Review and road test of the Skoda Rapid (2012 - 2018)
By Jonathan Crouch
Back in 2012, Skoda re-focused itself on the family hatchback segment with this Rapid, a car that was bigger and better value than most of its Golf and Astra-sized competitors. Rapidity may not be high on this car's agenda but with proven mechanicals and a refreshing lack of gimmickry, it aims to appeal to an assured kind of buyer who doesn't need to hide behind a badge to impress others. In other words, the kind of person who's traditionally bought a Skoda will probably very much like this one. Let's check it out as a used buy.
5dr family hatch - (1.0 TSI 95PS, 110PS / 1.2 90PS / 1.4 TSI 120PS / 1.4 TDI 90PS / 1.6 TDI 95PS, 105PS )
Back in the 1930s, the Skoda Rapid helped its Czech brand to become one of the largest automotive makers in Eastern Europe. And, with history repeating itself as it often does, this car, another Skoda Rapid, aimed to do exactly the same thing at its launch in 2012. Developed alongside SEAT's virtually identical Toledo, this design was true to Skoda's core values, costing buyers a little less yet offering them a little more, with starting prices pitched a shade below the family hatchback norm and cabin space, particularly in the boot, a little above it.
Those values will appeal to this car's target used buying audience, more mature private buyers seeking reliable five-door transport delivering everything they need and nothing they don't. So the fact that sophistication beneath the skin, out on the road and inside the cabin was largely reserved for Skoda's more up-market Octavia will probably matter little. In 2013, the Czech brand introduced the more conventional-looking Rapid Spaceback model to sell alongside this Rapid. In 2019, both cars were replaced by the brand's Scala model.
What You Get
We'll need to tell you that this car was styled by the same man, Jozef Kaban, who penned the million pound Bugatti Veyron supercar, for it's not something you'd guess on first acquaintance with this smart, clean but rather conventional shape. Actually, it's not very conventional at all by class standards, at around 4.5m long and under 2m wide significantly longer but slightly narrower than the Focus-sized family hatchback class norm.
Aesthetically, probably the most notable feature is the distinctive front grille, formed from 19 vertical slats that aim to widen the look of the car and finished with a chrome frame that dips around a prominate Skoda badge that sits centrally on a raised crease rising from the bonnet to the base of the windscreen. Moving to the side reveals the crisp so-called 'Tornado line' that's also used on far pricier Audis, there to accentuate the length of the body and link both front and rear light clusters to form one harmonious shape. The rear lights feature the brand's usual 'C-shaped' design and are finished with the same crystalline detailing applied to the lamps at the front.
Between them, you lift a wide-opening tailgate that rises to reveal a simply enormous boot. Though the damper mounts and wheel arches intrude a little from the sides, there's still 550-litres with all the seats in place, so this is nearly 60% larger than the trunk you'll find on a rival Ford Focus from this period. And it's a versatile space too. Not only do you get bag hooks and storage boxes behind the wheel arches but there's a clever double-faced floor carpet option that almost all owners will want. You turn it rubber-side-up for muddy boots and flip it back to carpet for suitcases or shopping bags. For the carriage of larger items, you can of course push forward the split-folding rear seat. That unfortunately doesn't create a completely flat loading deck, but it does free up 1,490-litres. In other words, you're looking here at the kind of carriage capacity you'd get from a typical estate body style in this segment. That's why, in contrast to rivals, the Rapid range didn't need to offer one.
Skoda has brought us a car in this class with a huge boot before - the first generation Octavia - but in that case, the huge trunk space was paid for with restricted legroom for rear seat passengers. Fortunately, that mistake wasn't made again here. The rear doors open wide for easy entry and exit and there's comfortable knee and headroom for two, if not really three adult occupants. Good legroom too. One adult six-footer can easily sit behind a driver of the same height, which can't be said of too many cars in this segment.
At the wheel, those familiar with the brand will feel quite at home. As usual with Skodas, the design is clean, functional but not particularly exciting, with many of the surfaces quite hard to the touch and things like the unlined storage bins suggestive of budget brand pricing. Still, everything is nicely laid out and seemingly built to last and there are plenty of useful nooks and crannies, including a slot for your parking tickets and useful storage nets on the side of the front seats' backrest where you can get at them easily. A 'V'-shaped centre console rises up from the footwell to the main dashboard and houses both ventilation and stereo controls. Through the four-spoke wheel you glimpse a large, clear twin-binnacle instrument display. Nothing then to especially catch the eye, but everything perfectly in its place.
