A disappointing driving experience and a decidedly cheap feel to the interior.
A week at the wheel, by James Luckhurst, August 2017
I arranged for delivery of the Mazda3 to Cheadle Hulme, near Stockport, where I would be staying tonight. The weather had been dry for some while, but weekend rain must have spoilt the car’s good looks and it sits on the drive looking as though it has been dragged backwards through a swamp. But through the grime we see a compact dark blue hatchback that’s sleek, smart and stylish. It looks good and the next few days of trying it out should be enjoyable.
There’s some time today to put the car through its places. Most noticeable on the roads of mid Wales is the firmness of the ride – not something I’m given to moan about, but you don’t half feel the bumps and lumps. Blame the 17-inch wheels, I imagine. Performance is reasonable when we’re in third gear or above, but I find I can’t be lazy about gear changes. Hills I might expect the Skoda to breeze up in third seem to knock the stuffing out of it, so I’m busy on the gearbox for a lot of the time. This leads me to think that I am not having as much fun in this car as I expected to have.
Let’s pause and take a look round the car’s interior, starting with the full-length panoramic glass roof. Dylan quickly works out how to pull the veil back, but he’s disappointed there’s no electric button. From my point of view, finding a comfortable driving position is simple, though I can’t help feeling a bit hemmed in. The armrest tends to get in the way of the handbrake, but it’s simple and quick enough to flip it up. Dials are clear, and dashboard buttons are all intuitive, if on the small side. There’s too much hard and practical plastic to give this car much of a special feel.
We set off in the direction of London, with William (11) and Dylan (7) occupying the rear seats. It’s a good opportunity to dust down the in-car DVD player we bought in 2003. The technology may be a bit dated by now, but it still works a treat, though I do not permit the boys to start watching until we leave the undulating highways of south Powys behind. Those country roads provide an ideal setting for an appraisal of any car’s performance and handling, but it’s here that the Skoda feels something of a sheep in wolf’s clothing. We feel as though the ultra-firm ride should really be backed up by a more positive and engaging driving experience (compare the Mazda 3 on page 54).
Very soon we join the long, straight dual carriageway that runs east from Abergavenny. Then it’s down to the M4 for a uneventful cruise towards London. Needless to add, the boys behave impeccably. Along the way the car seems nicely settled. Perhaps the motorway environment is where it is at its happiest. However, it does seem noisy at motorway speeds; there’s appreciable wind noise, too.
Deteriorating weather conditions call for lights and wipers, and we pass round a section of flooded road in Buckinghamshire. This doesn’t augur well for the purpose of our journey – an evening at Lord’s for the Middlesex-Hampshire 20:20 – but thankfully the sun comes out and the rain holds off. It’s worth pointing out the truly excellent fuel economy the Skoda is achieving (the manufacturer claims 67mpg). The 1.4-litre diesel doesn’t quite manage this, and the entry-level 1.0-litre petrol returns 60.1mpg.
A brief opportunity to reflect on this car, and I confess I can’t really work out who should consider buying it. Good economy and a smooth engine are its big plus-points. We might get round the hard ride discomfort issue by avoiding those 17-inch alloys, but there’s no escaping the cheap-feeling interior. We would also be looking for a consistently more satisfying driving experience.
Need to know
We tested the Skoda Rapid Spaceback SE Sport, which includes 17-inch black alloy wheels, black door mirrors, a black spoiler, cruise control, Amundsen satnav with 6.5-inch touchscreen display, SD card slot and six speakers.
The 1.6-litre, 115PS TDI engine works with a five-speed manual transmission. Acceleration from 0 to 62mph takes 9.9 seconds, the combined economy is listed as 67mpg. CO2 emissions are shown as 109g/km.
Safety systems include ESC and continual tyre-pressure monitoring as standard. They also feature the multi-collision brake, which, in the event of an
accident, reduces the risk of multiple collisions by preventing the continuous rolling of the vehicle.
Price for this version is £19,210 on the road. The range starts at £15,345 for the 1.0-litre TSI.