Mutterings about never-ending new car price increases 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 Thirties 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. It's lightweight and efficient, with cheap running costs all but guaranteed.
Here's the big news: the range starts at less than £13,000 (Dh74,000) in the UK. That's for a practical family car from a trusted brand. If similarly priced when launched here, that's massively good value, and when faced with the car it doesn't 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 the Octavia can seem a little too big around town, the Rapid feels perfect. The experience is encouraging right from the start and it's immediately very likeable.
It's the first Skoda to feature the brand's new family styling; a little blockier than the current crop of models but in a modern way. The design won't 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.
That's why the wheelbase is relatively long and the overhangs are quite short, which ultimately benefits rear legroom and boot space. It's a hatchback and gains a rear windscreen wiper over Seat's forthcoming Toledo, which is much the same car but styled to look like a saloon.
There's 550 litres of luggage space available with the seats up, which is a lot. It's more than the old Octavia had, in fact. With the seats down it's 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.
There's 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 on one side and hard-wearing rubber on 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 touch, chances are Skoda has installed it. It's incredibly rare that you find a car that's been so comprehensively thought through. With a range of engines there are options to suit the vast majority of typical new car buyers, with the pick of the bunch being the gutsy 105bhp 1.2-litre TSI turbocharged petrol.
It's a gleeful little thing with an ideal balance of fuel economy and fun. It's 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. It's a properly entertaining little steer and it rides well, too.
Fuel economy and CO2 are due to compete with the best, ranging from 5.1 to 3.5 litres-per-100km, and from 104 to 137g/km. Just about the only thing that's strange is that, ironically, the Rapid isn't 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 it's brisk when worked hard you wouldn't call it fast.
A vRS version would be fabulous, though… The key to the Rapid's 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. There's absolutely nothing wrong with it, but it's 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.
It's a wise investment as a usable family bus, and, from early indications, an affordable one. What's not to get excited about?
Specs and ratings
Engine: 1.2-litre turbo four-cyl
Transmission: Six-speed manual, FWD
Max power: 105bhp @ 5,000rpm
Max torque: 175Nm @ 1,550rpm
Top speed: 195kph
Price: Dh74,000 (UK)