Rapid Pain Relief

Tense nervous headache? Too many Vierzylinder schnappes? Take one of these white pills…

(c) Autocar

There is only so much ugliness anyone can take at a sitting and since as we have seen, the Bayerische Motoren Werke are now so firmly into the arena of the revolting, it is my belief that there simply isn’t any point in dignifying their efforts further.

Amidst the dreary, the predictable and the outright offensive this week, one finds one’s consolations where one can. Because there are pinpricks of light to be found. Peugeot’s lovely, if impractical eLegend concept, Suzuki’s refreshingly simple utility vehicle in miniature and Škoda’s latest Vision RS concept.

It’s been quite a journey for the Czech carmaker – from outlier and butt of every pound-shop standup’s punchline to where brand Škoda finds itself today. By any stretch of the imagination, it’s got to be the reputational turn-around of the century. Believed to prefigure the forthcoming Rapid, the handsome, well proportioned (and believed to be close to production-ready) new version replaces a dated and lacklustre range of cars, once it enters production early next year.

The new car will be larger than before, pushing it closer in size to the core C-segment, a section of the market Škoda has hitherto either shunned or has been forbidden to enter, and one sister-brand VW has made its own. Speculation is that its role is to occupy the space the current Golf will vacate once the forthcoming, more upmarket and more expensive 8th generation emerges later in 2019.

Yesterday, writing in Autocar, journalist, Hilton Holloway suggested that Škoda has become the ‘new Volvo’. He has something of a point, but I would suggest that it is Saab that the Czech carmaker now more closely resembles. While there was traditionally a hint of the social climber about Gothenberg’s finest, Škoda, like the now deceased Trollhätten brand, appears entirely and unapologetically classless. They also share a clarity of purpose, an emphasis on practicality and a refreshing lack of frippery.

(c) Autocar

What Škoda and Volvo do share however is perhaps the best realised styling of anyone, perhaps this side of Mazda at least. Elegantly and calmly surfaced, Škoda’s crisp tailored lines are in stark contrast to the VW mothership’s current fevered efforts, to say nothing of what is being squeezed out of Ingolstadt nowadays. Because ironically, the Czech cars in their sober rectitude now appear the more upmarket offerings.

And yet the one word which has been conspicuous by its absence from any representative of Mladá Boleslav is ‘premium’. But with profit margins of over 9% (close to those who do use the dreaded p-word), there is a strong suggestion that they don’t need to be. Anyway, one suspects that Škoda knows its place. The more pertinent question however is whether VW does?

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

14 thoughts on “Rapid Pain Relief”

  1. I’ve seen that rear end before, and recently:

    Joking aside, the Vision RS concept is a confident and nicely resolved design. The current Rapid is a simple and robust car (and a favourite with our local taxi firm) but is rather out of step with the rest of Skoda’s range. I wonder if VW Group missed a trick by allowing Skoda vehicles to become so sophisticated? The group’s mainstream brands are insufficiently differentiated, to the extent that Skoda is, I suspect, taking sales from VW. My brother-in-law owned a Superb Estate and now has a Kodiaq. He was contemplating a Passat before I suggested he consider the Superb, which was cheaper, larger and, to his eyes, pretty well indistinguishable in terms of perceived quality from the Passat.

    So VW intends to push the Golf (and other models) further upmarket? Where does that leave Audi? I remember reading a few years ago that the company wanted to position VW as a natural competitor for Mercedes-Benz (“premium luxury”) and Audi as a natural competitor for BMW (“premium sporty”). That may still be their thinking, but potential buyers see Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz as natural competitors, with VW still a rung below on the “premiumness” ladder. Meanwhile, the group still has no competing brand in the non-premium mainstream market successfully exploited by Dacia, a space that Skoda could have neatly occupied with more models in the mould of the current Rapid. Notwithstanding a recently much improved model range, I’m still unsure of how Seat is positioned within the hierarchy (or matrix).

    1. VAG may be doing what GM did in the 1980s albeit at a higher level. Whilst GM´s US brands all crowded down into the same broad patch of mediocrity, VAG´s various dominions are too proud to be second best to anyone and all seem to want to be upper premium or lower premium or mid-premium. I don´t see and don´t think there is a meaningful difference in the sportiness and luxury of BMW or Mercedes. Some models major more on one or the other and some are a blend. Only luxury -car psephologists could parse the difference and then I expect it will refer to historical models and not the stuff in the showrooms today. I will bang on the DTW drum: there are three natural positions on the car-market triangle: economy, sports and luxury. The “premium” could have been a differentiator in the 1980s. Today all cars are made very well, or more than good enough. Further, since I devised the scheme the tendency for sporting cars not to be “luxurious” has reduced markedly because almost so-called sporting cars are not that sporting and are better equipped while luxurious cars often have very good performance and handling. The marketing triangle might only now consist of cheaper versus more costly with a small degree of variation across that range between degrees of luxury and degreess of sportiness.

  2. Will there also be a version with a Seat grille and Leon badge because it looks awfully like an Ibiza that’s been on growth steroids?

