A Rapid Approach By A New Skoda …

… soon to be followed by sister stablemate the Seat Toledo!

After years of waiting, Škoda is finally introducing a compact-sized car to its range. Called the Rapid, this will slot inbetween the current Fabia and the soon to be updated Octavia models. Currently Škoda isn’t directly represented in this market segment which is popularised by the likes of the Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra, Peugeot 308, Citroen C4, Kia c’eed, Toyota Auris and Honda Civic. Other manufacturers also offer models in this segment so it is an important step for the Czech marque.

Currently their Octavia model competes in this segment but actually offers more car for the money. However, it’s replacement is likely to be larger and a more direct competitor to the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Insignia, so Škoda are placing great importance on a model that will already have considerable opposition. In line with all their models, the new Rapid will actually be a hatchback but it’s clever styling gives the impression that it’s a saloon.

In brief, the new Rapid is a car that will appeal predominantly to family car buyers. Recent pre-release road tests say that it’s practical, clever, efficient and easy to drive. Whilst it may lack certain current styling trends, it will offer no nonsense motoring at an affordable price and some motoring journalists claim there really will be nothing better on the road. Škoda has decided to be somewhat conservative in the design of this new model but attractive bodyline creases and attention to detail give the car a modern look. In many respects, classic designs stand the test of time far better than so-called experimental ones. The Ford Fiesta for example loses its value like a plummeting stone whilst its competitor the Volkswagen Polo retains value. Similarly the likes of BMW and Audi have a tendency to maintain their conservatism in design and certainly don’t lose market share as a result!

Whilst this new car won’t be available until around late autumn 2012 what can potential buyers expect? The Rapid has well balanced handling and a sure-footed feel on the road, turning into corners well with minimal body roll. The Rapid has clearly been set up to be predictable and easy to drive rather than offering boy racer thrills. The steering is responsive and nicely weighted, the gearbox is accurate and light, and overall performance will be at an acceptable level. Whilst there may not be a sense of real driving appeal, the Rapid is designed for cost-conscious motorists who seek reliability and economy as their main priorities. It will be offered with four petrol and two diesel engines each offering a range of power options. It is envisaged that many drivers may ultimately be attracted back to petrol engined vehicles not only because of the considerable price advantage over diesel-powered motors but also as a result of impending Euro 6 emission laws. These laws will take into account particulate emissions from diesel engines. As is the case with most modern cars today, the Rapid will come equipped with the latest safety features including six airbags, ABS and stability control. The interior layout is traditional Škoda with all controls laid out logically rather than in a gimmicky fashion. Whilst this may appear bland on cheaper models, the option of contrasting colours is available on higher specification models and this creates an ambience akin to more expensive vehicles! One area where the Škoda Rapid excels is its 550-litre luggage space which even dwarfs the Volkswagen Jetta.

So what of the aforementioned Seat Toledo? Mechanically this will be an identical vehicle and only distinguished by front and rear end styling differences. The dashboard is identical but there will be minor changes to door panels. Both cars will be made in the Czech Republic. Ultimately final choice comes down to styling … if I could choose, I would opt for the front of the Rapid and the rear of the Toledo! Prices of both cars are likely to start around £13000 at launch … highly competitive for cars that offer accommodation for five adults and their luggage!

For any doubters, remember that this car comes from the VW Group stable which incidentally owns Bentley! It is a well assembled vehicle built from tried and tested parts, and once again in 2012 Škoda scored very highly in the annual JD Power customer satisfaction survey.