Skoda Roomster - The Verdict

Skoda's MPV is a model of good design and engineering that stands out from its van-like rivals and does the marque credit, says David Wilkins

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Price: £11,505
Engine: 1.4-litre petrol
Performance: 0-62 mph in 13.0 seconds, 40.9 mpg
CO2: 168g/km:
Worth considering: Citroën Berlingo Multispace, Renault Kangoo, Renault Modus

Explore the centre of Prague, the capital of Skoda's Czech homeland, and sooner or later you will come across the Fred and Ginger building, an intriguing structure on the banks of the Vltava. Completed in 1996, it seems at first sight to be an example of what might be called car-crash architecture; in fact, it looks a bit like a shiny glass tower block that has toppled on to the side of a traditional masonry building.

But examine it a little more closely, and a more harmonious picture emerges. Far from colliding or clashing, the two elements lean into and complement each other, like a pair of dancers - which is how this symbol of today's Prague got its name.

Skoda's Roomster is a bit Fred and Ginger as well - not just because it's an impressive piece of modern Czech design but because it, too, succeeds in combining wildly dissimilar elements in an unlikely but surprisingly effective way.

Take the exterior styling, for example. The front end, with its curvy contours and slightly Saab-like brow over the windscreen, marks a bold new direction for Skoda - the front of the next Fabia will be very similar - and represents a complete contrast with the high, box-like rear. The window lines completely fail to meet in the middle, but somehow, to my eyes at least, the design works brilliantly.

Under the skin, it's a similar story. Skoda's recent models have been based on the platforms of cars from its parent, Volkswagen, but the Roomster is different. Its underpinnings borrow from the small Fabia at the front and the larger, wider Octavia (old and new) at the rear. Again, this unusual combination works well on the road, with the Roomster matching the high standards set by other recent VWs and Skodas.

The Roomster's interior, with its VW-style switchgear and surfaces, is a very polished affair for a comparatively inexpensive, practical car - and is certainly a cut above the cabins of van-derived alternatives that some Roomster buyers will be considering, such as Fiat's Doblo and Renault's Kangoo.

Unfortunately, the Skoda doesn't have as many cubby-holes and other practical stowage options as some of these rivals, but space for passengers and luggage is generous. The rear seats, if left in place, can be slid back and forth, and reclined.

Judging by our readers' verdicts, this Skoda has another thing in common with Prague's Fred and Ginger - an ability to polarise opinion. Personally, I'm a fan. The Roomster really is the car to silence every doomster who thought that Skoda wouldn't make it.

Lee Squire, 29, company director, Lichfield, Staffs

USUAL CAR: AUDI A6

My first experience of a Skoda, and the VW influence is clear. I like the styling of the front, and the finish is what you'd expect on a more expensive car. Inside, the driving position is good, though my knees kept hitting the bulky steering column. Controls are well laid out, apart from the electric mirror controls on the door, which are awkward to reach. This car's trick is the space for rear passengers. Access is excellent, even for less-mobile passengers, and the large windows create a light and airy space. The engine is economic, and powerful round town, but feels sluggish at higher speeds, and labours when pushed. A surprisingly good-value, spacious car.

John Lambert, 30, IT consultant, Evesham

USUAL CAR: CITROEN BX

The bright blue of the Roomster was welcome colour on a grey day. The interior was even more welcome, with light plastic and "blue wave" seat fabric. The driving position is low which makes the car feel unnecessarily tall. The seat height adjustment was unable to solve the problem. Steering and gearbox are pleasant to use. It is a shame performance feels sluggish and the engine sounds busy at motorway speeds. The ride feels stiff and bouncy with two on board, maybe it improves when fully laden. Skoda has put in plenty of practical touches but seems to have forgotten about enjoyment. I wanted to like the Roomster; instead I heartily disliked it.

Andy Glaze, 44, sales manager, Selly Oak, Birmingham

USUAL CARS: SKODA SUPERB TDI, BMW 325I

It has great styling and is very roomy. Interior quality was up to VW standards with climate control and good audio. The rear seats all moved independently, or can be removed, to give plenty of options for space, although the middle seat was to small for an adult to travel comfortably. A high roofline gives a large boot, and it has elastic restraining straps, two carry hooks, shelves and a clever divider to stop things rolling about. The full-size spare was a pleasant surprise, rather than a space-saver or can of foam. Performance in town was nippy for a 1.4l petrol engine, although at motorway speeds there was not much in reserve. Handling was surefooted.

THE VERDICT

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