People carriers or Multi-Purpose Vehicles (MPVs) spent much of their formative years being derided as vans with windows.
Eventually, some manufacturers, like Citroen and Renault, gave up and began selling actual vans with windows, in the shape of the Berlingo and Kangoo.
Skodas Roomster has never been an actual commercial vehicle, but it aims to fulfil the same brief. Weve been driving one for a week in rufty-tufty Scout spec. Is it still just a van with windows, or simply van-tastic?
If were to start on a positive, its that in Scout trim, with plastic cladding and 17-inch alloy wheels, the Roomster looks considerably less top-heavy and under-wheeled than its non-Scout counterparts. With blacked-out rear windows, a panoramic glass roof and some silver roof rails, it certainly gives off the right pseudo-off road impressions.
However, the Roomster is not an attractive vehicle by any means – more Tracy Emins unmade bed than Michelangelos David. From a frontal angle it seems unnaturally tall, and from the side it could easily be two different cars. At the back, its rather featureless. And from any angle, those 17-inch wheels wrapped in rubber band tyres still look rather small.
And dont be fooled by the 4×4-esque additions, as the Roomster is no all-wheel drive Yeti when it comes to slippery surfaces. We only narrowly managed to escape the water-sodden, muddy, up-hill car park at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, as the tyres betrayed the cars road-biased roots
Thankfully, the Quasimodo styling pays dividends inside, where the Roomster Scout is genuinely capacious.
Getting comfortable is no problem for the driver, though our passenger to Goodwood commented that the firm seats werent ideal for long-distance comfort – so try before you buy. The Fabia-like dashboard is clear and easy to use, if a little dull. The plastics are a little hard and scratchy in places, but seem to shrug off the odd bash or scrape. The optional sat-nav system worked well, though we were a little disappointed there was no dedicated USB or iPod input – just a standard audio-in port.
The rear row offers plenty of space, and slides fore and aft according to how much space you need for passengers and luggage. Those seats – two individuals and a centre perch – also recline, fold and tumble, increasing the load bay further. Its also easy to access the rear seats, through massive, wide-opening doors.
The boot is huge, and the loading lip low, so flustered parents should be able to load buggies and shopping with little issue. Those huge rear windows will also be a blessing for parents, whose little children should be able to see out more easily, preventing them from becoming green around the gills
In addition, the huge (optional) panoramic glass sunroof makes the interior an even more light and airy place than it is already. It does result in the interior getting quite warm on sunny days though – best crank up the air conditioning!
A vehicle for keen drivers the Roomster is not. The steering is utterly devoid of feel, and the suspension seems under-damped for the large wheels.
This would be okay if it only affected handling at unrealistic speeds, but it also leads to a slightly wallowy, pitching, bouncy feel at lower speeds on country roads, that might re-introduce that car sickness your kids had just avoided thanks to the large windows
Then again, it doesnt wear Skodas sporty vRS logo, and it gets the basics right. The ride is okay on most surfaces despite the larger wheels, it steers well with good weighting, and all the controls are light and easy to use. Its also refined at motorway speeds, and in reality feels like a smaller car to drive, rather than a van, in most situations.
Under the bonnet youll find a 1.6-litre, four-cylinder turbodiesel, as featured in many other Volkswagen Group products. In this guise its not particularly powerful, and 90 bhp is all you get, compared to 104 bhp in Greenline Octavias, Superbs and Yetis. As youd expect though, theres decent torque available and although weve driven quicker cars, it rarely feels too out of its depth.
Skoda quotes a 0-60mph acceleration figure of 13.3 seconds, and a top speed of 106 mph. These both seem about right, though of course we didnt explore the latter. Its happy to cruise at motorway speeds, though at around 80 mph it needs a harder prod on the throttle than the more powerful 1.6 TDIs in the Skoda range need to maintain a cruise. Ideally, wed like a little more power to make motorway cruising a little easier.
Refinement is good. The engine is noticeably a diesel at idle, under load or under hard acceleration, but driving around town or on the motorway its never particularly intrusive.
Value for money
At 15,760 on the road the Roomster Scout does seem to offer pretty good value for money. For that, you get leather trim on the wheel and gearknob, extra speakers for the stereo, aircon, darkened glass and other toys, and of course the chunky body fixings.
Our car then came loaded with other options, including the following:
Silver roof rails (145) – 145 for some silver paint on the standard black roof rails? Erm… well pass, thanks…
Climate control (280) – Not overly necessary – the standard car comes with air con, which is all you really need.
Panoramic sunroof (595) – A nice option. Not essential, but it does lift the cabin.
Navigation system (535) – We wouldnt bother. Although its nice to have an integrated system, its hard not to ignore the fact you can buy an off-the-shelf sat-nav for under a hundred quid these days
Telephone preparation (340) – We didnt dig into the handbook to figure out how to set it up, but its worthiness will depend on how much you use the phone in the car.
Together with a 70 space-saver spare wheel, they brought the on-the-road price to 17,745. Thats a harder pill to swallow, so wed advise you tick the option boxes sparingly. Pricing is similar to rivals like the Citroen Berlingo Multispace, which isnt bad considering the Skoda doesnt have its roots in a panel van.
Skoda claims combined economy of 60.1 mpg for the Roomster Scout TDI. In mostly 80mph motorway cruising over several hundred miles, we averaged 51 mpg. A drive around town returned economy in the low to mid-40s, though our test route was fairly traffic free so you may see less in nose-to-tail city driving.
Driving the Roomster is unlikely to break the bank then, and for added peace of mind, it achieved five stars in the Euro NCAP crash testing – so its a safe place to put your family too.
Families not put off by the Roomsters challenging looks will find much to like. The interior is incredibly spacious and fairly hard-wearing, the rear seats seem ideal for loading children into, aided by the big rear doors, and the boot is a large, practical space.
Its not just families who may benefit. With slightly higher seats than your average hatchback, elderly customers will also find it easier to climb into, and with all that interior space and rugged styling, it holds some appeal for outdoorsy types too – itd swallow mountain bikes with no problems.
Its no handler though, the engine feels a little under-endowed at higher speeds, and it really isnt an attractive vehicle, which ultimately may put many customers off.
What the press think
Most reviews seem to echo our sentiments on the Roomster. All are in praise of the spacious, versatile interior, and the Roomsters ease of driving.
Unsurprisingly, many also comment on the unusual looks. If you can get past those, theres much to recommend the Roomster. For more information, check out our stats and aggregated reviews page.
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