Alfa Romeo
Land Rover
Skoda Roomster
Czech this out
April 2008

THERE is no simple explanation as to what a Skoda Roomster is.

First you have to explain what a Skoda is.

It is a Czech Republic brand with a history that dates way back to the 1890s when its founders, by all accounts, produced quite a sturdy range of bicycles.

Skoda later was controlled by the now defunct communist Czechoslovakia, where cars were made by prisoners. Perhaps not surprisingly, sales slowed dramatically in the 1980s due to poor quality and antiquated engineering.

Since 2000 though, the business has been wholly owned by Volkswagen and its image has brightened considerably.

It is now the largest carmaker in central Europe and rates highly in buyer surveys in the UK.

Australia has become its 100th export destination with two vehicles _ the Roomster wagon ($26,990 to $28,990) and Octavia mid-sized sedan and wagon ($29,990 to $39,490) _ sent to our shores.

Now what’s a Roomster, we hear you ask?

Well, it’s a family car, a mini-people mover and a multi-purpose van all wrapped into one funky package.

The Roomster, launched overseas in June 2006, easily is the most unusual vehicle we’ve tested _ but there’s much to like and little to grumble about with this versatile newcomer.

Like Dr Who’s Tardis, it looks extremely compact. Open the doors and climb inside, however, and there’s room for five basketballers _ and their luggage.

The clever interior can be reconfigured in countless ways depending on the owner’s requirements.

The road test model came with an optional full-length glass roof that gave all occupants the feeling they were in a much bigger vehicle.

Kids love the Roomster, not just because of its cartoon looks, but because they are treated to such a great view from seats mounted 46mm higher than the front seats and deep rear windows.

Enhancing the Skoda’s family appeal is its five-star crash rating, supported by a range of safety features including six airbags, stability control, and ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution.

The Roomster is even pedestrian friendly, with body construction designed to fulfil the requirements of stringent protection regulations that don’t come into force across Europe until 2010. A deformable bonnet and de-coupled or covered rigid forward structures distinctly reduce the likelihood of serious pedestrian injury.

Other standard features include “Climatronic’’ air conditioning, remote central locking, power windows, cruise control, and 8-speaker radio/CD/MP3 in-car entertainment system, 15-inch alloy wheels, multi-function onboard trip computer and leather-bound steering wheel.

Although designed and engineered by Skoda people, the Roomster contains contributions from Volkswagen, including engines and transmissions from the VW Polo and Golf, plus the front part of the Polo’s platform and the rear part of the Golf’s platform.

It drives and rides like a VW, which is a good thing, and feels solid and secure on the road.

Suited to Australia’s harsh conditions, the Roomster has a full-sized spare tyre – not a space saver like some other European offerings.

There are two engines available _ a 1.6-litre petrol and 1.9-litre turbocharged diesel engine, as tested.

This develops 77kW of power at 4000rpm and 240Nm of torque at 1800rpm and, once stirred, has plenty of spirit.

The engines both come with 5-speed manual transmissions.

Inside, the instruments are thoughtfully laid out and everything is in easy reach. The quality of plastics and interior mouldings don’t sing out luxury, but are functional enough.

Skoda has stated it wants to “prove a point’’ in Australia, where it’s safe to say the brand is not well known.

The biggest hurdle will be winning the trust of locals and creating a greater awareness of its quality products.

As far as the Roomster is concerned, there are plenty of reasons for buyers to take a punt on something quite unique.



ENGINE: 1.9-litre turbo-diesel

POWER: 77kW at 4000rpm

TORQUE: 240NM at 1800rpm

TRANSMISSION: 5-speed manual

FEATURES: Cruise control, 6 airbags, stability control, ABS, aircon, remote central locking, power windows and mirrors, alloy wheels

WEIGHT: 1260kg

DIMENSIONS: 4205mm long, 1684mm wide, 1607mm tall

PROS: Roomy, versatile, safe

CONS: Unusual looks, question mark over resale due to lack of track record here

BOTTOM LINE: $28,990 as tested