SKODA has delved back into its heritage to name its all-new hatchback which in itself sets a new milestone for the Czech brand – the first time they have had seven models on sale at the same time.
The new Rapid harks back to the 1935 Rapid which was sold as a four-door saloon, two-door coupé and as a cabriolet and went on to win the 1936 Olympic Games Rally.
Today's Rapid sits neatly between the Fabia and Octavia in the Skoda family line-up and spearheads a new sales drive which its makers hopes will net customers from both the budget end of the market and mainstream where it has to go up against the likes of the Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra.
Under the coupé-like slope of the rear screen lurks a cavernous boot that has a low sill, deep well and wide aperture – enough to swallow 550 litres of anyone's luggage.
The rear seats fold down to increase this to a simply voluminous 1,490 litres – unfortunately the 60/40 split is arranged to benefit left-hand drive models so that the longest load length section is also the narrowest. To go with the expansive cabin, where even six footers plus will feel comfortable in the rear, Skoda has chosen some nicely judged furnishings.
Rapid arrives powered by a choice of five up-rated VW family engines four of them petrol, including the entry level three-cylinder 75bhp 1.2-litre, and one 105bhp 1.6 TDI diesel.
There is also a selection of five and six speed manual transmissions and the option of a seven-speed automatic on the 1.4 TSI 122bhp example.
The UK press corps were let lose in two models including the lone diesel which is the cleanest and most fuel efficient in the selection with emissions kept to 114 g/km and close on 65mpg promised.
It demonstrates an acceptable if unspectacular level of torque boost in the midrange, is best at low speed starting and is a quiet and smooth runner.
The 86bhp 1.2-litre petrol also tried actually feels the lighter and more nimble of the two and more responsive although on paper it is slower.
Next year these will be joined by Skoda's GreenTech branded models (replacing the previous GreenLine) which include features such as stop-start, low rolling resistance tyres and brake energy recovery which will see emissions drop as low as 106g/km.
Also planned for a 2013 introduction is a new 90bhp diesel which could be very popular if Skoda can make the fuel economy and emissions attractive.
Rapid is available in three trim levels. All come with remote central locking, daytime running lights, height adjustable driver's seat and electric front windows.
The SE trim, costing an extra £950, adds £1,600 worth of extra kit such as 15 inch alloy wheels, body coloured door mirrors, air conditioning, trip computer, a leather steering wheel and Bluetooth connection while the range-topping Elegance costs £750 more with £1,270 worth of equipment such as 16inch alloys, cornering front fog lamps, cruise control, electric rear windows, chrome interior detailing and four-spoke multi-function steering wheel.
On top of these are a wide choice of option packs from storage units and protection features to satellite navigation and climate control.
Prices for the new Rapid start at £12,900 for the 1.2 75bhp S and rise to £17,850 for the 1.6 TDI 105bhp Elegance which means it undercuts its rivals by as much as £3,000 making it a very compact and budget conscious line-up.
Rapid is a spacious and functional model which makes up for its lack in instant charisma with growing appeal and some clever touches such as a reversible boot liner and an ice scraper that lives in the fuel filler cap – a simple but brilliant idea.