Road test: Skoda Rapid aiming higher
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Can a compact five-door family hatchback with an itty-bitty 1.4-litre petrol engine really live up to the name 'Rapid'?
Well, in the case of Skoda’s $29,990 Rapid Sport, the car comes close to earning the moniker. Helped by a turbo and an efficient 7-speed twin-clutch gearbox, the Rapid can breeze through the 0-100km/h sprint in 8.5 seconds, which is the sort of performance larger 3-litre V6-powered sedans used to boast of during the height of their popularity last century.
The real challenge facing this “Roda” lies elsewhere. It’s curbing the desire of SUV-seekers by rekindling our interest in lower-riding five-doors that not only offer better fuel efficiency but also increased stability.
Perhaps Rapid is better applied to the speed of our transformation into an SUV nation, as worthy, spacious and value-packed compact hatches like this Skoda and Subaru’s Impreza get overlooked in our race to conform to high-rise fashion.
Last year, Skoda NZ had the Rapid range confined to a single model, the Rapid Spaceback. This cross-dressing wagon posing as a sedan instantly became a wallflower in the showroom despite possessing a handy 530 litres of luggage space. In 2017, fewer than 20 Spacebacks were sold here.
Cue a change of tack for 2018, with the larger body of the Spaceback substituted for a sportier-looking hatchback that’s 180mm shorter. Luggage space with the rear bench up drops to a still-decent 415 litres, but there’s now the increased visual appeal of shorter overhangs front and rear and the Rapid therefore assumes a more purposeful-looking stance.
There are also now two models on offer — the 1-litre $27,950 Ambition and this Sport — but you’ll all be wanting the latter because it offers so much more for only a little extra outlay.
The modest $2040 premium asked for the Sport buys an extra engine cylinder, taking maximum power from 70kW to 92kW, and adding another 40Nm of driving force by raising the torque peak to 200Nm.
The Sport is dressed in 17in alloy wheels, a leather-bound steering wheel shaped in the inverted D of a tri-oval Nascar track, polished pedals, more supportive seats, a panoramic roof, piano-black dash inserts, automatic wipers, and auto lights with bi-xenon beams and LED daytime running lights.
However, unlike the better-equipped and identically priced Subaru Impreza Sport (which also offers the increased mechanical grip of permanent all-wheel-drive), the front-drive Skoda Rapid Sport has had equipment pruned to achieve its sub-$30K price.
The air-con is manually operated and the rear bench can be folded only as a complete unit. Although there’s a five-star crash test rating and the safety equipment locker includes the usual six airbags, stability/traction control, ABS brakes, and a hill-holder; there’s no autonomous emergency braking and the cruise control lacks the active operations enabled by a radar. You’ll also have to pony up to buy desirable options such as keyless entry ($800) and the audio upgrade that includes navigation ($1500).
But there are compelling factors that could sway buying decision in favour of the Slovakian car. There’s the Skoda identity that is reinforced by clever detailing such as the umbrella stashed beneath the front seat, the dual USB ports to keep kids in the back amused, and a luggage bay cover with stowage area behind the rear bench. No more leaving that behind in the garage when carting larger loads.
A key advantage of the Skoda over the Subaru is fuel use. The Rapid Sport has achieved 5.5 litres/100km in combined city/highway lab test simulations conducted to EC standards.
Though that’s 0.9 of a litre/100km more than the three-cylinder Rapid Ambition, it’s 1.1 litres/100km less than the Impreza Sport achieved under more lenient Japanese standards.
There’s also a difference in the way the two powertrains deliver their performance, despite the 2-litre Subaru producing a similar amount of force to the Rapid Sport.
With the Skoda’s turbo and the twin-clutch gearbox are quicker to pull the trigger of that performance than the normally aspirated engine and CVT gearbox of the Japanese alternative, the Rapid feels the more effortless car to drive. That the 1230kg Skoda is almost 200kg lighter helps reinforce the impression of increased liveliness.
As for chassis performance, it’s a draw so long as the road surface is providing decent grip. Obviously the all-paw Subaru has an advantage when things turn sketchy, but both cars ride the bumps well, and possess agile, consistent steering that could be improved by increased feedback.
So, Impreza or the Rapid? For me, the Subaru was my personal 2017 Car of the Year and its active and passive safety levels still set an affordable new car benchmark. But those seeking that indefinable quality known as character will find more of it at the wheel of the Skoda Rapid Sport.