MUTTERINGS about never-ending new car price rises have been building for the last few years, but Skoda has news for which you might want to sit down.
Here is the Rapid, which revives a name from the 1930s in a car that slots between the Fabia and the Octavia, at more or less exactly the same basic dimensions as the 2001 Octavia.
Combined with the latest smart packaging by Skoda, essentially using a chassis combining bits from the two models that sandwich it in the range and minimising wasted space, its size makes it perfect for young families. Its lightweight and efficient, with cheap road tax and running costs all but guaranteed.
Heres the big news: the range will start at less than £13,000. Thats for a practical family car from a trusted brand. Full prices are on the way but thats massively good value, and when faced with the car it doesnt take long to see why.
To poke around it is to appreciate how sweetly proportioned it is. Whereas the Fabia has lower boot space limits and Octavia can seem a little too big around town, the Rapid feels perfect. The experience is encouraging right from the off and its immediately very likeable.
Its the first Skoda to feature the brands new family styling; a little blockier than the current crop of models but in a modernistic way. The design wont date quickly, which will boost resale values and desirability.
Practicality and value for money are at the heart of what the model wants to stand for. Thats why the wheelbase is relatively long and the overhangs are quite short, which ultimately benefits rear legroom and boot space. Its a hatchback and gains a rear windscreen wiper over Seats forthcoming Toledo, which is much the same car but styled to look like a saloon.
Theres 550 litres of luggage space available with the seats up, which is a lot. More than the old Octavia had, in fact. With the seats down its just shy of 1,500 litres, which again is massively useful.
Add to that all the handy touches Skoda includes as part of its Simply Clever philosophy. Theres a holder for car park tickets, net pockets on the front seat sides for drinks or gadgets, cavernous door bins, a spacious glove box, a proper slot for MP3 players, USB and auxiliary input ports, a reversible boot mat with carpet one side and hard-wearing rubber the other, comprehensive boot netting and more.
As day-to-day use goes, the Rapid will trump just about anything else on the road, even with a child in one arm. If you need a practical everyday touch, chances are Skoda has installed it. Its incredibly rare that you find a car thats been so comprehensively thought through.
With a range of petrol and diesel engines there are options to suit the vast majority of typical new car buyers, with the pick of the bunch being the gutsy 104bhp 1.2-litre TSI turbocharged petrol. Its a gleeful little thing with an ideal balance of fuel economy and fun.
Its also as light as a vegan brunch, which has all kinds of handling and ride benefits. At around 1,100kg the Rapid is featherweight for its size, so it turns into corners eagerly with genuine feel and feedback. Its a properly entertaining little steer and it rides well, too.
Fuel economy and CO2 are due to compete with the best, ranging from 46.3 to 67.2mpg, and from 104 to 137g/km. Under the current tax system most of the likely best-sellers qualify for £20 or £30 annual road tax bills.
Ironically, just about the only thing the Rapid isnt is rapid. The highest power output comes from a 120bhp 1.4 petrol turbo in conjunction with a seven-speed DSG twin-clutch gearbox, and although its brisk when worked hard you wouldnt call it fast. A vRS version would be fabulous, though
The key to the Rapids appeal is partly in its inoffensiveness and general lack of flaws. After spending several hours behind the wheel and covering all kinds of roads, there were only two niggles I could find. The pedals, at least on the left-hand-drive test cars, were unusually offset and it could potentially be annoying.
The other thing, in a shame-faced display of straw-clutching, is that the interior could be a bit more interesting. Theres absolutely nothing wrong with it, but its a bit plain.
This is a car you could own for five years without batting an eyelid, simply because it does the job so effectively. Its a wise investment as a usable family bus, and, from early indications, an affordable one. Whats not to get excited about?
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Skoda Rapid Elegance 1.2 TSI 105PS GreenTech, price TBC (est. £16,000).
Engine: 1.2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol producing 104bhp and 129lb.ft.
Transmission: 6-speed manual gearbox driving the front wheels.
Performance: Top speed 121mph, 0-62mph in 10.4 seconds.
Fuel economy: 56.5mpg.
CO2 rating: 116g/km.