The Skoda Roomster is quite a familiar sight on Britain’s roads. It’s hard to believe it’s nearly a decade since the concept was unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show and six years since it finally made its debut. The Skoda brand has come a long way since then, picking up awards left, right and centre and producing some rather interesting cars. By way of an example, I only need to point to the likes of the Yeti, Superb estate and Fabia vRS.
The result of Skoda’s meteoric rise is that the Roomster has been largely forgotten. It strikes me that it’s become the embarrassing uncle of the Skoda range. Slightly oddball in character and not quite sure which box it’s meant to fit into. For every family I see in a Roomster, I see an elderly couple seemingly on their way to a garden centre.
So I was keen to test the Roomster to see if it’s still relevant in 2012. Step forward the Skoda Roomster Scout with the 90PS 1.6 TDi engine.
The Roomster is often referred to as a mini MPV although for some reason I’ve never really seen it as that. I can’t quite put my finger on what I thought it was, but after a week with the car, I see it more as a kind of ‘Fabia Plus’. In much the same way as the Golf Plus is a bloated Golf, the Roomster is like an obscure version of the Fabia estate. I did wonder if it would be a cut price Yeti, but sadly it isn’t. It feels too tall and is too wallowy around the bends to ever be a Yeti. But that’s not to say it isn’t without charm.
The Roomster name is derived from a cross between Room and Roadster. On the face of it this sounds preposterous and yet there’s a certain semblance of sense about it. If you’ve ever looked at the Roomster and thought to yourself, that it looks like two cars bolted together, that’s exactly what they want you to think. The front half is the ‘driving room’ and the back half is the ‘living room’. Stop laughing at the back, I know this sounds preposterous, but bear with me on this, okay?
Whilst I could never accept that the Roomster, despite what the brochure may tell you, is fun to drive, it never feels like you’re driving an elevated MPV. It just feels like a normal hatchback and must be given credit for this fact.
At the back, the ‘living room’ (stop sniggering)’ is a light, airy and spacious place to be. This is helped in part by the full length sunroof (a £585 option on the Scout), but also by the low slung rear windows. There’s also the bonus of a huge amount of rear legroom. With the possible exception of the Superb estate, this is the first car where my children haven’t asked me to move my seat forward. For a 6′ 3″ chap such as myself, this is a good thing.
The headroom is also very good, but the real trump card must be the Varioflex seating. Yes they slide and fold and can be removed in much the same way as other MPVs, but the middle seat has a further trick up its sleeve. Fold it down and it reveals two cup holders and a couple of arm rests. But it can also be removed quickly, with the outermost seats then having the option of moving closer together. My children loved this, but I can imagine them being pushed further apart on longer journeys. Are we there yet?!
There’s further good news in the boot, with 480 litres of space, which increases to 1,810 once you’ve removed the rear seats. Fit the optional bike holder and you can stand a couple of mountain bikes in the back.
But back to the ‘driving room’ again and the Roomster isn’t exactly a great car to drive. It’s never going to tempt you into a dawn raid but let’s be honest, the majority of Roomster buyers aren’t interested in driving dynamics. The amount of body roll is high, the gearbox is a little irksome and the 1.6 TDi engine is sluggish. My biggest complaint however is with the steering. It’s severely over assisted, which is fine around town, but annoying at high speeds. Not only that, but it’s also slow to respond, forcing you to correct the steering mid-bend. It’s my biggest criticism of the Roomster and would be enough to stop me from buying one.
Another complaint lies in the standard wheels and tyre package you get with the Scout. Skoda likes to think of it as an ‘adventurous’ and ‘rugged’ model and indeed, the additional body mouldings give it the feel of an off roader. Then why would you fit admittedly attractive 16″ or 17″ alloy wheels and low profile tyres? It’s nuts. Give me a set of steels and more sensible tyres please. It’s only a matter of time before the alloys are kerbed and the tyres give an unnecessarily harsh ride. Have some sense, Skoda.
I must also draw attention to the interior quality, which is a bit of a mixed bag. In common with other Skodas, it’s neatly laid out, the instruments are clear and there’s a sense of quality about the areas you’ll come into contact with the most. But just like other Skodas, with the possible exception of the Superb, it’s clear to see that the cost savings have been made inside. Some of the plastics are cheap feeling, the grab handles aren’t damped and the interior door handles are amongst the flimsiest I have come across. But taking into account the Roomster’s rather utilitarian approach, it’s just about forgivable.
The optional Amundsen multimedia system is very good and rather easy to use. The sat nav screen is a little small and not positioned in the most convenient place, but it’s one of the most user friendly systems I’ve seen and for that reason, needs to be applauded. The Bluetooth connectivity is also excellent with friends and family commenting on how clear the system is when making a call. It will also seamlessly sync with your iPod library, with the track name and artist appearing on the screen. All in all, the Amundsen system makes like simpler and that makes me happy.
Which brings me nicely on to my conclusion.
For me, the Skoda Roomster works best when it keeps things simple. No fuss and no bother, just practical, common sense motoring. This is a car without pretension that sets out its stall in the clearest possible way. I like cars like this.
But although I’d have no problem recommending the Roomster, I’d struggle to suggest choosing the Scout option. At £15,835 it’s not exactly cheap and you’ll still need to pay extra for proper climate control and panoramic sunroof. Opt for the SE Plus model and not only will you pay less, but you’ll also get these options as standard. In fact, aside from the ESP (electronic stability programme), it’s hard to see why you’d opt for the Scout. You can certainly do without the Scout mats, seats and body mouldings. What’s more, the SE Plus comes with more appropriate tyres which has got to be a good thing.
Whatever Roomster you choose, you should almost certainly go for the 1.6 TDI. The 1.2 TSI petrol engines will offer similar levels of power, but won’t get anywhere near the claimed 60.1 mpg of the 1.6 TDI. The 1.2 TDI will be more economical, but on the evidence of the 1.6 TDI, its 75PS will make it terribly sluggish.
A final word of warning though. If you’re an image conscious person or someone who cares what your friends or family think of your car, the Skoda Roomster is not for you. During my week with the car, the Roomster came in for constant flak. It was likened to a hearse, Postman Pat’s van, a ‘cut and shut’ and a disaster. Unlike previous Skodas I have tested, the Roomster is no image changer. It’s very much ‘old Skoda’ and unashamedly so.
It’s a hard car to love, but spend a week with a Roomster and you’ll grow to like its simplicity and fuss-free manner. Just avoid the false pretentions of the Scout and opt for a more authentic model.
The Skoda Roomster – wonderfully utilitarian.
Skoda Roomster Scout 1.6 TDI
Details of scoring can be seen here.