Cheap, solidly built, practical and available with a good 1.0-litre engine
Based on an old platform, suffers the consequences. Doesn't ride or handle particularly well, and has a cheap-feeling interior
What is it?
Ostensibly it’s a hatchback version of the ordinary Rapid saloon – the irony being it really, really isn’t – that, judging by the size of it, ought to compete with the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra and so on. Only it doesn’t really, because that’s the Octavia’s job. The Spaceback exists to plug the gap between the Octavia and the smaller Fabia, both in terms of price and size (though it’s actually a little narrower and lower than the Fabia). Basic ones can be had for less than £15K, with top-spec cars coming in at almost £20K. The Fabia starts at £10.5K, and the Octavia just under £18K.
It’s been around for a few years now (the Rapid was facelifted midway through 2017), and is one of the few remaining small, European VW Group cars not based on a version of the MQB platform. The front-end is lifted from the last-generation Volkswagen Polo, and the rear from the first-generation Skoda Octavia. This makes it cheap to build (and therefore sell), but means it’s not quite as good to drive, comfortable or refined as other VW Group products.
Skoda says the Spaceback is all about practicality, space and functionality rather than cutting-edge tech’ or especially amusing handling. So it’s got a 415-litre boot (very healthy given its size and price, expandable to 1,380 if you fold the seats) and a few little “Simply Clever” touches borrowed from bigger, more expensive Skodas like the Superb. Touches like the small umbrella that lives in a drawer under the passenger’s seat, or the ice scraper you’ll see when you open the fuel-filler cap.
Engines on offer include two versions of the excellent 1.0-litre, three-cylinder turbocharged petrol, plus 1.4 and 1.6-litre diesels. The lower-powered petrol and 1.4-litre diesel engines are available with a seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox instead of the standard five- or six-speed manual, but for a hefty premium of over £1K. The only engine we’ve sampled is the 108bhp version of the 1.0-litre petrol, which comes with front-wheel drive and a six-speed manual gearbox. There is no vRS performance version.
Our choice from the range
What's the verdict?
The Rapid Spaceback feels like a solidly-built car. It’s inexpensive compared to many rivals and practical given its size, but ultimately compromised by the aging platform on which it’s based. It doesn’t ride or handle very well, and while it can be bought with a good 1.0-litre petrol engine, that’s not enough to make up for the shortcomings. If you’re really on a budget, want a brand new car and don’t care much about whether it’s very enjoyable to drive then by all means ago ahead, but know that the new Seat Ibiza and VW Polo are very good cars, and not that much smaller.