Skoda’s reputation for quality of build and value is now being matched by a growing awareness of its special approach to innovation.
Many cycle race fans will be well aware of the brand’s links with the sport so it seemed entirely appropriate that the SI cycle team chose Skoda as a team car for our attempt at the Ronde Van Vlaanderen, or Tour of Flanders.
Yet, rather than select one of the factory’s larger cars, I wanted to see just how practical the new Rapid Spaceback would be for a team of four, plus bikes and luggage.
On first sight, the prospect didn’t seem that great because, externally, the car is very compact and is, in fact, slightly shorter than the Rapid it’s based on.
The overall image is, actually, a very sporty one, which goes well with the corporate user who likes to spend time off in action activities. Visually, it was only the extra rear side windows that hinted at the car’s true luggage bearing capacity.
Our test car came with a factory fitted Thul bike roof rack for two while I clipped my own two-bike carrier to the tailgate. Here were the first two revelations: the Thul was simplicity itself to attach bikes safely and securely and the sporty slopping tailgate allowed the other carrier to positioned right at the roof line so fully loaded the rear number plate and lights were completely unobstructed negating the usual need of a lights and plate board.
Next came the weekend kit bags and luggage of four strapping blokes and these all popped perfectly into the generous 415- litres of boot space with parcel shelf still in place. This rises to 1,380-litres with the seats folded if you’re carrying sales props instead of people.
And one more revelation is the full-length panoramic glass sunroof, which, for the cycle team’s peace of mind, gives a perfect view of the bikes above.
I tested the 1.4-litre TSI petrol using a super smooth DSG gearbox and found enough usable power for most high-speed cruising although a real-world average consumption of 35mpg on motorways was a bit average, yet that was loaded with four bikes compromising the car’s streamlining efficiency.
The handling was crisp despite all the extra weight and the suspension coped well and actually felt better damped than when the car was unburdened.
Build quality is also good but you will find cost savings with some of the hard plastics used, however, this is a workhorse and strong for all that.
Standard equipment, too, is impressive featuring six-speaker hi-fi, 15-inch alloys, rear parking sensors, cruise control, driver’s central armrest, front fogs, tinted glass and Bluetooth handsfree connectivity.
All this helped greatly to ease the tired and battered bones of the cycle team after completing the ‘fun’ ride on the fierce cobbled climbs around the town of Oudenaarde.
Plus the starting price of just under £18k means the company user-chooser gets a good crack at adding extra options to enhance the experience.
And just when we thought the Spaceback was fully loaded, Team SI even managed to coax six cases of Belgian beer into the car to lessen the weary drive home in what was the perfect partner on the gruelling weekend’s ‘play’.
You can follow all Paul’s automotive and transport news on Twitter @PaulMyles_
Engine: 1.4-litre TSI
Top Speed: 126mph
PlayHard on the Tour
Just as sales professionals challenge themselves at work, they are also top of the tree when it comes to personal challenges.
And with the burgeoning popularity of cycling, even the icons of success, such as Lord Sugar an owner of Pinarello bikes, are throwing a leg over a sporting two-wheeler.
So SI set off to see what all the hullabaloo was about the one-day Tour of Flanders early season event finishing in the Flemish town of Oudenaarde that attracts some of the top racers including our own Sir Bradley Wiggins and this year’s eventual winner, Fabian Cancellara.
This ‘classic’ is famous for tortuous climbs of up to 22% but on bone-jarring cobblestones and, I can tell you from personal experience, it is hell on a cycle! That said, a terrific personal challenge and with Belgium beers in hand, you feel real empathy when watching the professionals blitz the course on race day.
Trust me, the names of the climbs on the Ronde Van Vlaanderen including Wolvenberg, Eikenberg, Koppenberg and the Paterberg will be burned into you memory among other parts of the body.
But planning your trip is crucial to aid recovery of those aching limbs so we chose the quick and easy short sea crossing between Dover and Calais using P&O Ferries.
Our little party also had the foresight to book the operator’s superb Club Lounge option, which with priority boarding costs another £13 per head each way, is well worth it for the free glass of champagne, coffee, tea and a luxury lounge to relax after the gruelling weekend.
So if you’re up for a challenge next year, the Tour of Flanders will give you a good excuse to get into some serious weekend training.
For more details visit www.rondevanvlaanderen.com and to book ferry crossings see www.poferries.com.