The Numbers

1197cc I4, FWD, 77kW, 175Nm, 0-100km/h 10.2secs, 193km/h max, 5.4L/100km, 125g/100km CO2

The Topgear Verdict

Very practical, very clever, very cheap. But also faced with very mature competition.

2014 Skoda Rapid Spaceback

What is it?

Ironically named, for one thing. And at $18,990, it’s also very cheap, desperately European and slightly confused about its identity. Skoda says the Rapid - powered by a choice of two excellent VW engines, the 77TSI and 90TSI - sits in the small-car class and is thus up against zillion sellers like Mazda's 3, Hyundai's i30 and the Toyota Corolla. No mention is made of Golf, of course, because it's not nice to bite the hand that gives you your engines.

What’s new about it?

Skoda has pulled the neat trick of building this car on a Polo platform, and then stretching the body to make it the size of a car in the next segment up. The result is a really impressive boot (550 litres versus 308 for a Mazda 3) excellent legroom and a spacious cabin, particularly if you stump up an extra $1800-$2100 (depending on spec level) for the Style Pack, which adds a giant panoramic glass roof.

The stylish option also adds a very cool looking tinted glass tailgate to what is an already attractive, and Audi A3-like, rear end. Sadly it does nothing to save what is an unfortunate and unloveable face, with a grille that looks like one of those optional attachments for your electric razor that you've never used.

Inside, it feels like a VW that's had a few hard years living on the streets as a drug addict. There are some nice and familiar flourishes, but overall there's too much hard black plastic and the seats feel a bit light on.

Still, you are getting a genuinely European car (although one wonders if that dusting of quality applies to Skodas in the minds of Australian buyers) with six airbags, nicely calibrated electromechanical steering, and a fantastic engine.

What’s it like to drive?

The power trains are so good they really do lift your whole perception of the Rapid as soon as you go for a drive. The 77kW, 175Nm base model, which comes with a six-speed manual at that sub-$19K price, is not exactly quick, but it is fun to drive, and it even makes enthusiastic noises as you row it through the gears. It’s a car that reminds you how much fun changing gears used to be.

Step up to the 90kW, 200Nm version (starting at $21,890), which comes with a seven-speed DSG gearbox, and you can even start to enjoy yourself. There's a lack of sound deadening materials compared to a VW, which makes the driving experience aurally involving, and when you really throw the Rapid into some bends it sounds, and feels, like it's really working hard.

There's some body roll in extremis, and big bumps can shock the chassis, but in general it copes with corners with much of the composure you'd expect from a Polo.

So is it worth the coin?

It's not a patch on the Golf that shares its 90TSI heart, but then it's a hell of a lot cheaper. Sadly, "I bought a cheap Golf" doesn't have that much of a ring to it.

Would you take it or a Mazda3?

The Skoda Rapid does offer value, and some fine engines, but the problem is that it doesn't feel as special, or as solid, as a Mazda 3, and just shouting "but we're European!" probably won't be enough to win over Australian buyers.

Reviewed by: Tim Booth

Driven: February 03, 2014