The Roomster is real. When it unveiled this odd-looking compact people carrier in concept form at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2003, Skoda stunned most showgoers twice – firstly with such an audacious design, and secondly with the news that it was going to produce it.
This car signposts Skoda’s new design direction, a standard bearer for a new-found confidence which will also be apparent in next year’s funkier new Fabia and 2008’s Yeti soft-roader.
The Roomster looks like two different cars joined together – because that’s what it is. Rather than opt for a top-heavy monospace profile, Skoda designer Thomas Inglenath (now head of design for the Volkswagen Group) created a sleek and rakish cabin hooked up to a chunky and spacious rear.
The front windows are small, like a helmet visor, while the rear windows are deeper and wider so that children in the back get a better view out from the raised rear seats. Its odd asymmetric glasshouse and door profiles mean the Roomster doesn’t photograph well, but on the road it looks chunky and distinctive.
Under the skin, the Roomster uses a combination of Fabia and Octavia architecture – an example of Volkswagen chief Bernd Pischetsrieder’s ‘click technology’ – to create a bespoke platform. Although it’s only marginally longer than the Fabia estate, the Roomster’s 2,617mm wheelbase is longer than the Octavia’s.
And a rear track that is significantly wider than the front further benefits rear accommodation. As you’d expect from Skoda, the Roomster’s cabin is intelligently configured, well-specified, exceptionally well made and has excellent visibility.
A key feature is the clever Vario-Flex seating system. The three individual raised rear seats all slide fore and aft, tilt and fold flat and are light enough to be removed with ease.
Removing the centre seat also allows the two outer seats to slide in and outwards.
It may not have the outright adaptability of the Vauxhall Meriva’s system, which allows seats to fold into the floor, but for most families the Roomster flexibility will be a boon. And the high-lift roof-hinged hatch means excellent access to the boot.
When the Skoda arrives in September there will be a choice of three petrol engines: a 70bhp 1.2-litre, 85bhp 1.4-litre and a 105bhp 1.6-litre, and three turbo-diesels: a 1.4 with 70bhp or 80bhp and a 1.9-litre with 105bhp.
They all get five-speed manuals, with a six-speed tiptronic automatic box on the 1.6 petrol. There are no FSI direct injection units – they were deemed too expensive – and Skoda expects the 1.4 petrol will be the big seller. A feisty 130bhp vRS version is thought to be on the way, too.
Martin Burke, Skoda UK’s head of business sales, expects the fleet market to absorb about 20% of the Roomster’s anticipated 6,000 annual sales, with most going to family oriented user-choosers and the rest split between daily rental and mobility buyers.
Residual values have yet to be finalised but RV prediction experts reckon it is likely to be worth between 30-35% after three years/60,000 miles, although with such an unusual car, gazing into the crystal ball is never easy.
There will be three trim levels. Skoda has ditched its Classic, Ambiente and Elegance names and opted for simple Roomster 1, 2 and 3. Prices range from £9,920 for the 1.2 Roomster 1 and rise to £14,050 for the 1.9 TDI Roomster 3. So it sits above van-based Citroen Berlingo and Renault Kangoo rivals but below bespoke MPVs like the Renault Scenic and Ford Focus C-MAX.
Spec levels are high. Six airbags with ABS anti-lock brakes come as standard, as well as central locking, a four-speaker radio and MP3-compatible CD player, while options run to active headlamps, a full length sunroof, climate control and satellite navigation.
Behind the wheel
THE Roomster is an exceptionally good drive. It may not look like a car to indulge the driver, but the little Skoda is a thoroughly competent and engaging car.
Although the steering is disconcertingly light, it is very direct and precise, allowing you to place the car with accuracy – a key advantage when threading through traffic.
The ride quality is excellent with the well-damped and compliant suspension soaking up the worst of intrusions.
Coupled with taut body control and lack of cornering roll and the Skoda can put a smile on the face of most drivers.
It’s a good job the 1.4-litre petrol – expected to be the key seller – is a keen and eager unit, because it has to be worked hard to make decent progress.
A light clutch, super-slick five-speed gearshift and short gearing help, but there’s no disguising its lack of outright punch.
The 80bhp 1.4-litre TDI diesel is a far better bet – if you can stretch to it. It’s a bit laggy and slower off the mark than the petrol, but once the three-cylinder diesel unit gets spinning it delivers plenty of mid-range punch accompanied by a charismatic off-timbre thrum.
THE Skoda Roomster is easy to like. Its styling will take some getting used to, but the way it combines the intelligent and idiosyncratic singles it out in this market sector.
Its sub-£10,000 starting price, decent specification and flexibility should make it a deserved hit.
|Model:||1.2||1.4||1.6||1.4 TDI 70||1.4 TDI 80||1.9 TDI|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||64/5,400||85/5,000||105/5,700||70/4,000||80/4,000||105/4,000|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||82/3,000||97/3,800||114/3,500||114/1,600||144/2,200||177/1,800|
|Max speed (mph):||96||106||114||98||102||113|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||40.9||41.6||39.8||52.3||54.3||51.4|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||166||167||170||142||135||149|
|On Sale:||September||Prices (OTR):||£9,920-£14,050|