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Car reviews - Skoda - Roomster - 5-dr wagon range

Our Opinion

We like
Styling, cabin versatility, safety, value, comfort, ride, TDI performance, unpretentious image, pleasant to drive
Room for improvement
Auto feels sluggish with 1.6 petrol, no rear vent outlets or interior lighting, some road noise intrusion

Skoda logo15 Oct 2007

LET’S not mince words about the smaller of the two Skodas now on sale in Australia.

The Roomster would go – quite literally – from being a very good urban runabout to a great little family car if it had a more powerful petrol engine, or automatic availability on the tried and tested 1.9 TDI turbo-diesel model.

What’s going on, Skoda parent Volkswagen? Doesn’t a larger engine or DSG gearbox fit?

As it stands, with the exception of the rather rapid TDI manual, it’s no vroom-ster, then.

Even with a slick six-speed Tiptronic automatic gearbox trying its hardest to extract the best from the small powerplant, the 77kW/153Nm 1.6-litre engine – quiet as it is – simply does not have the goods to provide the sort of instant acceleration or overtaking oomph that drivers of rival brands that Skoda itself cites – Honda Civic, Subaru Impreza and the Mazda 3 – typically expect these days.

All we can say is that the 1.6-litre petrol manual feels fast by comparison that we should be thankful that we don’t get the 1.2 and 1.4-litre Roomster models offered elsewhere and that the 77kW 1.9 TDI – with its 240Nm of torque and sole five-speed manual gearbox – is the only engine that truly does the Roomster justice.

But we should not let this automatic issue get in the way of an extremely likeable vehicle, particularly as it (along with some road noise intrusion on certain road surfaces, and no rear-seat air-con vents or overhead reading lights) is all that we could fault initially after our first drive in this Czech oddity on Australian roads.

Even after a brief encounter with the Skoda, you will know immediately that you are dealing with an impressive – and impressively fresh – product.

The Roomster has a captivating style, snatching peoples’ attention whether driving in Capital City or through the tiniest town. Incredibly, the rear is the neatest angle visually, with its well-proportioned glass area and towering tail-lights melding nicely with the futuristic B-pillar.

But – like its name suggests – the Roomster’s best feature is the interior packaging – which borders on the brilliant for a car of this size and price point.

While the front seat area is generically Germanic-proficient – with plenty of Volkswagen parts-bin bits and pieces making up the good looking, smartly presented and extremely easy to use dashboard – the back seat is a spacious, versatile and inviting place to be.

Sure, the front buckets are as comfortable as you would wish for in a cheap-ish car, but the fact that you can relax and splay your legs, or remove the seats altogether and use this as a smart little panel van, brings an altogether different perspective to light/small cars.

The Roomster also rides like small French cars used to – that is, with a pliant and loping cushioning that does a great job in absorbing a lot of the rough stuff going on below.

And, happily, the Roomster’s general dynamic capabilities don’t suffer as a result of the soft ride, with decent steering response, plenty of grip, and a secure amount of body control when you are pushing it through corners.

Gee, if this is what it means to be a German engineered Czech car, then maybe all of VW and Audi’s products should head Prague-wards.

However, there are some signs that this is a vehicle built down to a price.

Clearly, by using Volkswagen’s decade-old “A4” rear axle that used to underpin the old Golf IV (and still operates beneath the New Beetle), the Roomster lacks the ultimate handling and cornering abilities of its Octavia big brother or Golf V cousin.

In an unladen vehicle, we found that small bumps could fairly easily throw the Skoda off course in a way that would not even bother the Octavia with its more sophisticated multi-link rear suspension arrangement.

But then again, while we are not making excuses for this, most light cars other than the Mini are broadly similarly suspended and we cannot expect expensive engineering solutions in an Eastern European runabout costing less than $30,000.

Which, for urban families looking for a compact, spacious, versatile, safe and economical second vehicle, is what the value-packed Roomster is.

If you don’t mind changing gears, then the punchy 1.9 TDI is the pick – with the smoother and quieter 1.6 petrol manual not being too bad around town either.

But let’s get real – most people want an automatic these days. So until the Roomster receives a more powerful self-shifting version, its potential for greatness will be restricted.

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