more opulent Elegance models. It contains standard leather touch-points, classy metallic trim and techy goodies like cruise control and electric rear windows.
Our test car also had optional touchscreen infotainment with sat-nav and climate control to lift the VW parts-bin Class of ’06 reunion cabin. And, for those options (worth a total of £850), it might just be worth it. The rudimentary but intuitive interfaces do wonders for the ambience and perceived quality inside – something the last Rapid we drove, which did without said goodies, was sorely lacking.
However, the same annoyances remain – a driving position hampered by a steering column that doesn’t give enough reach for taller drivers, and the swear-worthy armrest, which can be adjusted to make gearchanges either cumbersome, or impossible entirely.
How’s the driving experience?
Not much of an experience, as you’d expect. Handling is largely dictated by the weight of the 1.6-litre diesel engine in our test car, which makes for nose-heavy progress you’ll feel through the Spaceback’s inertia, rather then through the light, numb steering.
It’s a gruff motor, downright guttural on start-up, but it is noticeably better subdued than the last Rapid diesel we drove, which rattled like an electric toothbrush locked in a filing cabinet. The ride comfort seems to have been dialled up too, despite there being no chassis alterations between Rapid hatch and Spaceback.
Leaving all obvious puns aside, the Rapid isn’t, essentially, but it makes decent progress with the 1.6 mill on board, and though the claimed 64.2mpg is ambitious, an everyday 50mpg is entirely plausible. There are only five gears to operate via the truculent manual shifter, but they’re sensibly spaced to cater to the derv’s low-set 1500-2500rpm torque band.
We’re so used to strong product releases from the VW Group brand that it’s difficult to get one’s head around the Rapid Spaceback. Though it’s a league above a capacious Dacia Logan MCV in terms of refinement and build quality, it’s £755 pricier (in SE trim) than an identically specced Rapid hatchback, which is a lot to pay for a more cohesive shape and less cumbersome tailgate. Skoda does make some really likeable and simple-to-recommend machines these days, but this isn't really one of them.