  3. It looks nice enough, but clothes an unwelcome new trend – regular cars are being ‘decontented’ as manufacturers prioritise things the customer can see and touch in a showroom, while stripping down everything else.

    A long, long time ago (15 years or so) VW invested in a sophisticated new engineering platform for Golf V, stung by criticism of the insipid Golf IV (which looked delightful inside and out, but wasn’t so good dynamically). The most notable feature was independent suspension all around – expensive and harder to package, but essential to providing a good ride for all passengers and good dynamics.

    This has now gone, and this inviting Skoda will contain a collection of oily bits mostly derived from the Polo. It will no doubt be good, but only as good as it needs to be, and no more.

    The contrast with Saab (or, nowadays, Mazda) is profound – these were and are companies where engineers still have some freedom to pursue the best and most elegant solution, even if it flies in the face of convention and makes life a little harder for the marketing division.

    Skoda has indeed come a long way, but its ingenuity and individualism is disappearing.

    1. I thought long and hard about the Saab comparison, but I believe it stands. Firstly, we tend to associate Trollhatten with technically dense, turbocharged, somewhat upmarket cars, whereas the vast majority of them were lowlier fare. Certainly by the time GM were in control, Saabs were technically normative. (I speak from experience here…)

      Furthermore, had they survived to this day, they would be offering something broadly similar. Even today’s Volvos, while lovely to behold, are distinctly conventional – even ordinary – beneath the skin.

      Second, given what Mercedes-Benz see fit to offer up in this segment of the market – (a struts & twist beam stirabout) – Skoda’s offering I suspect will be no worse and probably in most measurable ways, better. Certainly on the eye. I accept that Mazda at least remain committed to pursuing a slightly superior technical course, but they are very much today’s exception – and whether they can continue to afford to do so without changing their business model is another question entirely.

    2. Speaking of the unusual and inexpensive, Mazda’s AWD on the titchy CX-3 crossover has a torsion beam rear suspension rather elegantly adapted with a differential and halfshafts. (Just think if the Rover 2000 designers had thought of that in 1963 instead of complication!) It’s also why it has the same poor, er low, ground clearance as the normal Mazda3 hatch. And presumably why it hares around in such a spritely fashion for a nominal CUV. Because it really isn’t, it just fools everyone with its looks. Skodas I cannot possibly comment on – VW ensures they’re not exported to my locale.

  4. The lettering on the black part at the back is ‘very Volvo’. Actually, from the rear, it reminds me a bit of a modern interpretation of the C30.

  5. To be honest this isn’t too far from the overwrought, overly aggressive, frill-ridden approach that Audi and VW itself have been taking lately. I can’t for the life of me find a reason why a brand offering sober but elegant, well-sculpted, well-proportioned vehicles would want to exchange them for something so overly angry and plastered with superficial visual fireworks. Especially in a market where both VW, Audi and Seat have been taking the same visual route.

  6. I do think that this could be an Audi as it shares the same design themes and features, even down to the shaping of some of the details. Those rear lamps, for example, with the way the outer bottom edge spikes downward (the basic form is also there in the Focus rear view, but Ford has chosen more rounded edging where the Skoda is sharp) is in the same spirit as the new A6 saloon. Those sharp folds that curve along the flanks are also very Audi, and very VW too (take a look at the new Tuareg … ).

    My concern is that Skodas are becoming over-styled as per the other VW group labels. I wrote a piece a while ago about the Superb and how it’s the pick of that sized car in the VW range to my eyes, but it’s not very Skoda. I’ve got the Octavia estate, and I do find myself increasingly see it as a ‘poor man’s Volvo’, albeit not so poor these days, although I still think it’s good value.

    Like others here, the brand I increasing have trouble understanding is SEAT. For me, it’s not a brand that suits the SUV trend (whereas Skoda is very SUV – of the practical sort, not the blingy type), and every time I see an Ateca or Arona I wince a little. The Ibiza is fine by me and (much) the nicest of the VW group sub-compacts – the new A1 having been besmirched by over-adornments, but the rest make little sense to me.

    1. Agreed, the Ibiza is a fine looking car. I can´t really think of their other cars without crunching up my face and thinking really, really hard. Alhambra! And that´s it. That is pretty bad, I think.
      There is a person inside VAG who is determining that all their cars have the same underlying corporate style. This need not be the case. I think it might also be that none of the litter want to have styling worse than anyone else so they all use the same form language. In one way it´s like GM´s 80s all over again.

    1. How about VAG kill off everything except VW and Audi and Skoda. Skoda does cheap cars, VW does middle range cars and Audi does higher end cars? If VW need a sporty brand simply make a sportier version of VW with the usual sporty addenda. There could be a sporty Golf, for example, with a GTi label. How about that? Up GTi; Vento GTi, Passat GTi et cetera.

    2. It seems there’s room for the type of revolution Apple went through when Steve Jobs returned to the company in the 1990’s. They abandoned the multiple overlapping, barely-differentiated models in favour of just four. Costs were reduced, customers understood what to buy, and the company could focus its resource on delivering better quality, differentiated products. It does feel to me that there’s an overdue ‘correction’ in the car market.

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