What to Look For
In our ownership survey, we struggled to find many people who didn't like their Rapids. We found one owner who complained of damp creeping into the interior - check for this. And he had problems with the electric mirrors. Otherwise, it's just necessary to look out for the usual family hatch issues - kerbed alloys and evidence of damage from unruly children on the interior plastics. Obviously, you'll want a fully stamped-up service history.
(approx based on a 2015 Rapid 1.2 excl. VAT) A pair of front brake pads are between £18-£59 - depending on brand. Think around £12-£27 for a set of rear pads. A pair of front brake discs start at about £37-£65 - for rear discs, think about £20-£35. Air filters sit in the £8-£10 bracket. Oil filters cost around £4-£6. A fuel filter is around £18-£25. A wiper blade is around £6-£16. A radiator is £83-£87.A thermostat is around £59.
On the Road
Back in 2012, the last time we had seen a Skoda bearing a Rapid badge in this country was back in the early Eighties with a rear-engined budget coupe lauded as a kind of poor-man's Porsche 911. This car, in contrast, was modelled far more closely on the values of the model of the same name produced back in the Thirties which was strong, solid, 1.2 and 1.6-litre powered and so reliable that in 1936, one was driven from one side of Africa to the other and back again without a hitch. You feel this Rapid would do the same, its tried and tested Volkswagen Group mechanicals almost certain to maintain Skoda's dominance in customer satisfaction surveys the world over.
Those mechanicals don't include the high-tech MQB floorplan developed for all of the group's other family hatchback models in this period - SEAT's Leon, Volkswagen's Golf and Audi's A3. With these underpinnings reserved at the time of this Rapid's launch for Skoda's Mondeo-sized Octavia, this design had instead to rely on a mix and match of suspension and chassis parts borrowed from almost every crevice of the Wolfsburg parts bin. Still, as this Czech maker had already proved with its Yeti crossover model, it's an approach that can produce a remarkably effective end result.
And 'effective' is a word you keep coming back to after a drive in this car. There's nothing particularly enjoyable about the way it goes about its business, but most likely buyers don't seek that in an affordable five-door family car. In any case, there are plenty of other attributes on offer that target customers will probably value more highly. They might find the ride a little on the firm side of comfortable but they'll very much like the narrow body that makes parking and road width restrictions easier to negotiate aided by the excellent all-round visibility, the light, consistently-weighted controls and the simple switchgear that, thank goodness, features a proper conventional handbrake.
And under the bonnet? Well you can't go too far wrong provided you don't opt for the entry-level 75PS 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol unit. It isn't really up to the task of moving a car of this size along and is far less economic than the four cylinder 86PS 1.2-litre TSI petrol engine that isn't much more expensive and should really form the starting point of the line-up. Rest to 62mph here occupies 11.8s on the way to 118mph and if that's not fast enough, you can opt for this engine in turbocharged 105PS form, in which guise the figures are improved to 10.3s and 121mph.
More mature urban-bound motorists might like to consider the other petrol choice, a 122PS 1.4-litre TSI derivative, just about the only variant in the range not to be limited to a five-speed manual gearbox: 1.4 TSI Rapid buyers only get 7-speed DSG automatic transmission. Otherwise the main remaining Rapid option has a 1.6-litre TDI diesel, which with 105PS, will take you past 62mph in 10.4s on the way to 118mph.
This powerplant certainly gives you more pulling power, but then it needs it thanks to the additional heaviness the TDI unit adds to a kerb weight that on petrol models is significantly lighter than on other family hatchback rivals. Which makes this car actually quite agile through the twisty stuff if you really need it to be. You just won't find yourself seeking excuses to put that to the test.
Skoda understands its customers. Ease of ownership, value pricing and solid build are all priorities - and all satisfied here by this Rapid. That the brand can deliver more sophistication than this is not in doubt - the larger Octavia demonstrates that. But the point here is that a significant number of customers just don't need it. People being targeted precisely by this car.
It competes against many Focus-class family hatchbacks from the 2012-2018 period that feel more sophisticated, drive more dynamically or feature higher-tech trimmings. But almost all of these are smaller, less versatile and more expensive. At the end of the day, it depends on what you want. This isn't a car that'll leap out of a glossy picture into your mental driveway - but then, day-to-day living isn't really very much like the pages of a glossy picture. It's a rain-soaked, commuting-congested, family-frantic thing.
After a few days of which, at the wheel of one of these, you might rapidly come to the conclusion that though Skoda's take on affordable family motoring may not be what you once dreamt of, it could actually be what you need. Such is life.
Skoda Rapid (2012 - 2018) review by Jonathan Crouch