If the success of the Toyota Innova is taken as an example then that would suggest that Indian families are looking for practical and interesting options to sedans. Families are looking for a utility vehicle which can be used in the urban environment and on the highway. It took some time for manufacturers to come with an alternative and Maruti Suzuki with the Ertiga has tried to fill the void between sedans and utility vehicles. The consumer though is looking for a contemporary looking vehicle the idea of which only a few years ago would have seemed to be foolish would easily have been dismissed as novelty and niche. The Ertiga though has shown the way and other manufacturers are sure to jump on the bandwagon. Skoda in its ranks has the Roomsrter which is exactly the type of car the manufacturer needs to be bringing in our market. The Roomster shows that practical needn’t mean boring and this small family car adds a dash of practicality. This Multi-Purpose Vehicle has an intelligent consumer-focused design which the manufacturer claims is surprisingly good to drive, reinforcing a feel-good factor. Skoda could bring the Roomster in India in 2013 and prices could start from Rs 8lakhs onwards.
The looks aren’t to all tastes but that’s the case with most MPV’s. From the side the Skoda Roomster looks like a supermini which has been merged with a van while the rear is boxy with a high roofline. The styling has both functionality and originality with a fluid mix that flows throughout the car. The profile has swooping curves which injects interest into a shape that is otherwise boxy. The windscreen and pillar treatment add character and the mismatched door lines provide excellent access to the higher rear door. The swooping B-pillar though exaggerates your blind spot and the strangest design quirk is the difference between the front and rear windows. The proportions are odd and the MPV comes with chunky bumpers, alloy wheels, neat headlights and while the styling is undoubtedly quirky, it is at the same time charming, original and different.
The theme of originality started by the exterior styling continues to the interiors as well. The cabin design is not complex or fussy but is thoughtfully placed and simple with stylishly controls. There is metal-effect on the door handles and vent surrounds which adds contrast to the otherwise sober dash. The cabin has neat storage ideas like the elasticated straps that run across the top of the door bins to secure maps.
Space is a big plus point of the Roomster and the rear consists of two outer chairs that can both slide and recline. There is enough leg and headroom and the middle seat can be removed to slide the two outer seats inwards to increase shoulder room. With all the seats in place the boot space is 530-litres which can be increased by folding down any of the three rear seats. The boot itself has two bag-hooks, a power outlet, two large side trays and hooks for a luggage net.
When Skoda gave the Roomster a facelift in 2010 the quality of materials used in the cabin improved with the use of soft-touch plastics and chrome detailing. The design is well thought out and the ergonomics are good as well.
In the SE trim you get air-conditioning and electric rear windows that you don’t get on entry-level S variants. An optional panoramic glass roof helps to create an additional sense of space in the cabin and other optional equipment list includes heated seats, rear parking sensors, cruise control and half leather seats. There’s also an innovative system to carry a bicycle in the boot. The Roomster comes with six airbags as standard. There are other features like ABS and ESP systems, a two-way adjustable steering wheel and a seat that can be cranked up and down. Other standard features include electric front windows, a CD player and a socket for your MP3 player. The SE variant comes with air-conditioning, electric rear windows, parking sensors and a panoramic sunroof. The top of the line SE Plus models additionally comes with 15-inch alloy wheels, roof rails and climate control while the Scout versions has 4x4-effect body mouldings and a leather steering wheel.
There is no dearth of engine options with the Roomster. The smallest petrol engine is the 1.2-litre, 3-cylinder motor unit producing 70PS. The engine obviously isn’t as refined as a 4-cylinder unit but there is also a 4-cylinder, 1.2-litre turbo TSIs with 85PS and 106PS. The three diesel engines are the 1.4-litre, 3-cylinder unit producing 75PS and then there is the larger 1.6-litre, 4-cylinder producing 90PS or 105PS.
The entry-level 1.2-litre petrol engine is cheap but is also slow but it does offer better fuel economy than the non-turbo 1.2-litre motor. The TSI engine provides strong low-end pulling ability and better economy, while the 106PS unit accelerates to 100kmph in just 12.4seconds. The diesel engines are loud and rattly but offer fantastic economy. The three-cylinder TDI is cheap but it’s particularly refined. The engines are matched to a 5-speed manual gearbox but there is also an optional 7-speed DSG automatic gearbox available with the more powerful petrol engine.
With the front strut and torsion beam rear suspension, the Roomster’s biggest surprise is the handling which surpasses expectations. There is body lean through bends but the MPV provides plenty of grip and the steering is accurate. The high ground clearance is a bonus on our roads and the Roomster’s ride is fine at all speeds. With its long wheelbase and broad track, this Skoda changes direction eagerly while keeping its composure over undulations. The Roomster tackles corners more like a car and the steering is nice and light.
The Maruti Suzuki Ertiga is both practical and versatile. The styling is similar to most contemporary Maruti Suzuki’s and though the dashboard is similar to the Swift, the addition of beige gives it a more airy look. Interiors space is more than a hatch and the feature list is good as well. The diesel and petrol engines provide good refinement and efficiency and the performance is more than adequate. The Ertiga delivers car like dynamics and the ride and handling is spot on. TheToyota Innova is undoubtedly India’s favourite MPV. Build quality, interiors space, engine refinement, ride and handling are good but a drawback is the van like styling. The Mahindra Xylo is a value for money MPV. Interior space and the torquey engine are its strengths but the dynamics and build quality are not that great.
The Skoda Roomster may look quirky but has real substance. The styling grows on you and the interiors are spacious and cleverly designed. Feature list is strong and there is good utilization of space. There are no less than 6 engine options and while the 3 cylinder petrol and diesel engines aren’t as refined, they provide good efficiency. The TSI petrol engine and the 1.6-litre diesel engine provide good performance. The handling on the Roomster is a surprise and the MPV handles more like a car than a utility vehicle. There is always good grip available and the ride quality too is one of its strengths. The Roomster is an innovative product and there is definite potential for it to be successful in our market. It would be a surprise if Skoda doesn’t get this MPV into the Indian market and the success of the Ertiga would seriously make them consider the possibility of launching the Roomster next year. The pricing though has to be competitive but this MPV can be priced a little above the Ertiga considering the brand image that Skoda commands.
Quotes for other reviews:
Autocar UK: ‘The foolish could easily dismiss the Roomster as just some novelty niche irrelevance that Skoda could do without. Foolish, because the Roomster represents a milestone in the rejuvenation of the Skoda brand, and is exactly the type of car Skoda needs to be making – cars that show practical needn’t mean boring, and cars that are much more than just watered down, re-badged VWs.’