Rapid speeds Skoda charge
The new Skoda Rapid, unveiled in Slovakia last week, comes with a host of 'goodies' including, as Declan O'Byrne discovered, an ice-scraper
Roll up! Roll up! Get a free ice-scraper with every new Skoda Rapid!
Ok, so it's not the kind of offer - even if you did happen to live in an igloo - that will have potential car buyers camping out overnight outside showrooms in fear of missing out.
It is, however, an example of how 'desperate' - or 'inventive' depending on your point of view - car makers are to come up with fresh, non-technical ideas to trump an ever-expanding coterie of competitors.
And nowhere is the competition, as we have been reporting in recent weeks, more intense than in the compact family saloon segment which has just expanded even further, sparking near all-out war, with the launch, in Slovakia last week, of the latest member of Skoda's impressive stable, the Rapid.
As for that ice scraper? No. It's not a figment of my imagination. Buy a Rapid when it gets here sometime around early November and you really will become the proud owner of said device, a plastic diggery-do, the size of your hand, decked out in a fetching shade of green and neatly tucked away, for safe-keeping, inside the fuel filler flap.
And if you appreciate the thought that went into that idea, then you will probably also applaud the inclusion, under the driver's seat, of a holder for a hi-viz vest, and the shimmering yellow vest itself, of course, now prescribed under law as essential emergency on-board equipment in many countries.
And if all of that doesn't sate your appetite for, em, 'novel' features, then just pop your ice-cream wrapper into the refuse bin built into the side of the door. Handy, or what?
Finally, take a peek into the car's deceptively voluminous boot where you will find a double-sided floor covering. A wha Gay? As the nice Skoda man explained, it allows you, when carrying dirty items, like turf briquettes or mud-coated hiking boots, to save the boot's cloth cover from soiling (and depreciation levels rising), by simply flipping it over to reveal an alternative, hard-wearing rubber surface which you can muddy to your heart's content and then clean with just the swipe of a cloth. Simple, eh?
Actually 'simply clever' is how Skoda likes to describe such brain-storming notions. And there's more - like, much more seriously, the very useful multimedia holder for a mobile phone or iPod, a ticket or permit holder, and storage nettings on the inside of the front seats to stow those annoying, lightweight items that normally get strewn around the car.
Happily, well-intentioned, though hardly earth-shattering, as all of these features are, Skoda is, thankfully, not depending on them exclusively for the success of what is, all things considered, especially in terms of build quality and performance, a new and serious contender for considerable popularity in the 'family compact' segment here.
In the end, of course, success or failure will all come down to price but, at an expected level of just under €16,000 when it does hit these shores, the Rapid should be well positioned to challenge the likes of the Toyota Corolla and Ford Focus, among a clutch of other more established vehicles targeted at busy, cost-conscious families.
On first acquaintance, in a test spin covering around 200 kilometres in the vicinity of the Slovak-Austrian (Bratislava - Vienna) border last week, the Rapid revealed itself to be a solid and competent performer in both petrol (1.2-litre) and diesel (1.6) guise. It has to be pointed out, however, that the former was the TSI, or turbocharged, version of the car as the base petrol model, intended for the Irish market (75bhp), was not yet available.
The petrol version of the car will fall into Band B for tax purposes here while the diesel (105 Bhp), which is likely to cost around €20,000, will qualify for Band A.
On the road, there was some conflict of opinion concerning the car's handling, some suggesting that the petrol version was the more responsive but any differences which emerged may well have been simply the product of widely varying surfaces. Personally, I found the ride smooth and acceleration when required in both versions adequate.
Frankly, in terms of design, the Rapid is unlikely to garner too many plaudits for innovation but it's by no means an ugly duckling and its styling will command a respectable placing among its rivals on the country's forecourts.
Inside, the cabin will not overly exciting either. There's a plethora of mostly sturdy, if too plain, plastic finishes though much was made with justification of the roominess in the rear which will accommodate four adults in optimum comfort. Meanwhile, neither the driver nor passenger could quibble either about the ample extent of elbow room up front.
Although it has the look of a 4-door, the Rapid, which will be available in three trims-Active, Ambition and Elegance - with its steeply sloping rear screen and a tailgate that lifts high and proud and affords ease of access to that very roomy boot, is effectively a 5-dr, adding to its appeal to families. Skoda expects to sell 1,000 units here next year.
While a more searching examination of the car's credentials awaits on home soil, the Rapid will probably most benefit from Skoda's fast-growing reputation for turning out stylish yet practical and, perhaps most importantly, affordable and efficient vehicles.
An impressive stable already includes the Roomster, Fabia, Octavia (a new version is also on the way, taxi drivers will be particularly glad to hear), and Superb, each of which has had a significant impact in its own segment.
The Rapid, although in a highly important sector, may not constitute the most important or memorable car that Skoda has ever produced, but its imminent arrival will not do the marque's reputation - or its rising market share - any harm at all.