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Road Test

Skoda Roomster

by Ian Barrett

22nd August, 2008

Skoda Roomster 
Image copyright: Next Car Pty Ltd 
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Every 'once in a blue moon' a vehicle arrives on the motoring scene which either re-defines, or sets new benchmarks for,  a particular market segment. We're not quite sure which of these milestones the new Škoda Roomster achieves, but one thing is certain. This is a unique vehicle, both in form and function. Designed from a 'clean sheet' and built at Škoda's Kvasiny production facility in the Czech Republic, the Roomster is one of the newest arrivals from Europe. We spent a week putting the 1.9-litre TDI diesel variant through a variety of driving experiences, covering some 850 kms and came away seriously impressed.

Based around various Volkswagen components, the Roomster combines well-proven VW engineering prowess, with some very fresh new packaging ideas, to provide a vehicle in a class of its own here in Australia. The very name tells the story. For the Roomster sets new standards for its interior packaging, which is little short of brilliant in what is essentially a small car. Its upright people-mover shape and 'VarioFlex' rear seating system provides a surprising amount of space, and great interior flexibility. The system is based on three separate rear seats which can be adjusted or removed independently of each other, offering eight interior layout options. The transformation from a full 5-seat family wagon all the way down to a 1,780-litre capacity, 2-seat delivery van, can be achieved by one person without any tools.

Front seating is comfortably average for a smallish car, with a good range of adjustment which includes manual height adjustment for the driver's seat only, but no lumbar adjustment. The leather-bound steering wheel is height and reach adjustable. And like the rest of the car, seat fabric has a very young, fresh style in a choice of grey or blue tonings. It's in the rear, however, where the real surprises are. The raised 'cinema seating' and extra large side windows are like a dream for back seat passengers, offering a panoramic view of the world outside. The centre seat back can be folded down to double as a picnic table.

Ian Barrett with the Skoda Roomster 
Image copyright: Next Car Pty Ltd 
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There are numerous storage spaces apart from the bi-level glove box. Under the headlight switch is a handy nook for bits and pieces. The front console has 3 cup holders, along with a 12v outlet and audio dock. An adjustable armrest between the front seats doubles as an extra 1.2-litre storage bin. A 1.5-litre bottle holder is included in the front door pockets. Boot space ranges from 450 to 530-litres, depending on the position of the rear seats and their respective backrests. There are two more open storage pockets above the rear wheel arches, along with the usual shopping bag hooks and an extra 12v socket. Also included in the storage package are a very handy set of luggage nets and a flexible partition which is just the thing for securing a flower pot or two.

The Roomster is surprisingly well equipped for both comfort and safety. Aside from the usual features like remote central locking and power windows now common to new cars, there is cruise control, 'Climatronic' semi-automatic air conditioning, comprehensive multi-function trip computer, heated power mirrors, and map lights. The audio system is an 8-speaker AM/FM single CD unit with good quality sound. Integrated satellite navigation is available for $2,090, as is rear park assist for $690. Safety and security is a top priority, with driver and passenger airbags standard, as well as side front and curtain airbags and ESP. All this earns the Roomster a 5-star EuroNCAP rating. And it's safe for kids as well, achieving a 4-star child protection rating. As Škoda say, "A car doesn't just carry your shopping and luggage - it carries all that's most precious in your life."

Outside, the Roomster has a uniquely eye-catching style, turning plenty of heads. Love it or hate it, depending on your age! We loved it! Colour choice also plays a big part. But there's certainly nothing else like it! And it's worth mentioning that the pedestrian friendly design is forward-compatible with pedestrian protection standards effective in Europe in 2010.

Fit and finish are excellent, both inside and out. Standard 195/55 tyres on attractive 5-spoke 'Avior' 6.0x15 alloys set it off nicely and lend a business-like stance. The black-finish roof rails shown on our test vehicle are a $330 option well worth ticking. Pearl or metallic paint are an extra $540. Our vehicle was fitted with the $1,690 optional, non-opening, laminated glass panoramic roof, giving a great feeling of airiness and space. Nice in the cooler months, with two roller blinds for the summer.

Skoda Roomster 
Image copyright: Next Car Pty Ltd 
Click on the image for a larger view

Under the skin is 100% Volkswagen, with a choice of 1.6-litre DOHC petrol, or the 1.9-litre SOHC turbo-diesel unit fitted to the test vehicle. Developing 77 kW @ 4,000 rpm and a solid 240 Nm @ 1,800 rpm, and coupled with a 5-speed manual transmission, this is the performer of choice, with plenty of grunt to climb hills in 5th gear with 4 adults on board. We kept up well enough in city traffic too. Some diesel clatter on occasions means it could possibly use more sound deadening.

We recorded our best ever road test economy figures with this car - a miserly 4.9L/100 km between Sydney and Newcastle on the F3 expressway. Škoda quotes a combined figure of 5.3L/100km. Another reason for Škoda owners to smile! Sadly, the lack of a DSG automatic at this time will deter some buyers.

Despite its tall proportions, the Roomster steers and handles very well, aided by standard ESP. The ride is also remarkably compliant, only being unsettled a little at the rear on our 'cobblestone' test area. Suspension at the front is standard VW Golf-style struts with lower triangular links and stabiliser, while the rear utilises a torsion beam 'compound crank' borrowed from the previous series 4 Golf. Brakes are vented disc up front and solid discs at the back. ABS, with EBC and traction control, is also standard fare.

This is a unique vehicle, both in form and function, and one which we find very attractive. Its 'clean sheet' design maximises versatility and results in a well-equipped, practical, fun car you can enjoy driving every day, and which adapts easily to just about every lifestyle.

From $28,990 plus on-road costs, it represents a great value family 'package'.

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Other Skoda content: here.

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