Car reviews - Skoda - Roomster - hatch
Cabin space, practicality, sweet engine and transmission combination, surprisingly fun handler, good value
Room for improvement
Weird styling, no diesel option, parking sensors not standard, some sub-par cabin plastics
21 Jun 2012
SKODA’S first attempt to peddle its oddball Roomster small hatch/van/people-mover in Australia may have ended ignominiously at the end of 2010, but that hasn’t deterred the Czech brand from launching a second attempt with a revised, more frugal and cheaper version.
Unlike last time, the Roomster will slot into a burgeoning Skoda portfolio that now includes five distinct model lines, with the Czech company positioning the quirky family car almost as a third member of the Fabia range alongside the hatch and recently-introduced load-lugging wagon.
The Roomster’s tall and narrow dimensions, plus a back half that looks to have been penned by a completely different set of designers than the front, add up to a – to put it mildly – polarising exterior design.
But despite the looks, the height gives its cabin expansive levels of interior space, and the giant rear windows, for all their lack of cohesiveness with the overall design, lend the cabin a light and airy feel and helpfully assist outward visibility for youngsters.
This airy cabin feel also makes the Roomster particularly child-friendly, while the lower ride height and high sills help entry and egress no end – making it a convincing choice for new parents or people with inhibited movement.
The instrument fascia is pure Fabia, meaning a logical layout and excellent build quality. But while Skoda claims to have improved interior tactility over the old model, the black cabin plastics on the dash top, doors and lower fascia still feel cheap.
Standard equipment levels are decent for the price, although we would like to see parking sensors fitted as standard, while the five-star European NCAP safety score is reassuring.
Skoda has capitalised on the commodious interior by once again incorporating the ingenious Varioflex seating system (also found on the Yeti small SUV). The rear seats are a doddle to slide, tilt and fold flat, and can even be yanked out altogether to create a pseudo-van with windows.
The high back doors – hinged, not sliding – offer easy access, while the rear cargo space is bigger than anything this side of a medium-sized wagon. The rear seats did have noticeably short bases, however, which caught out the long-legged among us (your contributor included).
Indeed, the Roomster is cheaper than almost any small front-drive SUV, but serves a similar purpose while exhibiting – in most cases – superior levels of practicality and user-friendliness.
The powertrain is the same 1.2-litre turbocharged unit found in the Fabia and front-drive Yeti, and as in those cars belies its diminutive capacity courtesy of forced induction.
Peak power of 77kW doesn’t sound that impressive in a moderately-sized van that weighs 1251kg when fitted with a dual-clutch DSG automatic transmission, but, as with the Yeti, the key is 175Nm of torque available across the rev band between 1500 and 4100 rpm.
This figure means the maximum amount of pulling power is available across the most active parts of the rev meter, and while the Roomster is not quite as lively as the Fabia, it felt smooth and perky with two weighty journalists aboard.
Its no rocket, but our previous experience with a loaded-up 77TSI Yeti – which is even heavier again – indicate the tiny engine is fine for hauling families and their gear.
It’s a shame that Skoda won’t offer a diesel option – the previous generation had a sparkling 1.9-litre TDI – but this has been omitted because it can’t provide Australian buyers with an automatic option.
The petrol powertrain is matched to the same VW Group seven-speed DSG automatic and five-speed manual gearbox as the Fabia. We only tried the DSG, and found it to be relatively fuss-free and efficient at best utilising the engine’s modest output.
Our drive leg included a lengthy freeway commute, with the Roomster happily gliding along at 110km/h at around 2500rpm.
As with all DSGs, the Roomster invariably suffered an occasional case of the jerks and twitches from take-off, but our experience indicate that time and practice smoothes away some of the rougher edges.
The Roomster is based on a hybrid platform that combines bit from the Octavia and Fabia that, despite its mixed origins, is a cohesive and relatively accomplished performer through the bends.
We found it remained surprisingly flat and composed mid-corner, with a minimum of body roll creating a fun and engaging driving experience.
The ride is far from soft, but feels less intrusive and more complaint than the Fabia, while the steering offered enough feel and feedback to keep things interesting.
We found the Roomster exhibited less tyre noise than the raucous Fabia, although wind noise was high (thanks to the tall body) and the hollow cargo area allowed booms and crashes to echo around.
At the end of the day, the quirky Roomster is something of an enigma. Journalists and car industry folk alike love to categorise vehicles into pre-existing segments, but a car like this finds ways to defy each of them.
But what the little Skoda does offer is a compelling mixture of space, practicality, quirk and value, and ought to be on the shopping list of the more adventuresome young families among us – assuming, of course, they can get over those looks.
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