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Click to view picture gallery“Majoring on space,
  Skoda’s affordable new
  Roomster has a cross-
  market image that
  could make it equally
  appealing to fashion-
  conscious first-time
  buyers and busy
  mums. Or even golden

THE MERRY-GO-ROUND of volume manufacturers introducing ingenious new models to keep the customers interested never ceases to amaze me. Entire new sectors of vehicle types, sub-sectors within sectors and in-between-sector models just keep on coming along to attract buyers.

Skoda's new five-door Roomster is just such a vehicle. Neither a com-pact MPV nor a five-door hatchback, it is a bit of both. As its name suggests, it promotes the use of space within the vehicle and the visibility for passengers looking out. It is also refreshingly different in style, and it could be 'cool' and affordable enough to become the trendy transport of young drivers.

Skoda — the value-for-money brand from the Volkswagen family — has, over the years, unequivocally cast off all jokey references about the Skoda name. Driven by really good, soundly-engineered, value-for-money products as Skoda is, in the first nine months of this year it outperformed the UK's new car market (which is still 3.5 per cent down on last year) by increasing their share by a not insignificant 1.3 per cent without resorting to distress selling with huge discounts.

Skoda and its dealers have also done wonders achieving consistently high customer service ratings in the JD Power surveys — and happy customers are repeat customers.

The Roomster is Skoda's fourth model range — joining their Fabia, Octavia and Superb line-ups — and more will be heading our way as the brand continues to grow. I look forward to — or perhaps not — driving their proposed Joyster offering: more thought is needed about that name as it sounds rather unflatteringly and Ann Summers-esque.
I mean, would you willingly own up to driving a Joyster? (It reminds
me of a Gameboy Joy Stick).

The Roomster has unique looks and during my time with the car it elicited considerable interest from passers by. Thanks to the Room-ster's low waistline, the front space within the car is best described
as a 'driving room', whilst to the rear is a 'living room' with large windows. The optional sunroof increases the airy aspect even further.

The rear seats are mounted higher within the car than the fronts,
to take advantage of the high roofline and to afford rear seat passengers better visibility, and can be removed. Alternatively, one can remove the centre rear seat so the two outer seats can be
moved further inboard to improve rear passenger shoulder room.

Behind the seats is a pretty large load area with access via a large, practical square-shaped tailgate. Making it a car capable of meeting the needs of young active families, young mums (as the family's second car) and, of course, the active 'golden oldies' who might want to accommodate the grandchildren from time to time or to make that all important shopping expedition to the garden centre.

Because of its low-ish price and endearing looks, I reckon quiet a few young people could adopt the Roomster as trendy transport — if Skoda pitch their advertising towards them. It only needs to gain street-cred with a few of them and the whole Roomster concept could snowball big-time.

In the marketplace, the Roomster has to compete with conventional compact MPVs such as the Vauxhall Meriva, Renault Scenic/Modus, Ford C-Max, Nissan Note, Honda Jazz and Citroen Berlingo, to name
but a few.

This new Skoda design application has come about by marrying the rear underpinnings from the previous Octavia models and the front section from the Fabia hatchback, coupled by a new mid-section for the added interior space. Other VW family models provide the mechanicals.

The Roomster initially comes to the UK market with six engine options: three petrol and three diesel, with outputs ranging from 70 to 105bhp. Petrol units are 1.2, 1.4 and 1.6-litre in capacity. Diesel options are a 1.4-litre with two power outputs and a top-of-the-range 1.9-litre TDI.

There are three levels of specification, thankfully — and almost uniquely — easy to understand: Roomster 1; Roomster 2; and Roomster 3! However, you do need to select which option you want carefully. Some things you might think should be standard are not. For instance, even with all that glass, air conditioning is not standard on Roomster 1. And the panoramic sunroof — part of the Roomster's styling statement — is not standard fit until Roomster 3.

Prices range from 9,920 to 14,050. The likely best-selling model will be the Roomster 2 with a 1.4-litre petrol engine costing 11,505.
That was my test car but — with a variety of pretty essential options added, including the sector-first of 'cornering' front lights — the final price weighed in at 13,025. Still good value for money.

Skoda's sales predictions are that 57 per cent of customers will opt
for a petrol engine and the 1.9-litre TDI engine will attract 23 per
cent of buyers. It would certainly be my choice and, in Roomster 3 specification, all for 14,050. Skoda expects to sell 700 Roomsters in the UK in the remainder of this year and around 6,000 in a full year.

The 1.4-litre petrol engine — a four-cylinder 16-valve with DOHC — produces 85bhp and 93lb ft of torque at 3,300rpm and I have to say performance is marginal. It does the job, but without delivering any driving pleasure. It's pretty lethargic when you're trying to accelerate and it requires considerable use of the gearbox to keep it moving
along. Get to a steep hill and the world just slows down. Once in the cruise on the flat and up to speed however, and it bowls along quite nicely although it is noisy. Top speed is quoted as 106mph with a
0-62mph time of 13 seconds. The official combined miles-per-gallon figure is 40.9.

The fuel economy during my weeklong 500-mile test proves what I
call the marginal performance provided by this particular engine. For example, on one journey with just me in the car and travelling on motorways and good A-roads with the wind behind me, the Roomster returned 45.4mpg. The next day, again with just me on board repeat-ing the journey in the opposite direction but against a stiff headwind, saw the average fuel economy drop a hefty 10mpg because the car was being pushed harder to maintain the same speed.

Then on yet another journey in steady-moving 50mph traffic over 60 miles, the Roomster 1.4 returned 50.1mpg. Then again, on the return leg with no traffic and travelling faster, that came down to 43mpg. No doubt the potential is there for fuel economy — but not for performance.

I know diesel fuel is currently around five-pence per litre more than unleaded petrol and that diesel versions of the Roomster are more expensive to buy than petrol models. But personally I would invest in
a diesel model, preferably the 105bhp 1.9-litre TDI. We already know that the VW TDI engine is an excellent unit and it would make the Roomster a real 'flyer' — plus it would give a much better quality drive because of the huge increase in torque (177lb ft versus the petrol model's 93lb ft). The diesel's combined consumption figure, by the way, is 51.4mpg.

In all other respects the Roomster was pleasant to own and drive for
a week in real-life situations. It is comfortable, offers flexible seating and load carrying (450 to 1,780 litres of space, depending on the seat configuration), it's roomy, light and airy, the driving position is good, the dashboard controls are well laid out and the car has a predictable and compliant ride. And — best of all — it looks appealingly different. Although some options should be standard fit, it still represents good value for money. My advice? Given the 1.4-litre petrol engine's marginal performance, go for the diesel. — David Miles

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Skoda Roomster 2 1.4
| 11,505
Maximum speed: 106mph | 0-62mph: 13 seconds
Overall test MPG: 40.9mpg | Power: 85bhp | Torque: 93lb ft

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