Need proof that people carriers don’t have to be boring? Then take a look at the Roomster
Need proof that people carriers don’t have to be boring? Then take a look at the Roomster. The supermini-MPV is a massive departure from Skoda’s previous small cars, which have been conservative by comparison. It’s also the first model since the VW Group took control in 1991 that isn’t based on one of the parent firm’s existing platforms.
From the outside at least, we’re not convinced it’s a complete success. Although the neat nose echoes that of the Fabia, the back looks at odds with the front end; it’s like two cars in one. Still, Skoda should be applauded for trying something different, and the shape is more distinctive than most other supermini-MPVs.
Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Skoda Roomster
Slipping into the driver’s seat is like climbing into a Fabia with a tall roof. The stereo is easy to use, as are the high-mounted ventilation controls, and it’s more upmarket than the Caddy, with softer materials throughout. The seats are more supportive, too. Thanks to thin A-pillars, forward visibility is better than in the Caddy, even if we found stowage a little disappointing.
As both cars use VW components, it’s no surprise their controls share the same slick feel. The Roomster has a positive gearchange and a smooth clutch, which makes it easy to drive.
Despite its car-derived underpinnings, the Roomster has an advantage over the Caddy for passenger space. A shorter overall length means there’s no room for a third row of seats, but that in turn frees up more space for the rear bench. Our test car’s glass roof helped the cabin feel spacious, even if few people will want to travel on the narrow and uncomfortable centre chair.
While it doesn’t slide like the outer two, it can be flipped to double as an armrest with cup-holders. Folding the seats is straightforward, thanks to the VarioFlex system – the chairs drop with one handle and then tumble with the pull of another.
VW has yet to publish precise boot volumes for the Caddy Maxi, but it’s clearly larger inside than the Skoda. The Czech car isn’t as far behind as you think, though. Benefiting from the space gained by only having five seats, the Roomster has a 450-litre volume – more than a Ford Focus.
The ageing 1.9-litre TDI engine is a bit of a letdown. While we’ve driven plenty of different models powered by the 104bhp unit, its coarse and noisy nature still takes some getting used to. The performance makes up for this slightly. In our 0-60mph test, the lightweight Roomster recorded a time of 11.2 seconds – one-tenth faster.
On the road, the Skoda is competent and fairly agile. In fact, it’s similar to the Fabia, and far more composed than the Caddy Maxi. When cornering, the Roomster is stable, while the steering is light and precise. Firmer suspension means the Skoda isn’t as smooth over rough roads as its rival, but it’s just as good on the motorway and is less prone to cross winds.
If the Roomster doesn’t win you over on the test drive, its price will certainly grab your attention. Our test car was in top-spec 3 trim. Powered by the 1.9 TDI engine, it’s the most expensive model in the line-up at £14,220, but it undercuts the Caddy Maxi by nearly £4,000. And it comes with parking sensors, cruise control and an MP3 connection as standard. It also gets six airbags – that’s two more than the Caddy.
Model tested: Roomster 3 1.9 TDI
Chart position: 1
WHY: The Roomster is certainly eye-catching, and it’s also versatile, with a flexible and roomy interior.
With a lighter kerbweight and smaller engine, the Roomster was the more frugal car, returning 39.8mpg. But that’s still well short of the firm’s claimed figure of 53.3mpg.
The styling divides opinion, but the Roomster performs well in the used market. It retains 42.5 per cent of its price new, and will still be worth £8,176 after three years.
You will pay slightly more for servicing if you buy the Skoda, with three checks for £807. But the firm’s garages came second in our Driver Power 2008 dealer poll.
As it puts out 139g/km of CO2, the Roomster sits in the lowest 18 per cent tax band for diesels. That means business users on the lower rate of earnings pay only £563 a year.
In this review
- 1IntroductionIs Volkswagen’s new van-based Caddy Maxi the most practical no frills people carrier around? We find out as it tackles Skoda’s purpose-built Roomster MPV
- 21st Skoda Roomster - currently readingNeed proof that people carriers don’t have to be boring? Then take a look at the Roomster
- 32nd VW Caddy MaxiWalk into a Volkswagen showroom, and you will see five MPVs on display.
- 4Facts and figures