Saturday 25 October 2014

It may be cheap, but it just doesn't make me cheerful

Published 11/11/2012 | 06:00

One has come to have high expectations of Skodas. They have managed, as many of you know, to integrate decent quality, loads of space and good pricing. I don't care what anyone says, the Skoda Octavia (especially the estate) is one of the outstanding cars on the road.

This new-arrival Rapid (it's a hatchback that looks like a saloon) is designed to capitalise on that perception of good value in the 'smaller' family market car size. In other words, it slots in below the Octavia and above the excellent Fabia supermini. Small it isn't, though. This has room. Whatever criticisms I have of it, I can't deny that.

It starts at under €16,000 (albeit for a 75bhp, €225 road tax version). Compared with vehicles of similar roominess costing €4,000 or more, you would expect me to be waving you in its direction.

After all, it has a huge cabin. My test car's 86bhp petrol was grand and costs only €160 a year in road tax. Indeed, I would say here's a case of a petrol making really good sense compared with diesel.

There's a huge, versatile boot, a cleanliness of design lines (it looks well) and a frugality about it in perfect synch with the times. For €16,000?

Normally I'd be working up a head of steam telling you this is a no-brainer. I mean, €16,000 doesn't get you much these days, does it?

But I'm sorry. I can't wave you towards a Rapid. I might nod all right, but with some reminders of its limitations.

For a start, the cabin shouts frugality. The plastic surfaces are/looked just about as cheap as anything I've come across for a while, especially the ones on the top inside of the doors. There's not much by way of innovation across the dash, and even the handles for adjusting the seats felt . . . well, cheap.

But, you know what? I'd easily have put up with that (yes I can hear the chorus: far from plastics you were reared), given the importance of price. But I never felt comfortably at ease behind the wheel.

It may have been the tyres. It may have been the chassis. It was almost certainly a combination of both, but I have not felt a car reflect the tiny ripples from the road for a long, long time.

Even smooth roads failed to subdue the sense of ever-so-slight but ever-present choppiness that came through not just the steering wheel but the entire body. No, I'm afraid this left me a bit flat.

It is, as I've mentioned, a big car for the money. It warrants a better set-up. I am going to make huge allowances here because the decent people at Skoda made all sorts of dashes and rushes to get me into it as quickly as possible. So it may have needed a bit more of a run-in and small teething troubles ironed out. And the one you take out for test may show me to be over the top.

Yet, even allowing for all that, I have to say I was disappointed. My expectations of a Skoda family car are higher than this. I would buy an Octavia with my eyes shut. The car is that good. And if you look at the price of the Rapid diesel (I think it is over-priced) compared with an Octavia, there is only one winner.

I like Skoda. Their Superb estate is a huge favourite of mine. I'm told the new Octavia (next year) is exceptional. The Fabia supermini is an evergreen.

The Rapid needs some work. It needs a better cabin and chassis.

And yet, something tells me that if you're not too fussy and need one seriously functional car for €16,000, it is still an option.

ecunningham@independent.ie

Indo Motoring

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