Innovative Skoda is practical and a little bit different

Skoda’s improved Roomster continues to compete against van-based mini-MPVs but it certainly doesn’t look like one. It’s as versatile too – and as spacious.

If you’re searching for a small car but need it to be practical, affordable and just that little bit different, then this little Skoda could be what you’re looking for.

One day, back in the late 1990s, some bright spark caught sight of an ordinary small van. He noted its spacious loadbay, considered its robust construction and appreciated its affordable price. Then he wondered what would happen if such a van were converted into an MPV. With that spark of inspiration, the van-based MPV was born.

It became a popular format too. Many manufacturers tried their hand at it with varying degrees of success and then Skoda came along. The Czech maker didn’t have a small van to convert so, not wanting to be left out, they built the Roomster – the first van-based MPV-sector competitor that wasn’t obviously based on a van. Sales have been steadier than the Czech brand would have liked, hence this revised version with its fresher look and stronger engine line-up.

To go with its car-like driving position, the Roomster also delivers impressively car-like handling. Despite the high roofline at the rear, it resists body roll admirably and the general ride quality is far superior to van-based MPV rivals. It stays nice and quiet when you’re on the move as well, with only limited wind and road noise finding its way inside.

Under the bonnet, the engine range is much improved, with 90 and 105bhp 1.6-litre common rail diesels at last making it into the line-up along with an equally impressive 1.2-litre TSI petrol unit, offered in 85 and 105bhp guises. This latter powerplant is far superior to the entry-level 70bhp 1.2-litre petrol engine found in entry-level versions.

Also sharper is the styling – notably the redesigned radiator grille and 3D-shaped headlamps, which have been considerably widened, highlighting the stronger horizontal line of the car’s front end. Otherwise, the package is much as before, the Roomster remaining a car of two halves - or ‘rooms’ as the Skoda PR machine would have us refer to them. The ‘Driving Room’ is the area occupied by the driver and front passenger and it feels very much like that of a conventional family hatchback.

“At last, we could be looking at a Skoda that you buy with your heart as well as your head…”

‘Living Room’

As you progress rearward, you enter the Roomster’s ‘Living Room’ and it’s here that the vehicle’s van-like silhouette pays dividends. The roofline steps up, allowing the rear seats to be mounted 46mm higher than those in the front: this boosts the space available to passengers. Leg and headroom are both extremely generous and there’s a light, airy feel to the space thanks to the large windows.

The rear seating has also been thoughtfully designed. All three sections of the rear bench are individually foldable and removable. They also recline as well as sliding fore and aft so that owners can choose either to maximise passenger legroom or to bump up capacity in the extremely generous boot behind.

This boot is accessed through a large tailgate which lifts to reveal a capacity of 450 litres. Then, depending on the position of the rear seats, owners have the option of increasing that cargo space right up to a truly van-like 1,780 litres - which is achieved when all three seats are positioned in the garage at home.

Prices range between £11,000 and £16,000, comparable to van-based mini-MPVs like Citroen’s Berlingo Multispace and Renault’s Kangoo as well as more car-like supermini-MPVs like Vauxhall’s Meriva, Nissan’s NOTE and another Renault, the Modus. If you want your Roomster to come with a bit of attitude, there’s a ‘lifestyle’-orientated ‘Scout’ version on offer for a premium of around £1,000.

Naturally, you wouldn’t expect a budget Skoda model to be that expensive to run and all of the engine options return good economy figures. Expect to see around 52.3mpg on the combined cycle and 134g/km of CO2 from the 1.2 TSI petrol model with the diesels doing even better, taking CO2 levels down to as little as 109g/km. Insurance ratings are very reasonable with the Roomster models falling into Groups 2 to 5.

Skoda has never been a byword for design innovation but the Roomster certainly stands out amongst the well-engineered but rather ordinary models that make up the rest of this manufacturer’s line-up. The van-based MPV concept has always had definite strengths as well as some pronounced drawbacks but the Roomster manages to retain the positive aspects while smoothing over the rough edges and adding a generous dose of extra versatility.

The unorthodox styling and clever cabin mean that, at last, we could be looking at a Skoda that you buy with your heart as well as your head. Taking the van out of the van-based MPV equation could prove to be a masterstroke.