RAPID expansion is certainly the name of the game at Czech brand Skoda.
Four fresh models have already been launched by the Volkswagen-owned company this year and another two will hit the streets in January.
It’s all part of a plan to sell 1.5 million cars by 2018 and turn the go-ahead marque into a major volume car manufacturer.
While every newcomer is deemed to be important – and there’s a new one from Skoda every six months – the latest has particular significance.
It’s called the Rapid Spaceback and represents Skoda’s first venture onto the compact family hatchback scene.
While the name Spaceback may suggest an estate car, that isn’t actually the case here, rather a new variant of the Rapid range that was presented last year but with a clear identity of its own.
Styled by Jozef Kaban, the man who designed the Bugatti Veyron, the Spaceback is being aimed squarely at a younger audience with the emphasis on emotional appeal.
And it’s a car with two very distinct characters.
In standard guise, with prices from £14,340, it is an attractive if fairly conservative rival to established models like the Hyundai i30, Kia cee’d and Chevrolet Cruze.
But with the optional panoramic roof and extended tailgate glass it takes on a far more ritzy persona and simply oozes desirability.
Kaban admits this caused a real dilemma for Skoda’s decision makers, who were unsure which design to go with. “Would it be Romeo or Juliet,” he chuckles.
Upshot was that the latter style has been made part of an options pack, likely to include other bits like more striking alloys for an extra £1,000 – £1,200, though the exact pricing has yet to be finalised.
The difference it makes though, especially in bright colours like yellow or scarlet, is immense – and will be worth every penny.
As for space, well Skoda says the car sets a new benchmark in the compact family hatchback arena.
Rear passengers enjoy the best levels of knee and headroom in the class while the boot can be extended to a useful 1,380 litres.
The Spaceback also boasts features like a dual-level boot floor, ice scraper inside the fuel cap plus holders, hooks and nets around the cabin.
The engine range comprises 1.2-litre petrol units with 86 or 105PS, a 1.4-litre with 122PS and a pair of 1.6-litre diesels with 90 or 105PS.
And a GreenLine version producing CO2 emissions of only 99g/km is expected to be confirmed soon.
All three Spaceback trim grades – S, SE and Elegance – have more kit than the Rapid and include air-con, curtain airbags and front electric windows.
An extended test route through the mountains and valleys around Lake Garda in northern Italy brought out the best in the Spaceback.
While all three engines are strong and efficient, the 105PS 1.2 petrol version is one I would recommend.
Costing from £16,180 in mid-range SE spec, it returned not far off the official consumption figure of 55.4mpg.
It’s especially sweet and lively for urban driving and feels positive and well balanced on the road.
The order book opens this month with deliveries due in January, the same time as a revamped Yeti crossover joins the party.
Then there’s a new generation Fabia supermini followed towards the end of next year by the all-new Superb.
By then, Kaban could be close to signing off a new Skoda SUV – though that’s something he won’t admit to.