Skoda has poured success on top of success since its rebirth under Volkswagen Group ownership.
Model after model has enjoyed critical and commercial success – though acceptance in the fleet sector has been slower to accomplish.
The Rapid should help to change that. As a compact family car it sits bang in the corporate heartland competing alongside the Kia Ceed and Hyundai i30 against the mass-market models from Ford, Vauxhall and the ilk. And it makes an excellent job of it.
The car goes on sale in November, although most derivatives will be more readily available in January. Skoda is planning a cautious build up, targeting 6,000 units next year (fleet will account for 40%) doubling to 12,000 in 2014. It will become its second biggest seller, behind the Octavia.
That volume puts it up with the likes of the Renault Megane, Toyota Auris and Ceed, but some way off the sector leaders. More volume is available should demand exceed targets.
The positives are plentiful. The likely fleet favourite 1.6-litre 90bhp diesel engine offers 109g/km CO2 and fuel efficiency of 67.2mpg. It’s competitive though some way off the class-leading 88g/km of the Ford Focus Econetic.
However, Fleet News’s experiences of easily achieving – and even surpassing – Skoda’s paper figures suggests companies can put these numbers into their cost calculations with confidence. And drivers will be happy with the returns.
A GreenTech version – Skoda’s new green brand which sits below the full-blown GreenLine – follows next year with stop-start, energy recuperation and low rolling resistance tyres combining to drop emissions to 104g/km.
If changing up and down the five-speed gearbox is too troublesome, then the diesel engine also comes with VW Group’s excellent seven-speed DSG auto box.
The diesel line-up is completed by an uprated 104bhp version of the 1.6-litre unit which yields 114g/km and 64.2mpg, while perky 1.2- and 1.4-litre petrols are also available. More powerful options have not been ruled out.
Skoda continues to offer class-leading legroom and boot space. The Rapid offers 550 litres of luggage capacity, rising to 1,490 litres with the rear seats folded.
It’s 86mm shorter than the Octavia – although the wheelbase, at 2,602mm, is actually 24mm longer.
Boot space is 35 litres less, although the next-generation Octavia will increase in size to create a more obvious step change in the range (see www.fleetnews.co.uk/new-octavia/ for more).
Skoda claims 19 ‘simply clever’ features, its terminology for those extra design touches.
Among the stand-outs are a double-sided covering for the boot floor (one upholstery, the other wipe-clean rubber), an ice scraper that slides into the inside of the fuel tank filler flap, a USB interface on the front central console and an integrated compartment beneath the front seats which holds a fluorescent safety vest.
However, the Rapid is not an unqualified success. Skoda designers might talk about a clear, precise, timeless and elegant look but in reality it results in quite a bland, nondescript appearance.
At a time when others are putting the flair back into car design, Skoda has gone for a more basic, albeit clean and simple, blueprint. It’s unadventurous but, at least, won’t polarise opinion.
Given the long list of positives, this is not an insurmountable concern but could create a head-over-heart mentality among picky user-choosers.
That would be a pity as the Rapid offers a lively driving experience on a par with most of its main rivals, although trailing the class-leading Focus.
The 1.6-litre diesel pulls well while the car has a pliant ride despite its stiff chassis. There’s very little body roll while accurate, nicely weighted steering and plenty of grip enable drivers to navigate corners with minimum fuss. It’s easy to drive rather than involving.
The 0-62mph time of 11 seconds won’t excite those wanting ‘enthusiastic’ driving – it’s not exactly, ahem, rapid – but good mid-range power inspires confidence when overtaking.
Our other niggle is the ill-thought out centre arm rest which, when down, covers the handbrake. Lift it to vertical and you risk banging your elbow when changing gear. Annoying.
The Rapid is available in Skoda’s usual three trim levels: S, SE and Elegance. The mid-level SE is expected to account for 60% of sales with S and Elegance sharing the balance.
While user-choosers will be a key fleet focus, the Rapid’s high payload of 535kg will make it suitable as a job-essential car for drivers needing to carry products or equipment.
Pricing is expected to start below £13,000 – details will be announced at the Paris Motor Show in September.