Skoda Spaceback really is no giant leap for mankind
'Tús maith leath na hoibre'. How true that wonderful Gaelic phrase rings every single day. 'A good start is half the battle'. I find if the morning is bad, it can be a struggle all day to make up the ground. A bit like the initial Rapid from Skoda.
They did not have a 'tus maith' with the saloon. It was the most disappointing car I had driven for some time. The suspension was awful; the cabin had cheap plastic; it was terrible to drive. It was just too basic and built on old foundations.
I wonder now, in retrospect, if Skoda weren't looking over their shoulders at the likes of Dacia with their bargain basement cars and trying to protect themselves from a rear attack.
This smacked of a car that tried too hard to be in tune with the awful austerity that we have, hopefully, made a tús maith in putting behind us.
It was most unusual for Skoda because everything else they have made in the past 20 years or so has worked really well. Some are excellent. The Spaceback I just tested this past while is the estate version of the saloon that was so disappointing. And they have used it to address some of the poorer elements of the saloon.
There are new interior plastics, a revised rear suspension and, because it has an estate shape and profile, I think it looks that bit better as well.
I worked hard at making sure I was not predisposed to find significant improvement. I worked equally hard at not drawing parallels with the old one. I might as well tell you I am still somewhat underwhelmed but they have certainly made improvements.
Let me start with the positives because there are a few to be fair. As said, it looks that bit better than the saloon, which is dull, and the cabin now feels that bit better with improved materials.
However, I didn't think much of the seats; I would have preferred lumbar support and better adjustment on them, to the panoramic glass sunroof. The latter is an attempt, I suppose, to give it something extra. It certainly helps to brighten the cabin and the car's looks which are, at the best of times, muted enough. I did wonder how dated this might look in a couple of years.
They have revised the rear suspension so that the thuddy/rumble that overshadowed the early saloon is mostly subdued. But it wasn't always that great, especially over pock-marked roads. A couple of items did stand out for me.They have this Technical Package (sat nav and cruise control). Buy them as extras and they will cost you €800 but if you order them as a package they cost you €249. Huge saving – and well worth having I think.
By the way, the Spaceback is priced €200 below the saloon in petrol versions. I honestly don't see why you need a diesel in this – it was overpriced initially anyway. The other element that lifted me was the 1.2-litre petrol engine. It was just good. Not showy or brilliant but consistently good. And they have replaced the old hydraulic steering system with an electric version which is lighter and has a less muscle-bound, clunky feel. Indeed, it was quite precise. The boot area is smaller than the saloon (415 litres v 550) but you can drop and fold theseats for a substantial 1,380 litres.
One can't fault Skoda for making a huge effort to turn this round. It is now a half-decent car but don't forget the one I had on test cost €20,000 or thereabouts. I would not buy it. I would beg, borrow or steal a couple of grand more and buy an Octavia. Now there's a car that had a 'tus maith' and never looked back.