Skoda Roomster

Practical and stylish, the Roomster takes Skoda in a new direction

Practical and stylish, the Roomster takes Skoda in a new direction that's bound to appeal to buyers. The car builds on the fast-growing mini-MPV segment, and anyone wanting a spacious small family model should check it out. Classier than a van-based people carrier, it's bigger than the current flock of supermini-MPVs, although top-spec versions look expensive and the smaller engines lack pace.

Combining the best bits of an MPV, supermini and estate, the Roomster is Skoda's impressive three-car trick. Last week, Auto Express was bowled over by the mid-range 1.4-litre petrol model, which is expected to be the biggest seller. But is the 80bhp 1.4 diesel as good? We hit the road to find out.

After a few moments aboard the Czech newcomer, it soon becomes clear that the innovative styling is more than a demonstration of the company's creativity. The different approaches adop-ted for the front and rear really make sense for passengers, too.

Up front, the Roomster appears just like a conventional car, with the wraparound windscreen providing a cosy, almost sporty feel. However, thanks to the huge back windows, it seems every bit a mini-MPV from the rear seats.

What's more, the light, airy cabin is versatile and easy to access, with remov-able back seats that slide, fold and tum-ble. The chairs can even be arranged individually, just like those in Vauxhall's Meriva. That means the rear bench can be set to accommodate three children, or two adults. Legroom is generous whatever option you take, and there's plenty of boot space too, giving the Roomster a really practical edge. The generous layout provides the new Skoda with an upmarket feel that its lesser competitors struggle to match.

The cabin's premium-quality atmosphere is further enhanced by classy materials and a smart split-layer dashboard. These are a cut above the norm, and set the Roomster apart from the most obvious rivals - van-based MPVs such as the Citroen Berlingo and Renault's Kangoo. Instead, it is pitched against more mainstream models like the Honda Jazz and Nissan Note. And in common with these practical people carriers, the engine line-up majors on economy rather than performance.

Our test machine's 80bhp three-cylinder diesel has a distinctive thrum that really makes itself heard when the motor is being worked hard. However, its vocal nature is charming enough not to get on your nerves. This car won't set any speed records, though, and if you expect to carry a full load on a regular basis, the bigger 1.9-litre 105bhp oil-burner is worth a look. Its greater torque and performance would certainly be welcome on long runs. On the plus side, the smaller unit's fuel economy of 54.3mpg is impressive, and CO2 emissions of 138g/km are low. Keen drivers will also relish the snappy gearchange and precise steering.

On the challenging, uneven roads of our test route, the ride also made the grade, with the Skoda shrugging off large potholes. And despite its tall bodywork, the car remained composed through the bends, with plenty of grip in reserve. Level 1 models don't get air-conditioning as standard, but all examples boast curtain and side airbags, body-coloured bumpers and an MP3 stereo. Top-spec Level 3 trim includes luxuries such as a panoramic sunroof, parking sensors and cruise control, but adds £1,000 to the price. This means mid-range Level 2 models are the best bet when the Roomster hits showrooms this September.

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