Rapid will appeal to buyer who’ll never be deemed a tryhard

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SKODA’S Rapid squeezes into a gap in the range between the Fabia and Octavia, but it’s not a great deal smaller than its big sibling and its boot is huge.

The Skoda Rapid is one of those cars that sparks wildly diverging memories. There won’t be too many who remember the launch of the 1935 original. The badge will be more familiar to those who recall it on the rump of the rear-engined Rapid Coupe from the mid-Eighties. Seen as a bit of a joke car by many, those in the know loved the way it drove and motoring writers affectionately dubbed it the poor man’s Porsche 911. Yes, it was a bit rough and ready but it was great fun and just stuffed to bursting point with character.

Fast forward to 2012 and we have a new generation of Rapid. The quirks and idiosyncrasies might have been ironed out, but it’s a long way from rough and ready. Although it looks like a saloon, it’s actually a closet hatchback, with a huge boot and plenty of legroom inside.

There’s a simple strut front suspension and a torsion beam rear end with tried and trusted Volkswagen Group engines plumbed under the bonnet.Light steering and excellent all-round visibility make the Rapid an easy car to drive. There really is very little that’s at all threatening or intimidating about this Skoda.

The entry-level engine in the range is a 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol unit that packs 75PS. It’ll thrash its way to 60mph in 13.4 seconds. A more satisfying option can be found in the rather brilliant turbocharged 1.2-litre TSI four units (in 86 and 105PS states of tune) while there’s a seven-speed DSG-gearboxed 122PS 1.4-litre TSI at the top of the range that looks a little redundant but which is the only car in the line-up that can crack 10 seconds to 60mph. Diesel drivers get a 1.6-litre turbodiesel with 105PS. So, as you can see, rapidity isn’t big on the Rapid’s agenda.

The Rapid is an unusually proportioned car. Fairly long and relatively narrow (4.48 metres in length, 1.7 metres in width), it’s a hatchback that looks much like a saloon and is also a good deal bigger than you first expect and indeed expect at its price point. The chassis is shared with the SEAT Toledo which will have its work cut out against the Skoda. It’s not extrovertly styled in any way and this feeling of sparse utility is really rather refreshing in a market rammed with gaudy attention seekers.

Unconventional

The interior is unconventional in its own way as well. There are any number of arriviste rivals that have tried to up the quality of the materials used but still haven’t got the hang of an elegant and classy look. The Rapid is the opposite. Touch many of the cabin plastics and they’re rather hard and scratchy, but it looks well built. It looks elegant. It looks, above all else, as if it’s not trying too hard. And if there’s a better definition of cool than that, I’ve yet to hear it.

Rear legroom is excellent although shoulder room is a pinch for three. Headroom is good as well, while the boot is bigger than that of a Ford Mondeo and accessed through a huge tailgate.

Pricing start at around £13,000, so you’re paying a lot less than you would be for a basic Ford Focus (which starts from around £14,000). Despite this, the standard specification runs to remote central locking, curtain airbags, daytime running lights, rake/reach-adjustable steering wheel, a height-adjustable driver’s seat and electric front windows.

SE trim starts at around the £15,000 mark and adds 15-inch alloy wheels, body-coloured door mirrors and handles, air-conditioning, a Maxi-dot trip computer, an MDI (Multi Device Interface), a leather steering wheel and Bluetooth connectivity. Buyers opting for range-topping Elegance models benefit from 16-inch alloys, cornering front fog lamps, cruise control, a height-adjustable passenger seat, rear electric windows, chrome interior detailing and a four spoke multi-functional steering wheel.

With Benefit in Kind (BIK) ratings from only 14%, the Rapid is expected to provide a boost to the brand’s rapidly expanding fleet sales. It’ll probably help that the engine line-up is clearly geared towards economy rather than excitement and the 1.2-litre TSI powerplant may well work out as the most cost-effective for the lower mileage user, especially as it’s the cheapest variant to insure, ratings starting from 7E. The diesel is sure to be popular, putting out 114g/km of CO2.

When fitted to the bigger and heavier Octavia, the 1.4 TSI engine with the DSG twin-clutch sequential gearbox makes 44.8mpg and 147g/km of carbon dioxide, so expect the Rapid to do a little better again.

The Rapid might seem unremarkable on the face of things but Skoda has in fact built something rather intriguing. It has brought to market a car that doesn’t rely on gimmicks in any way. That presupposes a real maturity from its customers and it would be heartening to see the Czech brand’s faith repaid. The Rapid is a car that can only be bought by the self assured customer; the sort of person who doesn’t need to hide behind a badge to impress others.

Overall? Well, perhaps we are entering an age of pared back utility. After all, 2012’s coolest car may well have been the Dacia Duster. The Skoda Rapid isn’t that pared back but it will still appeal to the buyer who’ll never be deemed a try-hard. We like that.