Is there room between the Fabia and the Octavia?
It’s not a great name, but then Skoda is only now making its naming choices more mainstream. The Rapid Spaceback is also trying to wiggle room in the space between Skoda’s Fabia and Octavia.
We’re much more familiar with those two, even though, worldwide, the Rapid actually outsells the Fabia. Skoda wants us to hear quite a bit more about its Spaceback, but will a facelift improve poor sales in the UK?
Things get off to a good start with the engine choice. The three-cylinder 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine is popular throughout the VW Group’s range, and we’re testing it here in the 109bhp form, although there is a 94bhp version. Although it’s small, the engine pulls really strongly with the turbo keeping things lively from well below 2,000rpm.
Revs then build strongly, all with that slightly characterful thrum of a triple. With a 0-62mph time of 9.8 seconds, that’s quite quick enough for most real-world scenarios, including driving on the motorway. We’d choose this engine in place of the noisy and rough 1.4-litre TDI diesel or indeed the 1.6-litre diesel. However, if you want more midrange then the bigger diesel does offer more of that.
We tried the triple with the six-speed manual box, which is light and easy to use and helps keep the engine in its broad sweet spot. But while you’re enjoying keeping the engine thrumming away, you’ll enjoy the handling slightly less. It’s not that there’s any lack of grip, or that there’s excessive body lean, it’s just that it feels a bit vague, hindered further by uncommunicative and overly light steering.
The ride isn’t great either, being a bit fidgety while at the same time letting thumps into the cabin. The suspension itself adds some noise to the roar from both road and wind so the cabin isn’t the most relaxing environment. The interior features a lot of hard plastics, so the effect overall is one of low budget rather than anything else.
But, while you’re grumbling slightly at some aspects of the cabin, Skoda does its usual trick and somehow manages to squeeze in more space than seems reasonable. There’s plenty of room front and rear for full-size adults, and you can fit three in the rear if you’re not going too far.
And, as befits a car called a Spaceback, the boot is big, bigger than in a Ford Focus or a Vauxhall Astra. There’s a bit of a load lip to overcome, but you’ll easily get two cases or a week’s worth of shopping in the rear without having to fold down the 60/40 rear seats.
It all works just fine, although there’s a lack of lateral support in the front seats, which can leave you clinging to the wheel in faster corners. The dashboard features a 6.5-inch touchscreen, which isn’t the latest system and feels definitely dated now. On everything other than entry-level S trim you get Bluetooth, and above this level you get sat nav and a DAB radio. Smartphone mirroring, so accessing Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, is an option.
The trim we’d go for is SE Tech because that adds alloys, cruise control, rear sensors and climate control among other things. There’s also the option at this trim level to add automatic city braking with pedestrian sensing to the package.
So there’s quite a lot of kit you can have in this spacious, slightly different hatch with the excellently frugal and dynamic engine. Since the prices are surprisingly low, you’d think this was a highly recommendable car, but that low cost is apparent in the cabin. The interior doesn’t feel remotely premium, and you’re going to be buffeted in there with everything from potholes to wind noise.
But a low purchase price backed up by low tax and low running costs – whether you’re running a diesel or a petrol version – will count for those who have a limited budget and who need a bit more space than the Fabia can offer.