A genuine breakthrough family car…

Posted on March 20th, 2008 in Opinion,Skoda by Julian Edgar

A bit over a year ago I wrote a story that decried the direction new cars were taking.

On important aspects like vision, weight, ride quality and real road handling (the ‘real’ takes into account the width of the car), many new cars are abysmal.

However, in safety, performance and emissions, new cars are undeniably excellent.roomster.jpg

But of course the point is that there’s nothing to stop new cars being safe, performing well and having good fuel economy – and having good vision, ride quality and doing it all at a lower weight.

In the list of deficiencies I should also have mentioned load space and flexibility – there’s been little change for decades. In fact, considering the external dimensions, whenever I get into a big four-wheel drive wagon like (say) a Pajero,  I am astonished at how little interior space there actually is.

And even cars that purportedly have lots of load flexibility (like those where the second row of seats slides back and forwards as well as folding), we’re still talking about trivial increments of improvement.

However, as I wrote at the end of that piece, the best (worse) examples of car design going nowhere can be seen in the locally produced family sedans – Aurion, Falcon and Commodore models.

But I can now highlight a new car that addresses every one of these points. The Skoda Roomster (pictured above) will be covered in a full test in AutoSpeed in due course, but right now I can say that it is a brilliant package.

For starters, it is wonderfully airy and light inside, with huge rear seat windows and (optionally) a full length glass panel set in the roof (click on pics to enlarge). The rear seats are high (children don’t need to peer over the rising waistline so common in today’s designs), and there’s good-to-excellent vision in all directions (although I’d like the A and B pillars to be thinner). The ride quality is excellent and the handling (complete with standard stability control), fine.

roomster-diesel-engine.jpg The 1.9 litre turbo diesel develops 240Nm at 1800 rpm and because of the relatively light 1260kg mass, performance is also fine. For the pedants, 0-100 km/h comes up in a claimed 11.5 seconds; with plenty of bottom end urge, in all my driving I was never embarrassed for a lack of power.

Fuel economy? It’s listed at 5.5 litres/100km and that’s a pretty accurate real world figure.

But the best aspect of the car is its packaging. The rear seat, which can be slid forwards or backwards, is divided into three sections. Each section can be independently folded, folded and tumbled, or folded and tumbled and then removed from the car! You can have the car fitted with seats for two, three, four or five.

You can even put back just two rear seats, leaving out the centre section and moving the remaining seats inboard for huge elbow room.

roomster-bikes.jpgWith all the rear seats out, the interior cargo volume is a simply enormous 1780 litres – more than in any vehicle I can ever remember testing. And removal and replacement of any section of the back seat is quick, simple and easy – no tools required and not much strength either.

So let me put this all another way. Compared to the locally produced cars, the Roomster has vastly more useable interior space, consumes about half the fuel, has a higher safety rating (all Roomsters have 5 star crash test results) – and at about $29,000 for the diesel, costs a lot less.

Sure, on a drag strip or racetrack, the Roomster will also be slower, but in 99 per cent of real world driving situations, there will be no performance disadvantage.

So which is the better family car? There’s no doubt about it – the Roomster. No wonder the car has won five family car of the year awards in Europe.

The fact that it is sure to sell poorly – at least in the context of Australian family cars – says more about the dopiness of the car buying public than about the worth of the Roomster.

It’s so bloody refreshing to drive a car where the designers have clearly looked at current, real world criteria for a family car – and have not been constrained by carry-over intellectual baggage of bygone days…

14 Responses to 'A genuine breakthrough family car…'

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  1. Richard said,

    on March 20th, 2008 at 7:18 am

    Think what a good taxi it would make if it was available as an automatic.

  2. Oosh said,

    on March 20th, 2008 at 7:29 am

    I agree with pretty much everything you’re saying in the article, but the fact is it’s a bloody ugly car. Despite being intellectually the right choice, purchasing a car is invariably an emotional decision too for most buyers, and that’s why this wont sell.

    The fact that there’s no fundamental reason this sort of body shape/design can’t look good, and Skoda can make decent looking cars (ie. Octavia), is the worst part of this whole exercise.

  3. John Kirkham said,

    on March 20th, 2008 at 9:54 am

    The English version of the Roomster was driven by J. Clarkson on Top Gear, which is the same model Julian has looked at. JC raved about it, after he bagged the smaller 1.4 litre petrol in The Times, even he said he’d prefer the diesel. So it’s a little bit hard to believe that a car company has finally managed to succesfully raid it’s parts bin, and come up with a ‘cross breed’ that actually is worth something… all ticks in all the right boxes, sort of thing.

  4. Ben said,

    on March 20th, 2008 at 9:01 pm

    It’s easy to get fuel economy like that when you make it so slow! 11.5 sec is a joke in this day and age!!

