Steve Sharpe drives Skoda’s distinctive MPV
Always a company with an eye on practicality and value for money, Skoda brought out the Roomster back in 2007, followed by a “refreshed” version” in 2010.
It was touted as “breaking the mould”, with ground-breaking practicality and comfort.
In essence, it’s a mini MPV with a load of space and some neat little gadgets throughout.
For a start, the boot can hold 480 litres of space, which is a decent amount for a small MPV, but you can increase that by completely removing the rear seats, thus transforming it into a sort of mini van, which boosts load space to a huge 1,810 litres.
Skoda are particularly proud of the rear seat configuration.
Named Varioflex, the system offers 20 different seating arrangements.
All can be reclined, you can remove one, two or all three of the rear seats depending on your needs,and when left in place they can slide back and forward, and even side to side, so that you could remove the middle seat for more space either side. Very clever, although if all three rear seats are occupied the central one is a little cramped for larger people.
Skoda reckon that you get the best of all worlds with the Roomster, with the driving qualities of a hatchback, the family experience of an MPV and the practicality of an estate.
There is certainly a load of room. Despite being shorter than a Fabia Estate – and only a couple of centimetres longer than a Rapid – the Roomster has a wheelbase longer than that of the larger Octavia model.
With the back seats pushed back there are acres of space in the rear, and the feeling of room is heightened by the fact that the rear seats are actually higher than the front seats, allowing the occupants a better view through the front.
It has to be said, though, practicality aside, the Roomster is an odd looking car.
Bearing more than a passing resemblance to a mini van with rear windows, at first sight it looks like three different models have been welded together.
There’s a fairly conventional SUV-type front third, while the middle third has the front doors with unusual shaped windows. The doors look like they should be sliding, but they’re not.
The rear third is stranger still, reminiscent of a small van.
The window line between the front side windows and rear side windows is uneven, while the rear hatchback door isn’t far off vertical.
The wheels are relatively small too, which adds to its unusual appearance. It’s one of those cars which can look give a different impression from whichever angle you view it from. It’s certainly not to everyone’s liking.
My test car was in a Scout trim, which in other Skodas adds four-wheel-drive but in the Roomster it means cosmetic extras like chunky plastic bumpers, chunkier wheel arches, roof rails plus slightly bigger wheels and privacy glass. The rear lights are also surrounded by a chrome finish.
It actually works well, giving the Skoda a more rugged look and a bit of extra road presence.
Inside the cabin things are pretty functional.
Practicality is the key word with the Roomster and you get it in spades inside.
You can instantly recognise the Volkswagen connection with the dials and knobs, and like cars from its parent company the Skoda’s switchgear and dials are clear and solid.
Some of the plastics are hard to the touch, though – It’s not cheap and tacky but its not plush either. It is what it is, the durable interior of a family car.
The Roomster is powered by one of a number of engines, from a 1.2litre petrol through to a 1.6litre diesel, which I drove.
It’s a flexible all-rounder, ideal for such a practical car. It pulls well from a standstill, really getting into its stride at the upper end of the revs.
The Roomster’s certainly a comfortable cruiser on the motorway.
We drove up to Scotland and the 100-plus miles slipped by effortlessly.
Although the diesel engine in the 1.6 version is pretty noisy at idling and low speeds, it settles down to on a long run.
There’s some rumble coming through the tyres, especially on the rougher surface sections that always seem to alternate with smooth sections on motorways (why do they repair them like that?) but there’s little wind noise coming through despite the high sides.
In town the Roomster is flexible and manoeuvrable. The large expanse of glass offers good visibility, although there are a couple of restrictive spots due to the thick columns.
It’s a high-sided car so there’s a fair bit of lean when you corner, but the steering is pretty spot on and the tyres grip well, making winding country roads no problem.
Practicality is the word that returns again and again in the case of this Skoda.
If you are in the camp that likes the quirky looks of Skoda’s mini MPV, the Roomster is well worth considering for a family car with a difference.
The Varioflex seating arrangement gives huge amounts of versatility, allowing a massive range of passenger space and loadspace variations.
It’s light and airy, and there’s plenty of room all round for occupants while for the driver it provides a good, simple drive and decent handling.
Skoda have made sure that the Roomster is at the cheaper end of the price scale for this type of vehicle, with the range going from just over £12,000 for the entry level 1.2 to more than £16,000 for the ultra economic Greenline version.
My Scout trim mode, with extras like the panoramic sunroof, nudged over the £18,000 mark.
The cheapest versions get electric front windows, a CD player and a socket for an MP3 player, but don’t get remote door locking. You’ll have to pay for an SE model for that, along with air-conditioning, electric rear windows, parking sensors and a panoramic sunroof.
Pay a little more for an SE Plus models and you’ll get 15-inch alloy wheels, roof rails and climate control, while the Scout version I drove gets the rugged body styling, privacy glass, fancy Scout mats, and a load more bits and bobs.
The whole range also offers impressive economy figures, though – my 1.6 diesel sipped fuel at an average of 60mpg.
Love its looks or loathe them, as a practical, spacious family car the Roomster makes a strong case.
While it most resembles small vans like Citroen’s Berlingo and the Peugeot Partner Teepee, you get more refinement as the Roomster’s still a family car at heart. Versatile, cheap to run, a decent price, bags of room and a pleasing drive, it’s certainly a family car that stands out from the crowd.
Skoda Roomster Scout
Engine: 1.6litre diesel
Transmission: Five-speed manual.
0-62: 11.5 seconds.
Top Speed: 112mph.
Economy: Avg 60.1mpg