If you’re open to new things, love the idea of a
car with fuel consumption that’s about twice as good as a conventional
Australian family car, can make use of an amazingly versatile and effective
interior load space, and want a car with excellent safety credentials – well
then, the Skoda Roomster diesel is probably the car you’ve been looking for.
In two weeks we travelled over 3500 kilometres in
the Roomster, including an interstate trip loaded with two adults and a child –
and a lot of gear. The Roomster showed itself to be so competent that we
think it represents a paradigm shift in the Australian new car market: it’s a
vehicle that does so many things so effectively that it takes our breath away.
The Roomster is one of the two new Skoda models
recently introduced to the Australian market. Skoda is these days owned by
Volkswagen and the Roomster – while a unique Skoda product – borrows many of its
parts from other Volkswagen models. For example, the front end is based on the
Skoda Fabia, the rear axle is from the Octavia Tour, the rear platform from the
Volkswagen Golf, and the 1.9 litre turbo diesel is also used in the Volkswagen
Let’s look at the diesel engine, because it’s one
of the facets of the Roomster that we think integral to its proficiency.
Although developing only 77kW, strong low-rpm
torque provides the 1260kg Roomster with quite acceptable performance. In fact,
torque peaks at just 1800 rpm and the engine pulls well from only 1500 rpm. On
the road this translates to good throttle response, often without the need for a
down-change of the manual five-speed gearbox. Hill-climbing is excellent and the
only time the lack of outright power shows itself is when overtaking on country
roads. In this situation, short-shifting at about 3500 rpm brings the engine
back into its high-torque band.
In normal driving – especially in urban conditions
– the car feels responsive and enjoyable.
However, the key benefit of the diesel is its fuel
economy. The official figure is 5.5 litres/100km and this reflects what is
achievable. In our Gold Coast – Sydney – Canberra return journey, we averaged
5.7 litres/100km, using the air con for most of the time, sitting at the speed
limit and with a substantial load on board. Urban conditions saw fuel usage of
about 5.5 – 5.8 litres/100. With a 55 litre tank, range is typically 900
kilometres before the low fuel warning appears.
But if the Roomster had only fuel economy as its
major advantage, that’d be nice – but not the making of a killer car. So step
Initially, the interior of the Roomster looks
nothing special. That’s not to say that the cabin is bare-bones – there’s a high
quality MP3 compatible CD radio sound system, good trip computer (that
incorporates multiple warning functions), cruise control and a leather steering
wheel. But it’s only when you start exploring the rear that the Roomster becomes
The first thing to notice is that the rear seat is
split into three parts. The two outer parts slide back and forth – so you can
trade reduced legroom for increased cargo area, or vice versa. But what if you
want even more space? Each of the three seat parts can be individually folded
flat, or folded and then tumbled forward. With the substantial load area under
the high-opening rear door, the Roomster is already class-leading in its
practical load carrying ability.
But it gets better – much better.
Why? Because each of the three rear seat parts can
be unclipped and taken out of the car! Removing any part of the rear seat
doesn’t require tools and is easily accomplished in literally seconds. As shown
here, you can even remove the centre part of the rear seat and then place the
two remaining seats closer to the middle of the car, giving enormous elbow and
This versatility cannot be understated. For our
interstate trip, we removed two of the rear seats and then – for better safety
in the event of a side impact – placed the remaining rear seat closer to the
centre of the car. The amount of stuff that could then be fitted into the car
had to be seen to be believed.
With all the rear seats out, there’s a simply
incredible 1780 litres of cargo space available – about as much as a much larger
four wheel drive wagon like a Pajero with its seats folded. Or, about four
times the volume of a conventional hatch of about Roomster size.
Even when configured conventionally, the Roomster
has outstanding rear legroom, headroom and foot space. Two full-sized adults can
be comfortably seated behind two adult front seat passengers; lanky teenagers
can be accommodated without a problem. (However, with a baby seat and two other
rear seat passengers, rear space would get tight for width.)
Front occupant space is fine and there’s also
plenty of room for bits and pieces – two glove boxes (one air-conditioned),
large door pockets with bottle holders, and a fold-down centre armrest with an
The seats, despite being rather firm on initial
acquaintance, are very comfortable over long distances.
And the groundbreaking interior space isn’t at the
expense of hidden shortcuts – for example, a full-sized spare wheel is
The Roomster also has outstanding primary and
secondary safety. It’s equipped with six airbags and has achieved 5-star test
results in the European NCAP testing. Also standard are electronic stability
control, traction control and ABS.
On the road the car steers and handles well.
There’s more steering feedback than is normal in Volkswagen/Audi/Skoda products
(a good thing) and the 195/55 Bridgestone Turanza tyres provide plenty of grip.
The action of the electronic handling aids is progressive and subtle and mild
understeer is the handling trait. Point-to-point on a twisty road, the Roomster
has the ability to surprise much more sporting machinery.
So what is wrong with this car – anything? We have
a few criticisms.
The climate control panel is fiddly to use. The
fan control knob lacks sufficiently defined increments and so the driver needs
to glance at the LCD to see what fan speed has been selected, rather than just
sensing this from the clicks on the switch. When switching back to normal
ventilation from windscreen defrosting, the fan speed can rise of its own accord
- very irritating. No rear vents are provided. However, on the positive side,
the air conditioning is effective, even with the large interior cabin volume.
The A and B pillars are also rather wide. The A
pillar can block the view of the road, especially when cornering on a tight
country road, while the B pillar gets in the way at some intersections.
The light-coloured vents at each end of the dash
reflect badly in the side windows, making it much more difficult to use the rear
vision mirrors than should be the case. The sound system LCD also fades a bit
when wearing polarising sunglasses. The rear windows don’t roll right down – an
acceptable trade-off for their massive size, something that gives children in
the back seat an absolutely exceptional view.
We also found that the rear load compartment
plastics marked easily – there needs to be more use of durable carpet.
Finally on the list of criticisms, the headlights
lack sufficient penetration for Australian conditions.
The test vehicle came with optional roof rails
($330), reversing sensors (very good when the Roomster can be piled so high with
cargo - $690), and huge full-length glass sunroof ($1690). The sunroof panel
makes the car interior airy and light, but the two cloth shades that can be
drawn across it don’t block the sun sufficiently: when parked, the Roomster
quickly becomes hot. Aftermarket tinting of the panel would make it a win/win
But perhaps the best aspect of the car is one that
we’ve not yet mentioned – its price. At a RRP of $28,990 minus options, the
diesel Roomster represents exceptional value. The car also has a 3 year
unlimited kilometre warranty – however it must be said that at this time, resale
value is unknown.
The Roomster 1.9 TDi is one of the most
outstanding cars we’ve ever tested. It has comfort, space and versatility that
puts most cars to shame, excellent fuel economy, useable performance, a high
level of safety and fine driving dynamics.
After two weeks we even came to love its quirky
The Roomster was provided for this test by Skoda