Skoda Roomster

Want a practical, reliable and well built family car? Head for Skoda. Want to stand out from the crowd? Then, until recently, you had to look elsewhere. The Czech maker has played safe with its styling of late - but a new dawn of Skoda design has arrived.

Skoda's designers have moved up a gear with the Roomster. No rival offers more practicality for the money, while a sturdy build and broad engine range add to the appeal. And although its quirky styling won't be to all tastes, those unconventional side windows at the back help to give the cabin an airy feel. If you want an unpretentious, spacious family car for a bargain price, look no further.

Want a practical, reliable and well built family car? Head for Skoda. Want to stand out from the crowd? Then, until recently, you had to look elsewhere. The Czech maker has played safe with its styling of late - but a new dawn of Skoda design has arrived.

The Roomster represents the manufacturer's most daring new model for years. It's the first VW-era Skoda to be built on its own platform, rather than one from Volkswagen. Indeed, no car from any brand is quite like this one.

The five-seat model allows you to make the most of its plentiful cabin space thanks to clever folding chairs. It provides a driving environment for the front two occupants and a separate 'living room' area for those in the back. Even tall adults will find there's lots of rear leg and headroom, and the tremendous space should help keep children happy on long journeys.

They'll certainly enjoy the view out; the tall side windows look strange, but provide fantastic sight lines. This airy feel is enhanced on top-spec Level 3 models by a glass roof.

For carrying cargo, you can slide the outer rear seats back and forth to vary boot space. All three rear chairs fold, tilt and can be removed entirely, too. Yet the car is practical enough in standard form, with the boot providing a massive 530-litre storage capacity.

From the driver's seat, it's apparent that all the regular Skoda virtues of a clear, logically laid-out dashboard and solid build quality are present. Our pre-production test car had a couple of loose pieces of trim, but we don't expect that to be an issue when the Roomster appears in showrooms.

A six-strong engine line-up includes 70bhp 1.2 three-cylinder, 85bhp 1.4 and 105bhp 1.6-litre petrol units, the largest of which is offered with a Tiptronic transmission option. A five-speed manual shift comes as standard. Diesel buyers have a choice of 70 or 80bhp 1.4 three-cylinder and 105bhp 1.9-litre motors. All are proven VW Group powerplants, but the mid-range petrol unit is expected to be the best seller.

And then we come to that unique platform. The Roomster's underpinnings are pieced together from various parts of the Octavia MkI and MkII joined with bits of Fabia to keep costs down - yet the result is surprisingly impressive. Corners are tackled efficiently, as the steering weights up well and the front wheels provide reasonable grip.

The 1.4-litre engine proved strong enough to help the car keep up with traffic effortlessly, while gearchanges are precise. If you like a smooth ride, though, it's preferable to travel in the front, as the suspension copes better than the rear with uneven surfaces.

Three trims are available. Level 1 includes front, side and curtain airbags, central locking and a CD player, while Level 2 adds alloy wheels and air-con. Level 3 brings a panoramic glass sunroof and parking sensors.

Prices range from £9,920 to £14,050 - and if this is a taste of things to come from Skoda, it looks as if the firm certainly has its house in order.

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