Anyone who complains that all cars look the same these days should immediately add the Skoda Roomster to their list of possible used cars. This medium-sized people mover isn’t for everyone, but its unusual styling makes for a spacious, practical interior. Those who put function above fashion will love it.
During our visit to the Skoda factory in the Czech Republic in 2007 a designer explained, “We wanted to make our Roomster look like an aircraft at the front and a house at the back.” That summed it up beautifully.
Skoda had been missing from Australia for about 25 years when the Roomster was launched in October 2007 to display the Czech Republic’s expertise in automotive design.
However, Australia is a rather conservative market and Roomster failed to find many buyers, resulting in its withdrawal in May 2010. There was some stock build-up so initial registration may not have taken place for some time after that final shipment.
Roomster was reintroduced in June 2012 with price drops of around $4000 in an attempt to get sales moving. In the meantime Roomster had received a facelift, while retaining its fascinating basic shape, and it also got a new fuel-efficient engine.
Again it didn’t work out and the importer pulled the pin, perhaps for the final time, two years later.
In a vehicle that’s only 4.2 metres long, Skoda has provided stretch out space for four big adults. It’s relatively narrow and the division of the back seat into 40/20/40 per cent means the centre seat is only suited to a youngster.
The window line is significantly lower at the rear seats than the front, with huge side windows that let even small children get an excellent view out.
The centre-rear seat can be removed entirely. Having done that, you can either have a good sized gap between the two rear seats, or slide them closer together. A further option is to fold down the backrest of the centre-rear seat to create a small table with armrests and holders for drinks.
There are numerous storage areas, our favourites are the drawers beneath the front seats, as well as stowage for sunglasses, mobile phones, diaries and assorted odds and ends.
The boot is huge and a pair of large suitcases can be carried with ease. The rear seats can be folded down to further increase cargo space. They can be folded individually, either in a single motion, or double folded, as was common in older style station wagons.
All but the driver’s seat can also be removed without too much of a hassle to give a van-like space.
Handling of the Skoda is good, the steering is generally neutral at normal to higher-than-average cornering speeds. The added height of the Skoda over that of a conventional hatchback is noticeable if you push hard. But it has never pretended to be a sports hatch.
Skoda Roomster in its first Aussie iteration was powered by either a 1.6-litre petrol engine or a 1.9-litre turbo-diesel. The 2012 model has a 1.2-litre turbo-petrol unit, one of our all time favourite powerplants from the Volkswagen organisation. The turbo-diesel which had never been a big seller was pulled from our market. In any case the new turbo-petrol often uses less fuel than the old turbo-diesel.
Servicing and repairs are about average for this class and we’ve heard no real complaints about availability.
Skoda has been controlled by Volkswagen since the early 1990s, but still has a fair degree of independence from the boss. Many mechanical components for the Roomster can be bought from VW dealers, though the visible body parts are unique to the Czech.
Possibly because of limited history in this country Australian insurance companies have had different experiences with Roomsters, resulting in quite a spread of prices. It’s worth spending time on the internet or phone to get the best deal. Just be confident your comparisons are accurate before making a decision.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Roomster is solidly built by Skoda / Volkswagen and we hear of no real problems from owners. It’s still wise to have a professional inspection as these are an usual design and if you are unlucky enough to buy a bad one it could prove a real liability at resale time.
Excessive wear in the boot due to people stuffing lots of stuff in there – after all, this is what Roomster is all about – may be a sign of harsh use.
Similarly, if the back seat shows signs of hard wear it may be a sign of heavy-duty transporting.
Make the usual checks for crash repairs: ripply finish in panels when viewed end on; overspray on glass, badges and other non-painted areas, doors that don’t close easily.
Uneven front tyre wear may also be a sign of a crash, or it may simply be bad parking. Whichever … get it checked by an expert.
The engine should start easily and idle steadily from the moment it kicks over.
Automatic transmission using DSG wasn’t as good in the early VW units as later ones. If the Roomster auto is jerky or slow at very low speeds it may simply be a design problem.
CAR BUYING TIP
Squeaks and rattles may indicate a vehicle’s been used for extended periods on rough and ready Australian back roads.