With the very unfortunately-proportioned Fabia wagon ending production on the 13th of June, Skoda has two spacious cars left for families looking for a good value all-rounder. I drove the bigger one with a 1.2 TSI and a seven-speed DSG.
(Full disclosure: Since my American colleagues can't get their hands on their beloved Skodas without flying here, Skoda was nice enough to lend me four cars for a month to show you what they can do using VW's tech. No Czech engine jokes, I promise.)
The cheaper of Skoda's entry level family cars is the Rapid Spaceback, which is basically a downsized Octavia wagon, while for a few hundred bucks more, you can have the Roomster.
It's taller than a proper wagon, doesn't have sliding doors like a minivan, and while in Europe, we call it a compact MPV, wagovan worked before in America. I like that, it covers the Roomster's qualities perfectly.
Yes, I know. It's the Fabia's front welded to a delivery van with more greenhouse than the Louvre Pyramid. It's definitely not pretty or sporty, but unlike some of you, I wouldn't go as far as calling it ugly.
Form follows function, and this car is called Roomster for a reason. It's got room. Lots of it. Just don't look at it from the side and you should be fine. Especially with these nice alloys, the black body moldings of the Scout trim and the Corrida red paint, which happens to be optional here and in most of Europe but free in the UK. Lucky bastards.
Anyway, the Roomster has a likable character, you'll get over its weird shape.
The Roomster is all about maximizing interior space, and honestly, it will take some time to go through all the storage compartments in the cabin. It feels airy too, although you do have to buy the optional (and fixed) panoramic roof for the full experience. That massive piece of tinted glass turns the car into a living room.
The plastics are not amazing but the build quality is great, the door pockets are flexible so you won't break them while jamming random junk in there and the lighter colors worked much better for me than the Yeti's black interior.
This is a more basic car all around, but with less buttons and functions comes less confusion. The headroom would allow you to drive it in a helmet of course if you take it to a rally cross event.
The armrest, the foldable table at the back, the nice steering wheel and certain other bits are unfortunately not part of the standard equipment, but the Roomster can be a much better car if you spend just a tiny bit more. It's worth it.
This 1.2 TSI is a smart engine. It might only produce 105 horsepower, but the Roomster is 2,802 pounds, and being the most powerful engine option, it's more than enough to throw it around in the city.
Overtaking someone is no problem, the Roomster is not lazy after getting the green and it cruises nicely on the highway. That's all you need.
Having said that, I used the car pretty much empty all time. The engine's 129 foot pound of peak torque is available from 1,500rpm to 4,100, but is that enough to make the Roomster move filled to the brim with people and cargo? No idea. Yet, this most powerful of Roomsters can tow up to 2,425 pounds according to its papers, which means it can take even more in reality.
Fuel economy will also put a smile on your face even without having a start/stop system.
The Roomster stops well and the pedal feel is okay too.
What's more is that when you go faster than advised on mountain roads, it's very easy to guide this tall wagon back to safety just by gentle braking.
Low weight certainly helps.
Low profile tires and much less metal around than you would get one size up.
While the Yeti felt like a tank on the road, this doesn't, but it's not bad overall. You're just more aware of potholes, which can be tiring on a long journey.
On the plus side, the Scout is different from the standard Roomster is that it rides higher, opening more roads for those who dare. Due to a navigation error, I did drive it down in what looked like a gully in the middle of a dirt road, and it passed with flying colors.
You don't have high expectations in terms of handling when you jump into an MPV, but the Roomster can be driven pretty fast despite its relatively high center of gravity.
Mind you, the Fabia did have an RS version, and a little bit of that DNA must have made it into the Roomster too thanks to those Czech engineers. Just a fraction.
Of course it understeers if you push it, but the steering is communicative and the chassis has a predictable nature mostly thanks to those brakes and the Continental Sport Contact 2 tires. They got grip, at least in the dry for sure.
I got four Skodas to test and only four of them came with a DSG.
The difference is that unlike the Yeti, the Roomster has the seven-speed version, and paired with this gas engine, it shifts smoother than the six-speed DSG with the TDI.
But do you need an automatic in a small MPV? No, you certainly don't.
Especially because you want to harvest every bit of power from that 1.2 and the DSG won't let you do that. In normal mode, it will shift up before you would get most of the boost and in sport, it revs the engine to the redline constantly. That's ridiculous and totally useless.
In short, get it with a stick. That's cheaper too.
If you drive it in a calm manner, the Roomster is absolutely silent. It's great. I don't know how much lighter would it be without all the sound isolation material jammed in the holes, but who cares? Have a conversation, listen to what happened at school or enjoy some music.
The Roomster will work with your phone and there's a socket for connecting your other devices with a cable, but there's no USB. Instead, it's SD cards and CDs you can jam into the dash. Perhaps you still have some.
The audio system sounded fine. You get 8 speakers as standard.
The Scout's standard equipment also takes care of most things you need in a family car including all the storage compartments and foldable seats, the isofix child seat anchor points, the nannies keeping you on the road, tinted glass and climate control.
My car also had heated seats and navigation among other stuff I probably didn't even realize. Smaller car, smaller touchscreen, slower controls, less functions. It works, but it's not a pleasure to use.
The multifunctional leather steering wheel is also overpriced for what it is.
Look at all that space!
The base Roomster is a lot of car for the money. Here - where cars are significantly more expensive than in the US - it starts at $16,001 with a naturally aspirated 1.2 producing 75 horsepower. Spend two thousand on extras, and you end up with a slow but very practical family hauler that you won't mind getting dirty.
The tested Scout however is the top of the range Roomster, which makes it a $21,229 car, or a $22,521 car with the pointless DSG. You pay for that lovely glass roof and whoops, that might already be a bit too much money for an enlarged Skoda Fabia.
Then again, it does feel like owning a Volkswagen. A European one.
Engine: 1.2 I4 TSI
Power: 105 HP / 129 LB-FT from 1,500-4,100 RPM
Transmission: Seven-Speed DSG Automatic
0-62 MPH: 11 s
Top Speed: 114 mph
Drivetrain: Front-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight: 2,802 LBS Seating: 5 people
MPG: 32 City/49 Highway/41 Combined (US/NEDC)
Photo credit: Máté Petrány/Jalopnik