TEST DRIVE: Skoda Rapid SE

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Steve Sharpe drives Skoda’s big value family saloon

These are undoubtedly the good times for Skoda. The Czech car maker, now under the protective wing of Volkswagen, has gone from strength to strength over the last few years.

Now the company plans to take over the world with a fiendish scheme to flood the planetwith cars bearing their re-styled badge.

Last year Skoda announced that it planned to release a new model, or a revised version, every six months as part of a plan to sell more than 15m cars worldwide by 2018.

The Rapid is the latest new model, a five-door small family saloon taking the position between the Fabia supermini and the larger Octavia.

It takes the manufacturuer’s model range to seven.

And it carries on the brand’s tried and trusted formula of value for money.

The range starts at £12,900 for the entry-level 1.2 petrol in basic trim, rising to just under £18,000 for the 1.6 diesel in top Elegance trim.

Skoda knows what its customers are looking for in their cars. Skoda customers want to feel like they’ve paid less money for a car that has everything a more expensive car features. Anything more is a bonus.

Take a look at the Rapid and that is apparent. It’s sensible looking, quite elegant in its simplicity but it’s unlikely to turn many heads.

It’s chunky, solid-looking and simply designed, fitting in with the corporate design of this burgeoning Skoda family, all straight lines and unfussy styling.

The front end is straightforward, with headlight clusters lacking the current boomerang design. The rear is similarly uncomplicated.

This simplicity is continued inside the cabin. The dashboard is straightforward and well designed, and the buttons and switches have a solid feel to them.

While the plastics are hard to the touch they are textured and things are extremely well put together. It’s not plush or luxururious but it’s comfortable and looks hardwearing. The plastics are solid and don’t mark easily and the seats are comfortable.

The dark colour scheme, although a little dour, gives things a sensible feel, too.

What really impresses in the Rapid is the amount or room available.

Headroom and legroom in the front is extremely generous and in the rear you get levels found in a much bigger car.

The boot, too, is huge and well shaped, with class-leading storage levels and, with the seats flattened, giving an extra amount of room that, say Skoda, rivals some estates.

The Rapid is powered by one of a number of engines, ranging from the 1.2litre petrol engine through to the 1.6 turbodiesel, with a 1.4 petrol engine in their as well.

I drove the 1.6 turbodiesel, which delivered impressive levels of all-round performance.

Calling a new model Rapid is taking a bit of a chance (the naming policy was bang-on with the Superb, less so, perhaps, with the Yeti) and although it’s by no means a white-knuckle ride there are good levels of power on tap.

Acceleration is steady rather than stunning but there is extra power available if you rev hard, and the higher the revs go the more comfortable it seems.

The diesel engine is a little raspy at lower revs but settles down as speed increases and wind and road noise levels are well muffled.

The Rapid cruises comfortably at motorway speeds and will have enough power in reserve to accelerate easily when called upon.

Around town and on country roads the Rapid does what its asked with little complaint.

The steering is tight and responsive and you feel in control at all times. Body roll has been well controlled during cornering and there’s plenty of grip. Around town the Rapid is easy to manage and the suspension set-up absorbs all with little complaint

The five-speed gearbox is as crisp and accurate as you would expect from Skoda and VW.

The Rapid is an all-rounder, aimed at satisfying the needs of all, and while you don’t get a thrill during the drive the odds are that is going to be low down on the list of the average family driver’s essentials.

What is going to put Skoda’s small family hatchback on many buyer’s list of potential purchases is value for money.

These prices seriously undercut most of the Rapid’s rivals and Skoda are not scrimping on what you get for that cash.

There are three trims available through the range, and even with the basic level, the S, you get remote central locking, daytime running lights, a wide range of airbags, electric front windows and electric, heated door mirrors.

Spend a bit more for the SE trim and you can add alloys, air conditioning, tinted glass, front foglights and bluetooth stuff. Top of the range elegance adds bigger alloys, electric rear windows and steering wheel controls.Plus there are plenty of optional extras available.

There are some highly economical GreenTech models available through the range, but economy figures are impressive throughout – my diesel’s official figures of nearly 65mpg will ensure you’re not a frequent visitor to the forecourt and emission figures of just 114g/km will keep road tax down too,

There’s very little to criticise on the Rapid. It’s a model that continues with Skoda’s aim of providing good quality cars at comparatively low prices.

While not the most exciting or memorable car on the road it’s a car that will appeal to those families who want quality, loads of room, reliability and real value for money –and those are things that appeal to all of us.

Fact file

Skoda Rapid SE

Engine: 1.6TDi.

Transmission: Five speed manual.

0-62: 10.6 secs

Top Speed: 118mph.

Economy: 64.2mpg

Price: £17, 100