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First drive: Škoda Roomster – on sale now

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Review

The launch of the Roomster gives Skoda a fourth model in its line-up and important access to incremental sales as it enters the MPV market for the first time.

Priced from £9,920, the Roomster is expected to appeal to families, active people of all ages and the existing loyal customer base. Skoda expects around 30% of buyers will come from its existing models, especially Fabia estate. It means a hefty 70% are expected to be conquest sales.

Offering the same space as the likes of Citroën Picasso and Renault Scenic, but priced more closely to the Nissan Note end of the market, Skoda feels its new model straddles the market in a uniquely Škoda way.

Product marketing manager Warren Richards says: 'Skoda is now equal partners in terms of design and development within the group. We are no longer in the shadow of Volkswagen and are free to do what we want.'

Proof of this can be seen in a radical departure from the VW Group’s platform sharing strategy. In order to match as closely as possible the concept first shown in Frankfurt three years ago, Roomster represents Skoda’s first foray into modular construction.

Put simply, the front of the car’s underpinnings are from the Fabia, the middle section is bespoke built, and the rear section is from the Octavia.

This synthesis has resulted in a car that fulfils its promise of offering a ‘driving room’ up front and a ‘living room’ at the rear.

This means a car-like driving experience, with seating position, visibility and ergonomics all ticking the right boxes; while passengers enjoy ample space, innovative VarioFlex seating and acres of airiness-inducing glass, especially if the model has a panoramic sunroof.

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Skoda has decided to drop its Classic, Ambient and Elegance trim levels. Instead it has gone for what it hopes is a more simplistic approach: the new vehicle is available as either Roomster 1, 2, or 3.

A 1.9 diesel and 1.4 petrol are available from launch, with the diesel undoubtedly the pick of the two thanks to its superior performance and economy. A 1.2 petrol and two 1.4 diesel derivatives will complete the range in early 2007.

#AM_ART_SPLIT# Skoda dealers are entering a bountiful period. New Fabia arrives next year, new Octavia in 2008 and the oddly-named Yeti in 2009; all of which will incorporate the new grille and headlight design featured in the Roomster. The MPV is a brave car that clearly shows the manufacturer’s confidence in its brand and its ability to convert sceptics.

Behind the wheel

The Roomster aims to provide a gratifying driving experience at the same time as offering passengers versatility and comfort. And it makes a pretty good job of it. Up front the ergonomics are good, with a height and reach adjustable wheel and height adjustable driver’s seat.

The Roomster handles well despite its unavoidably higher centre of gravity. Of the two cars on test, the 105bhp 1.9-litre diesel was by far the better engine; the 85bhp 1.4-litre petrol makes for less relaxed driving – the engine itself often sounds strained. It does beg the question how well the 1.2-litre unit will cope, especially fully laden.

Fact file

Price: £9,920-14,050
Engines: 1.2 12v 70bhp; 1.4 16v 85bhp; 1.6 16v 105bhp; 1.4TDI 70bhp; 1.4TDI 80bhp; 1.9TDI 105bhp
Performance (as tested): 1.4 16v
0-62mph: 13sec, top speed 106mph. 1.9 TDI 0-62mph 11.5sec, top speed 113mph
Transmission: Five-speed manual (6-speed Tiptronic to follow in 1.6 petrol)
Efficiency: 40.9-51.4mpg; 149-168g/km CO2
CAP 3yr/30k: 1.4 16v £3,975, (39%)
Rivals: Renault Scenic, Citroën Picasso, Vauxhall Meriva, Nissan Note
Strength: Price, versatility, distinctive styling
Weakness: Distinctive styling
Opportunity: Conquest sales
Threat: New ‘face’ of Škoda fails to lure new customers USP: A living room on wheels

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