ONE of the most intimidating things a journalist can face is a blank screen, with the cursor waiting patiently for the latest story to be written.
The first line defines the story and shapes the whole nature of any article, so the importance of those first few keystrokes cannot be underestimated.
It takes confidence and certainty that you are doing the right thing. And it seems Skoda must have faced a similar leap of faith when it started penning its Roomster.
The Roomster – even the name is a break from the norm – looks different. So different that the designers have drawn a fine line between innovative and downright silly, with a front half which seems to have little relation to the back. Actually that isn’t far from the truth, as in a bid to offer a ‘driving room’ and a ‘living room’ experience, the front end is a Fabia and the back end is based on an Octavia.
As our pictures show, the two halves don’t fit perfectly, but then Skoda seems to have decided to put function over form in this case, pushing the envelope of what is acceptable design in the automotive world.
What people should be able to agree on, though, is the excellent interior space and flexibility offered by the VarioFlex seating system, which includes three rear seats which slide back and forth, recline a little, fold forward and even come out.
The exceptional glass area, complete with a huge standard full-length sunroof, makes it a room with a view and in the rear there is there is 1,750 litres of space in the boot if you take everything out. Leave a seat in and you can squeeze in two bicycles if you remove their front wheels.
All the changing around of seats is user-friendly and there are plenty of nets and hooks to ensure luggage doesn’t move about. To maximise the space and visibility, the rear windows are slightly deeper than the front ones, so the back door handles have been moved into the door pillars, which is a nice design feature. In the front, things become more traditional.
If you know the Skoda Fabia, you know the front of the Roomster. The fascia is a sea of grey and it’s pretty functional, although there is a generous dollop of Volkswagen Group quality which makes up for things.
The 1.9-litre TDI turbodiesel under the bonnet is a well-known Volkswagen power unit too, offering 105bhp, with 139g/km of CO2 and claimed average fuel economy of 51.4mpg. The car also has a low 5E insurance group and a competitive £14,070 price. However, you still need to fork out £250 for climate control, rather than the basic air conditioning system, £130 for rear electric windows and £350 for metallic paint.
Despite this, equipment levels are competitive compared to rivals such as the Nissan Note and Vauxhall Meriva. Cruise control is standard for a start, as is a reverse parking sensor, rake and reach adjustable steering wheel and CD player.
On the move, the Roomster feels solid and quiet at motorway speeds and if you shed your passengers, it can attack corners with a surprising level of grip and composure, with a minimum of body roll.
If you are light-footed then you will find that 53mpg is easily within reach, although you can hammer it down to 40mpg if you drive it hard. Most drivers should expect at least 45mpg if they aren’t town based.
So far it has enjoyed a trouble-free running-in period over the past 1,000 miles, although thanks to the attentions of my young children, the ‘cappuccino beige’ interior has become the ‘cappuccino, chocolate, biscuit, ice cream, pencil, blood, snot and tears beige’ interior. I recommend drivers with children opt for a darker fabric, or find a good cleaner.
Over the coming months, we will see how the interior stands up to this harshest of tests and watch its fortunes in the fleet market closely.
Skoda predicts 6,000 sales this year, with 30% going to fleets. Around a third of buyers are expected to come from its existing models, especially the Fabia estate, meaning a hefty 70% will be conquest sales.
The manufacturer’s view
THE Skoda Roomster is the fourth vehicle in our line-up and is core to meeting our ambition of breaking the 2% market share barrier. We are expecting Roomster to contribute around 20% of the total fleet mix.
In addition to the core areas, we believe Roomster will thrive in the NHS, public sector and Motability.
We are also expecting Roomster sales to grow in the small business sector. We are identifying companies who require compact vehicles which deliver outstanding interior space along with excellent fuel economy.
Andy Thomas, Skoda business relationship and development manager
Equipment and options
Metallic paint £350
Price (OTR): £14,070
Price as tested: £14,420
Price: £14,070 (£14,420 as tested)
CO2 emissions (g/km): 139
Company car tax bill (2007) 22% tax-payer: £47 per month
Insurance group: 5E
Combined mpg: 51.4
Test mpg: 48.0
CAP Monitor RV: £4,375/30%
Contract hire rate: £313
Expenditure to date: Nil