Friday 28 April 2017

One real life, one fairytale

Skoda stablemates they may be, but the Yeti and Rapid left Campbell Spray with wildly contrasting impressions

In the depths of the land of the Czechs there is a castle, and high up in one of its tallest turrets the lights of an office shine out. Inside, among the spinning wheels, pet stoats and crates of pilsener, two people, whom we shall call Hansel and Gretel, sit day in, day out with their dictionaries taking it in turns to decide what the latest Skoda should be called.

Hansel has been brought up to believe that the epigram 'it does what it says on the tin' should be applied to cars. Gretel is more fanciful. There's a touch of learning about her; she knows her Latin and Greek but, more importantly, she wants to dream and let car-owners into a magical place where they are not driving a lump of metal but rather something far more esoteric.

I was thinking of Hansel and Gretel in their little castle when I was driving two very different Skodas. One was a fairly rugged, not very pretty but totally competent 4x4 for which I almost prayed for snow so I could test it in the Dublin mountains. The other was a conservative liftback that actually looked like a saloon; it had frugal engines that were more plodding than exciting and seemed destined to be a car for downsizers.

I'm sure that Hansel, with just a nudge from Gretel, had named the first car, Yeti. Just as he done the business with the Superb, Roomster and Citigo. But for the other car Gretel had been left at her fanciful best to spin a web of illusion and had named it Rapid. This followed in the footsteps of Octavia and Fabia, which betray her classical grooming.

Hansel needs to give Gretel a lesson: the last thing the Skoda Rapid should be known for is its speed. The new car slots in under the Octavia – which is getting larger – and is a fair size bigger than the Fabia. In fact, it is probably as big as the last generation but one Octavia.

The Rapid needs a fair bit of specification to make it worthwhile, so the starting price of €15,995 should probably be alongside the idea of a gingerbread house in a fairy story. The test car had the 1.2 TI petrol engine and by the time 16'' alloys, cruise control, climate control, unnecessary and ugly rear darkened glass, parking sensors, Bluetooth etc had been put on board to make up the Elegance spec, the price had become €20,745 before delivery charges.

The car's most noticeable attribute was the very big load area which could be extended massively by folding the rear seats. It makes it a car for all seasons. Yet there is such a dearth of character about it that I felt it came in the same category as the Nissan Tiida, a car of function much like a washing machine.

The Yeti is another thing entirely. It will never win any prizes for looks but it has personality in spades. It sits tall on a relatively short footprint and is like a compact-sized version of the acclaimed Subaru Forester. My only worry is the price. My 4x4 model with a 2.0litre 170bhp diesel was well-specced but would be more than €34,500 by the time it was on the road. This is nearly €10,000 more than the cheapest 2WD version. We are getting into some heady territory there although, to be fair, the latest version of the Golf that I was driving before Christmas had all the bells and whistles and was around the same price.

But the Yeti 4x4 is one car that would be very high on my shortlist. It reeks of confidence, and when we decided to take our Christmas dinner in a backpack up the Dublin mountains we didn't even have to look at the weather forecast to know that the Yeti would be able for the task. It was also fast, at 8.4 seconds for 0-100kmh – speedier by 3.4 seconds than the Rapid. There is a new Yeti later this year and Skoda is offering a 0 per cent finance package on the existing model.

Hansel named it well; if Gretel had chosen, it would have been called the Flat.

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