Everyone loves a beautiful car. You don’t need to be snoozing in a bed surrounded by piles of Autocar, CAR and Top Gear magazines, with carefully Blu Tacked Athena posters of Countaches and Testarossas swathing the walls to appreciate fine automotive design.
Names like Pininfarina, Gandini, Bertone and Giugiaro might not exactly be household but their artistry is enjoyed in metallic form.
I’ve got a confession though: I also love ugly cars. If you’re unfamiliar with nameplates such as Alfa Romeo SZ, Fiat Multipla and Volvo 262C, get yourself a-Googling and see the sort of thing that lights my motoring fire.
One of the more recent additions to the list is the creation on test here. An apparent moment of madness from conservative Škoda, the funked up little Roomster, in urban-tough looking Scout form.
The Roomster looks like a factory endorsed cut-and-shut. What were Škoda thinking?
Normally cars that are conceptualised to fulfil a multitude of roles fail at every hurdle because nobody understands what it’s supposed to be or how it might fit into their lives.
At first glance the Roomster seems to be a rival to those van-derived-cars such as the Berlingo, Partner and Kangoo but in reality, it’s a passenger car first and (in certain markets) a city-sized delivery van second.
Or is it one of those little MPVs, designed to take on the likes of the soon to be discontinued Ford Fusion or even the Vauxhall Agila and its Suzuki Splash twin? Well, it can do that too, with five individually adjustable chairs (okay, the rear centre one is narrow and suited to size 6 supermodels) and enough headroom for everyone to travel to Abraham Lincoln lookalike competitions in their full regalia.
Perhaps it’s just an unusually styled supermini, designed to shed off Škoda’s image of offering worthy but not necessarily visually stimulating showroom wares? Not quite: look closely and you’ll see it shares its nose (and although you can’t see it, its underside too) with the popular Fabia range of hatchbacks and estates.
The reality is, the Roomster is in a bit of a niche in that it can be all the above as well as simply being a smaller car for people that don’t want to be ‘me too’. This surely should be something of celebration.
Whether the design team had the initial sketches approved during cultural visit to Amsterdam’s coffee shops isn’t shared in the press bumph but whatever its origins, the Roomster provides eyefuls of fun with a conveniently appealing dose of practicality too.
With the Fabia’s low nose and dashboard the Roomster feels entirely conventional up front, save for those wonderfully curvaceous upturns at the trailing edge of the front door glazing. Like on the larger Yeti from the inside this looks a little naff, the glass having a blackened corner applied to it to hide the curve, instead of a fashioned moulding of pasticness.
The rear portion of the Škoda is uniquely different; taller, glassier doors with a lower sill height not only make it easier to get in and out of but permit the rear passengers excellent views out. The outside world looks iMax good from those back seat perches. The only gripe about the tall vertical aspect of the Roomster is that it makes it look like its wheels are from toy town.
Although the Roomster’s body is relatively short and sheer, vertical tail maximises every possible cubic centimetre of interior capaciousness. Rear lights are sensibly mounted vertically in the D-pillars without encroaching into the loadspace entry, although popping open the barn door like tailgate in tight parking spaces has you sucking in air through your teeth.
In Škodaspeak Scout means faux by four; the removal of body coloured plastic panels and replacing them with utilitarian chic unpainted plastic of grey hue. Such SUVing of the bodywork does not include any kind of four wheel drive transmission on the Roomster so forget any plans of heading straight to Snowdonia to tackle the elevated terrain. I wasn’t a fan initially but over the week I did begin to appreciate how the cladding reduced the Roomster’s visual height and offered an element of balance. It still looked under-wheeled though in spite of the chunky alloys.
Not convinced but the Roomster Scout’s spacious interior sounds a winner.
Perhaps the biggest surprise about the Roomster’s interior is that it’s relatively normal in there, exceptional headroom excepted.
Place yourself on the comfortable and supportive driver’s seat, adjust it and the wheel angle to your preference and it’s all very pleasant if unremarkable. The dashboard and mouldings are shared with the Fabia, which means a modicum of squidgy plastics on the dash top with matching leather pattern harder offerings across other areas such as the doors and centre console.
The controls feel solid and well engineered, reflecting their Volkswagen Group heritage, switchgear offering well-weighted and satisfyingly damped operations. As well as being relatively high grade plastics, the build quality is impressively solid with no hints of squeaks or rattles anywhere in the cabin.
