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The standard Skoda Rapid was launched late in 2012, and is bigger than the Fabia supermini, but smaller than the Octavia hatch. It has saloon-like styling that hides a boot with a wide-opening tailgate, although now Skoda has created a more conventional hatch in the shape of the Rapid Spaceback.

By its own admission, Skoda is taking a punt with the Rapid Spaceback in the UK. Overall, it looks more stylish than the standard hatch, although that’s not saying much. The Skoda Rapid Spaceback sits high on its suspension, and a combination of a short rear overhang and long nose can make it look odd from some angles.

As for the interior - hard plastics are hardly the last word in luxury, but the Rapid’s dash feels very robust and well made. The ride isn't the best, either - the Spaceback has a firm ride that will put some buyers off, especially on larger wheels. You can choose from S, SE, Elegance and GreenLine specs, but we'd stick with the SE model with the 1.2 TSI engine, as it's more refined than the 1.6 TDI diesel and nearly as economical.

Our Choice: Rapid Spaceback SE 1.2 TSI 105 GreenTech

Styling

There are plenty of similarities between the Rapid Spaceback and the standard model. The cars are identical from the nose to the rear doors, so you get a broad grille flanked by square lights, plus simple lines and the bare minimum of detailing.

The differences begin at the rear doors, where the top of the Spaceback’s window frames are reprofiled so that they blend into the extra quarterlight windows in the C-pillars. There’s a longer roof, too, while the rear overhang has been trimmed, so the Spaceback is 179mm shorter than the standard car.

All other dimensions remain the same, but the combination of a long nose, short rear and suspension settings that leave the car sitting a little tail-high means the Spaceback looks awkward, especially from the back.

You can also specify a Style Pack, a £1,100 option that adds gloss black detailing, a panoramic glass roof and extended tailgate glass. This brings the rear window down to the top of the number plate recess – it’s certainly a talking point, and the Spaceback looks a bit plain without it.

Inside, you’re greeted by the same dash design as in the Rapid hatch. It’s obvious that it has been built down to a cost, so you get lots of hard, black plastic, but the layout is logical and the switchgear feels robust.

One major benefit the Spaceback has over the standard Rapid is that the thin rear door pillars and extra windows vastly improve over-the-shoulder visibility – it’s almost worth paying the extra for this alone.

Driving

When we first tested the Rapid, we thought the ride was on the firm side, while the driving dynamics were a little underwhelming. Skoda has tried to address the firm suspension with softer settings on the Spaceback, but the car in our test was immediately put on the back foot by its optional 17-inch alloy wheels. These come as part of the £1,600 Sport Pack, and they bring a firmness to the ride that makes the Rapid harsh at all speeds.

The low-profile tyres add to road noise on the motorway, too, although it’s a close fight between the tyres and the rattly diesel for what’s loudest.

Unfortunately, that VW Group 1.6 TDI is losing the battle for refinement when compared to newer diesels. It's louder than the Toyota Auris' 1.4-litre diesel and the Hyundai i30's 1.6-litre unit from the outside, although there’s enough sound insulation to make the Skoda quieter than the Toyota when on the move.

At least the 104bhp diesel is punchy, and in-gear pace was good, too, despite the fact the car only comes with a five-speed gearbox. That box has a positive shift, while the steering is direct, although it could do with a bit more feedback. Overall, the Rapid is engaging to drive, although it’s no Ford Focus when it comes to responsiveness.

Reliability

In its efforts to keep the Rapid as affordable as possible, Skoda has used as many parts from existing models as it can. The car sits on a modified version of the VW Polo’s platform, while the range of petrol and diesel engines is tried and tested.

The standard Rapid has yet to be recalled, but there were reports of early cars retaining water in their doors, as the drain holes hadn’t been cleared properly. Apart from that, the model has had a trouble-free start.

Of course, the car is backed up by Skoda’s excellent performance in our Driver Power 2013 satisfaction survey. It came a superb second to Lexus as a manufacturer, while
its dealers finished an impressive seventh.

The standard Rapid has a five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating, and while there are no advanced safety features, you do get six airbags, traction and stability control, as well as brake lights that flash under heavy braking.

Practicality

One highlight of the standard Rapid is its vast boot, but this drops from 550 litres to 415 litres in the Spaceback. That’s still big, though, and the square opening means it’s easy enough to load bulky items. The boot floor also flips to reveal a wipe-clean surface, while the seats fold relatively easily, although they leave a step in the floor.

Rear seat space is reasonable, and a middle seat headrest is a £70 option. Elsewhere, Elegance models add an armrest with storage between the front seats. The trouble is, this tends to get in the way when you’re changing gear – although it can be lifted out of the way.

Running Costs

The 1.6 TDI Elegance is at the top end of the Rapid range, but it’s still cheaper than the equivalent Toyota Auris and Hyundai i30. Standard kit is similar to the Hyundai’s, and both models come with cruise control and rear parking sensors.

There are plenty of options to spec up your car to the desired level, too, while a retained value of 43 per cent is decent.

The rest of the financial package is a mixed bag. It’s not the best company car option, although £30 road tax is good. While Skoda offers a fixed-price servicing scheme, it’s expensive. Our choice of engine is the 1.2 TSI, which gets 65.7mpg and emits 118g/km, but the noisy 1.6-litre diesel beats it with 70.6mpg economy.

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