  5. Ben said,

    on March 20th, 2008 at 11:31 pm

    Pity it looks so boring. Skoda designers have taken a great leap backwards with the latest Fabia and Roomster. They seem to be aiming at the OAP market rather than families and younger people. It’s like Skoda’s equivalent of the Honda Jazz. Readers might like to know that the 1.9 turbodiesel has been around for ages and can easily be tweaked to produce around 130kW and monster torque – the ultimate ‘Q’ car??

  6. Jason said,

    on March 20th, 2008 at 11:40 pm

    My number one question: so how many car seats will it take?

    The laws regarding child seats in Australia are about to change. It’s going to be compulsory to have kids in the back seat in car seats or boosters up until age seven as soon as the states can pass the legislation that the various transport ministers have already agreed. (ref: http://www.ntc.gov.au/NewsDetail.aspx?page=A0240030550000002000255)

    My rule of thumb is that the rough width of a car seat that you can fit three of in a back seat is half the distance between the two outboard child restraint anchorage points. One seat sits in the middle, and half of each of the outboard seats is also counted (the missing halves sit outside the two outboard anchorage points).

    As someone who is soon to find themselves with a need for a car that will carry three car seats I’ve done a bit of looking around. The narrowest car seat available on the market is 41cm wide – the Safe n Sound Compaq. You’ll get three of these on the back seat of a Commodore or Falcon, but if the Skoda can’t fit three car seats across the back seat it’s effectively a 2 adults plus 2 small kids car – you might as well buy a better looking, better performing hatch or sedan unless you really need the load versatility.

  7. Ben said,

    on March 21st, 2008 at 12:19 am


    That’s a pretty big increase in peak power. What kind of things would be done to get that? I would imagine the exhaust, intercooler and engine management would all be altered, but after that what would you do to make such a large improvement without having to compromise driveability? The jump from ~75kw to 130 is quite a large one.


  8. Julian Edgar said,

    on March 25th, 2008 at 5:14 pm

    “It’s easy to get fuel economy like that when you make it so slow! 11.5 sec is a joke in this day and age!!”

    I have just done 3500km in the car, including an interstate trip heavily laden. I didn’t NEED more performance once.

    Not once.

    And that included passing, open road hill-climbing, leaving traffic lights, etc.

    From the Gold Coast to Sydney (one leg I did), a 300kW HSV Commodore would have been no faster, assuming that a double demerit points long weekend penalty was being kept in mind.

    As a sports sedan, yep – lousy performance. As a FAMILY car, fine.

  9. PoisonEagle said,

    on March 26th, 2008 at 2:51 am

    Looks like a smurf pope mobile.
    Still an excellent car though.

  10. Paris said,

    on March 31st, 2008 at 9:35 pm

    I went and looked in person today, and the car is not ugly. Certainly not sporty or hot, but it definitely has a euro charm to it. They’re not a big car but the interior space in freaking INCREDIBLE, and at $32000 on road the package is very attractive. Im 25 and still interested in performance. I reckon with an exhaust etc, you could have fun in it, put boards on the roof, put camping gear in the back, and still run on the fumes of an oily rag. Im sold.

  11. Julian Edgar said,

    on March 31st, 2008 at 9:44 pm

    As I (think) I write in the upcoming test, point-to-point on a twisty road the car can be quite fast. Long wheel base and wide rear track give excellent stability.

  12. EuroBob said,

    on April 1st, 2008 at 5:32 am

    0 to 100km dash is all the craze? Who drives like that in “real” day to day driving? Grow up and get off your schoolyard folies of mine is bigger than yours mentalities and open your eyes. I find myself running rings around the “Sporting” V8s with BIG spoilers on track days with my slower 0-100 car. It’s the old cliche, it’s not the size but what you do with it.

    Hence, Aussie love affairs with the heavy drinking v8s with battlestar galactica wings and skirts for a family car is so…. ice age as it leaves me cold for common sense and real design flair.

    I will have a safe, efficient and clever Euro Mobile any day over our dinosaurs.

  13. Richard said,

    on April 1st, 2008 at 7:08 am

    Performance is easily fixed. There are ECU reflashes that boost performance to 99kW/310Nm for a reasonable outlay.

  14. tonys said,

    on April 2nd, 2008 at 3:17 pm

    99kW/310Nm sounds more like the mark for this engine. The 130kW mentioned earlier is probably for the much newer 2.0 DOHC TDi engine. This 1.9 is as old as the hills and is only a SOHC 8-valve jobbie. A Roomster with the 2.0 TDi (or 2.0 FSI or TFSI, or even the 1.4 twincharge) would be the duck’s nuts however.