Move into the rear, which feels airy not just by virtue of those deeply glazed doors but also because of the glass roof and the outer two seats feel spacious with ample legroom and well as width for adult occupants. A pair of child seats will easily be accommodated, ISOFIX fittings are naturally standard for securing the latest design of restraints.
Although the seats slide fore and aft, the Roomster’s supermini origins are most apparent in its width, meaning the middle seat is considerably narrower than the outer pair. It’s not useless but the seat represents the shortest of Roomster straws, being only really wide enough for a child who’s old enough not to need a booster cushion. If you travel four up more often than five up, it makes more sense to tumble the seatback forward and use the armrest and cupholders that are moulded into it.
Adding to the versatility is that enormous cargo hold, eminently practical in shape, size and features, with retractable hooks in the boot sides to hang shopping bags onto, preventing bags of groceries slewing about the boot floor. Flipping the trio of rear seats forward extends an already cavernous 450l to a Kensington studio apartment rivalling 1780l.
Okay, so it’s practical but how does the Skoda Roomster Scout feel out on the road?
If you’ve prior experience with older examples of the Volkswagen Group’s smaller TDI engines, you’ll have appreciated their economy if not their gruff rumble. At a time when other marques were ploughing millions into common rail technologies, VW went another direction with its Pumpe Düse (PD) units. Pragmatism has since reigned and those PD initials have been replaced by CR in the model designation, standing for… You’re one step ahead.
The resultant engines, here in 89bhp 1.6-litre form, not only retain their elevated levels of fuel economy but now with added smoothness and minimal clatter. In the Roomster, the motor feels silken and refined but disappointingly free of urgency.
Performance figures shouldn’t lie but the Roomster’s quoted 0-60mph sprint time of 13.3 seconds sounds faster than the car actually feels. An average of 54mpg over a week of the test softened the tortoise-paced blow.
Not that the Škoda’s a car that you clamber aboard and hustle onto your favourite backroads for a joyous hour of point to point blasting; the Roomster’s tuned for comfort and predictability rather than on the edge barrelling round corners and cresting blind summits at pace.
Ride quality is one particular strength, those apparently small wheels effortlessly soaking up deeper ruts as well as the compliant suspension negating the jiggling effects of secondary ripples that leave negative impressions in the minds and bottoms of passengers.
The handling is predictable though, the Roomster’s obvious height seemingly having no effect in causing excessive roll thanks to the chassis’ low centre of gravity. It remains composed and willingly goes wherever you point the front wheels, until speed scrubs the grip away and understeer sets in.
Gripping the steering wheel, whilst pleasant to the touch, is a somewhat anaesthetised experience. So refined and well-engineered is the Roomster that all but all the feel through the steering column to the rim has been dialled out. Many will like the cushioned experience as it’s reflected in the ride and the gearbox, which slots precisely between ratios without notches or mechanical harshness.
Škoda’s Roomster Scout’s a difficult car to pigeonhole but one which’ll easily fit into the lives of the majority of drivers and their families.
The space inside is useable and flexible yet its exterior dimensions allow it to nip in and out of tight urban confines with ease.
Roomster is a refined small car, designed to comfort rather than entertain. It’s no ball of fire; it’s the car equivalent of a big hug after a stressful day, followed by curling up on the cosiest of armchairs with a steaming brew and a selection of biscuits to dunk therein. Dependable, comforting and reassuring.
View the Roomster with open eyes and mind and you’ll be rewarded. It’s not the fastest or best handling but it’s a car with charm and neat touches. In a landscape design similarity, the Roomster’s proudly different.
Thumbs Up: Spacious, refined, economical, reassuring, unusual styling
Thumbs Down: Centre rear seat, engine could do with more power, Scout trim not to all tastes
Skoda Roomster starts at £11,855 for the S 1.2 12v 69PS rising to £16,195 for the Greenline II 1.2 TDI CR 75PS.
Model Tested: Škoda Roomster Scout 1.6 TDI CR 90PS
Top Speed: 106mph
Combined cycle fuel consumption: 60.1mpg
CO2 emissions: 124g/km
VED Band/Cost: D/£100pa
Engine size: 4/1598cc common rail fuel injection, turbocharged diesel
Boot space: 450-1780l
Kerb weight: 1247kg
Price: £15,835 (April 2012)
All photographs © Keith WR Jones 2012