It's a different kind of work day for us — we're out and about exploring the city of Mladá Boleslav, located about 50km from Prague in the Czech Republic. Decked out in fluorescent green safety vests, the group of us journalists from Singapore are far from playing tourist in the various museums and cathedrals the quaint town has to offer. Instead, we're standing in front of ŠKODA's automobile factory, where its world-renowned Fabia, Rapid, and Octavia models are manufactured. To the Czechs, Mladá Boleslav is home to ŠKODA, and where the heart of the country's biggest motor manufacturer lies. Its headquarters are within the vicinity, as is the ŠKODA Auto Museum.
ROOTED IN HISTORY
Working for ŠKODA is a privilege in the Czech Republic, we're told as we traipsed obediently into the factory and watched as a new car gets added to the production line every minute. Eye-opening, to say the least. There's much national pride associated with the brand — palpable with the stark number of ŠKODA cars on the road in Prague and beyond. ŠKODA started off as Laurin & Klement in 1895, named after founders Václav Klement and Václav Laurin, and moved into motorcycles before it built its first car in 1905. In 1991, Volkswagen took a 30 per cent stake in the business, and progressively reinvented ŠKODA. The ŠKODA Octavia was first released in 1996, and the sedan is still the brand's top-selling vehicle to date. With a sleek streamlined body, a brilliant ESC (Electronic Stability Control) system, and a large boot to boast, it's not hard to see why practicality and timelessness is on Octavia's side.
Today, ŠKODA is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Volkswagen Group, and it is the German automaker that has brought it back to Singapore after a five-year hiatus. With 1.2 million cars sold yearly, and a profit margin the second highest of all VW Group brands after Porsche, it's clear that ŠKODA's re-entry into our island state is a strategic decision. What we need is a catch-up tutorial — and a dedicated understanding — of the Czech's stellar offerings and positioning in our market. We're talking modern-day individual needs that marry luxury, performance, and comfort, sans the hefty price tag.
THE MILLENNIAL'S CHOICE
Which ŠKODA cars have been introduced to Singapore, you might ask? If you haven't already seen ŠKODA's winged arrow on our highways and narrow streets, keep your eyes peeled. At the moment, we have the sexy Superb, sensible Octavia, majestic Kodiaq, and zippy Rapid Spaceback. While each serve a different form and function, it's the Rapid Spaceback that caught our attention during the test drive in Mladá Boleslav.
While the Superb, Octavia, and Kodiaq are more often than not seen as reliable family units, the Rapid Spaceback feels a bit more like ŠKODA decided to showcase its delightfully rebellious streak. The 1.0-litre TSI three-cylinder petrol engines is veritably powerful for a car of its size, similar to the one fitted to the VW Polo or even the bigger Octavia. As we weaved through Mladá Boleslav's winding roads, the engine remained quiet, as the car gripped effortlessly through the town's sharp bends.
NIFTY AND NICE
The Rapid Spaceback's dynamic silhouette makes it longer than most conventional hatchbacks, and the ability to create an impressive boot space — at 1,381 litres — when the seats are folded flat is a major plus point for the young family. There's also more than enough space for three adults seated comfortably at the back, so your guests need not clamber over each other to find their sweet spot in the car.
If thoughtful compartments are your thing, you'll be glad to know that apart from the usual glove compartment and armrest with integrated drink holders, there's also an umbrella box under the front passenger seat. Dripping wet umbrellas on the seat or floor mat will now become a thing of the past. The Rapid Spaceback's clever rear view cameras also help you navigate easily into the tightest of parking lots — a problem we certainly don't miss.
ŠKODA's spunky ride sits in that comfortable balance of price and reliability, and is one you should take out for a spin. Do the Czechs proud.