The sister car to Volkswagen Audi Group's (VAG) SEAT Toledo is going to take sales away from the larger VW Golf-based Škoda Octavia, but it will also bring new buyers to Škoda.

The exterior uses simple lines and while not overly inspiring to look at, Rapid goes about its business quietly without stirring up much emotion from onlookers. Closer examination shows up a few interesting touches; like the crisp headlights, strong shoulder line and number-plate area creases at the rear. Škoda of late has moved to make its badge more dominant by placing it out of the grille and onto the bonnet as per Citigo. The green badge background is gone and slowly but surely the logo is coming more to the fore.

Inside the cabin feels functional. Rapid is built on a stretched VW Polo platform with a wheelbase of 2,600mm. The result of the long wheelbase is excellent cabin length. The rear passengers get great leg and headroom. The boot is massive at 550 litres and, as Rapid is a hatchback, versatility is superb (no Škoda pun intended). Even with a new brand new Octavia coming in the next few months the functional and affordable Rapid will pinch loyal Octavia followers.

The front-wheel drive, five-seat car is available in petrol and diesel forms, but despite the shift to diesel of late, the petrol version is the one to go for - unless you're a taxi driver. The petrol version is cheaper to buy and you'd have to do a huge amount of mileage to make up the difference over the more expensive diesel. One figure from Škoda Ireland suggests the average user would need to run a diesel Rapid for 14 years to close the gap! However, this figure does not take into account business users, who can get VAT back on diesel, and higher-than-average mileage users.

Price is not the only reason to choose petrol power. Rapid feels more alive in the petrol version despite the on-paper difference. We test-drove the 1.2 TSi with 85bhp (€17,145) that falls into tax band 'A'. The TSi was honest and relatively frugal. The tax band 'A' 105bhp diesel we tested was on 16-inch alloys and the ride quality was poor. On the open road the engine was torquey but again the ride harshness distracted from the experience.

Three trim levels are available: Active, Ambition (+€950) and Elegance (16-inch alloys) for a further €750. Rapid has some nice little touches like the combined ice scraper and magnifying glass found in the fuel filler lid, the high-vis vest holder under the passenger seat and, of course, the shopping hook in the boot.

All Rapids gets ESC (ESP), six airbags and 15-inch wheels as standard. Prices start at €15,995 for the 3-cylinder 1.2 MPi (75bhp) and rise to €24,195 for the 105bhp diesel Elegance. A 90bhp diesel is coming and it will prove popular.

Škoda is a truly historic company with a greater automotive tradition than most. The original Škoda Rapid from 1934 was on hand at the UK test centre to remind us of the firm's rich heritage. Škoda now has its largest ever model range with seven vehicles and its growth since being taken over by VAG has been impressive.

Škoda Rapid is a sensible car for sensible people.

Michael Sheridan