The Skoda Rapid Spaceback is designed to be the spacious, cheap car for people who think the regular Rapid is a little too spacious and not quite stylish enough.
The Spaceback has the same wheelbase as the regular Rapid, but it's 19cm shorter. Almost all of that has been cut from behind the rear wheels where, instead of the Rapid's long, loping notchback, there's a much sharper hatch with a correspondingly shorter overhang. It's a curious half-hatchback, half-estate shape, but the Spaceback certainly looks classier than the regular Rapid.
This look can be enhanced further by choosing a panoramic tinted glass roof that stretches from one end of the passenger compartment to the other – it's part of a Style Pack that also brings 17-inch alloy wheels and extra glass in the rear hatch.
The new Rapid Spaceback gets a number of improvements that are also being rolled out to the regular Rapid, including a revised multi-function steering wheel, a neater stereo installation, and new trims and seat fabrics. The car also has electro-mechanical power steering instead of a hydraulic set-up, and gets revised damper settings in a bid to smooth out the pattery ride.
What’s the 2014 Skoda Rapid Spaceback like to drive?
The engine line-up consists of three petrols and two diesels, including an 89bhp 1.6 TDI that's new to the Rapid range. It's paired with a five-speed manual gearbox.
Unfortunately, the new diesel engine is pretty inflexible, meaning you have to change gear more often than you’d like. It has enough torque to enable it to keep up with motorway traffic, but it’s noisy and not that efficient by modern standards, with CO2 emissions of 114g/km (104g/km if you spend an extra £250 on the Greentech version). There's also a 99g/km Greenline model (available on one trim only) that we’ve yet to drive.
The higher-powered diesel suffers from the same flaws, with only a marginally improved 0-62mph time for its boost in price and power. It’s still noisy and the gearbox needs to be worked when overtaking or going up hills.
The two 1.2 TSI petrols are much better bets. Even the less powerful 85bhp version is flexible and strong enough to haul the Rapid Spaceback around with some passengers and luggage on board. It stays reasonably quiet and smooth too, no matter how hard it's working.
However, the more powerful 104bhp version gets a six-speed manual gearbox that has a more pleasing shift action than the five-speed 'box fitted to the lower-powered engine.
The 1.4-litre petrol, however, is available with only the DSG semi-automatic gearbox, so is the least efficient in the range. Although the engine is more refined than the diesels, it is not much quicker than either version.
Like the regular Rapid, the Spaceback handles neatly, grips decently, and has decent body control. The new steering set-up also impresses; it’s accurate and weights up reassuringly through faster corners, although it is rather slow.
Sadly, despite the Spaceback’s revised suspension, it’s uncomfortable along poorly surfaced roads. The front end picks up on every imperfection, jostling you and your occupants around, and crashing over bigger bumps and potholes. Those revised damper settings haven't helped the high-speed ride much, either; it's still pattery.
Unfortunately, as well as lots of suspension noise there’s considerable road and wind noise at motorway speeds.
What's the 2014 Skoda Rapid Spaceback like inside?
As with the regular Rapid, the Spaceback majors on interior space. Okay, the cabin is a little narrow so some may complain about shoulder-room, but otherwise there's plenty of capacity.
Even with the optional panoramic glass roof fitted there's lots of headroom for all occupants, while rear passengers enjoy more kneeroom than in most rivals. In this respect at least, the Skoda has its Korean rivals (such as the Kia Ceed) on the run.
The cabin tweaks include some aluminium-effect plastic highlights on the dashboard, and this does give the interior a brighter, more sophisticated look. All of the plastics are still hard, though; you're unlikely to forget this is a car built to a tight budget.
This may not bother you if you're after load capacity, because while the Rapid Spaceback can't match the regular Rapid's enormous boot, it still offers 415 litres of space with the rear seats in place and 1380 litres with them folded. That's comfortably more than a VW Golf provides.
There are also some practical touches, such as a hi-vis vest holder under the driver's seat, an ice scraper in the fuel filler flap and a reversible boot floor with fabric on one side and a wipeable surface on the other.
The Spaceback comes with slightly more standard equipment than the regular Rapid, too. All models get air-conditioning, remote central locking, electric front windows, a height-adjustable driver’s seat and an alarm. Mid-spec SE trim (predicted to be the most popular) adds body-coloured door handles and mirrors, 15-inch alloy wheels, a glovebox, a multi-function steering wheel, Bluetooth, rear parking sensors, cruise control, front foglights, electric rear windows and a front centre armrest (which gets in the way of the handbrake).
Range-topping Elegance cars also get bigger alloys, climate control, a height-adjustable passenger seat and a range of bespoke styling touches.
Should I buy one?
The Spaceback has the same flaws as the regular Rapid, which means it doesn’t ride very well and the cabin looks and feels rather low-rent.
However, while the Rapid goes some way to making up for its shortcomings by offering lots of space for not much money, the Spaceback brings a smaller boot and a higher price.
In fact, the 104bhp 1.2 TSI version of the Spaceback is actually £190 more expensive than an equivalent Octavia, which is a much bigger car, better to drive and classier inside.
True, the Spaceback comes slightly better equipped, but the Octavia is more economical and is predicted to hold on to more of its value.
The Spaceback, therefore, really makes sense only in its cheapest form – the 1.2 TSI 86 S. Even so, if you're considering the Spaceback because you want something smaller than the regular Rapid, the Kia Ceed and Hyundai i30 are better buys.
What Car? says...
Engine size 1.2-litre turbo petrol
Price from £14,340
Torque 118lb ft
0-62mph 11.7 seconds
Top speed 112mph
Fuel economy 55.4mpg
Engine size 1.2-litre turbo petrol
Price from £16,180
Torque 129lb ft
0-62mph 10.2 seconds
Top speed 120mph
Fuel economy 52.3mpg
Engine size 1.6-litre diesel
Price from £16,140
Torque 170lb ft
0-62mph 11.9 seconds
Top speed 113mph
Fuel economy 64.2mpg