Simple and effective small people carrier
The 1.2 TSI petrol Roomsters could be the best bet for many buyers. Steve Walker reports
What can we say about Skoda's Roomster? It's a small MPV with surprising amounts of space.
It's simple, it's effective in what it does and it's sturdily built without being flashy in any way. It's a car that will tally very neatly with a lot of people's ideas on what a modern Skoda is. All that said, what sort of engine do you think would suit the Roomster best? An economical, torquey diesel or a turbocharged petrol? The diesel may be the obvious choice but could there also be a place for Skoda's 1.2 TSI petrol unit under the Roomster's bonnet?
There's a lot to like about Skoda's Roomster. It's space, its simplicity, its innovation – all this makes it an easy car to live with and the TSI petrol engines are another boon. Decent performance and economy are enough to make you question the need to pay more for a diesel. The Roomster's unusual looks may be a turn-off for some but otherwise it's a top supermini-MPV.
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Since the Roomster was launched, it's the diesel engines that have been the most popular choice amongst buyers. The petrol options were either too weedy to cope or too thirsty but then Skoda introduced the 1.2 TSI unit. This modern small petrol engine promises the economy of a 1.2-litre petrol with the urge of a 1.6. Should Roomster customers be giving it serious consideration alongside the more expensive diesels?
It's often claimed that an engine can bring car buyers the performance of a larger unit with the economy of a smaller one and we've learned to take such grandstanding with a pinch of salt. The 1.2 TSI unit might, however, be able to justify the hype. The Roomster has had a 1.2-litre petrol engine since launch but the bog standard 60bhp unit can only manage 48mpg and takes a laborious 16.5s to reach 60mph. The 105bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine that also served the Roomster in its early days was usefully quicker with a 10.9s 0-60mph trip, but sub-40mpg economy isn't what you want in a small family car.
The 1.2 TSI powerplant uses a turbocharger and direct fuel injection to turn in figures that will impress anyone who's familiar with the Roomster's older petrol engines. It's available in 85 or 105bhp guises that respectively achieve 12.6s and 10.9s times for 0-60mph acceleration. Better still, both manage an identical and commendable 49.6mpg on the combined cycle. Five-speed manual gearboxes are standard but the 105bhp engine is also available with the excellent 7-speed DSG automatic transmission.
The basic shape of the Roomster owes a lot to the small vans you see out and about making deliveries or ferrying tradesmen and their tools from A to B. There's no van version of the Roomster but Skoda has cleverly borrowed elements of LCV design because it's so space efficient. In effect, the Roomster is a car of two halves. The area occupied by the driver and front passenger feels very much like that of a conventional family hatchback. But as you progress rearward, the vehicle's van-like silhouette pays dividends. The roofline steps up, allowing the rear seats to be mounted 46mm higher than those in the front: this boosts the space available to passengers. Leg and headroom are both extremely generous and there's a light, airy feel to the space thanks to the large windows.
The rear seating has also been thoughtfully designed. All three sections of the rear bench are individually foldable and removable. They also recline as well as sliding fore and aft so that owners can choose either to maximise passenger legroom or to bump up capacity in the extremely generous boot behind.
This boot is accessed through a large tailgate which lifts to reveal a capacity of 450 litres. Then, depending on the position of the rear seats, owners have the option of increasing that cargo space right up to a truly van-like 1,780 litres – which is achieved when all three seats are positioned in the garage at home.
If the 1.2 TSI petrol Roomsters are to rival the diesel alternatives in the public's affections, they'll need tight pricing. Things look good here, particularly because the 1.6-litre TDI CR diesel powerplants are not offered in entry-level S trim. This means that the cheapest Roomster diesel is around £2,600 more than the cheapest 1.2 TSI petrol. The premium shrinks to around £1,300 if you compare trim levels like for like but it's still quite a gap on a car like the Roomster.
In general terms, the Roomster is priced affordably across its S, SE and Scout trim levels. It's competitive against van-based rivals such as Citroen's Berlingo Multispace and Renault's Kangoo but looks particularly affordable next to supermini-MPVs such as Vauxhall's Meriva, Nissan's NOTE and another Renault, the Modus. The Scout trim level at the top of the range adds off-roader styling to the package but whether that's something you want will be a matter of personal taste.
On grounds of price, 1.2 TSI petrol versions of the Roomster have an edge but diesel fights back if it's running costs that are the biggest concern. The 49.6mpg achieved by both of the 1.2 TSI engines is very creditable but the 1.6 TDI CR diesels return over 60mpg. It's a similar situation with the all-important CO2 emissions, a decent 134g/km for the petrols but 124g/km for the diesels.
A further spanner is inserted into the works of the case for petrol by the diesel-powered Roomster Greenline. This specially modified model chips in with 67.3mpg and emissions of 109g/km. In the end, as usual, the decision you'll make over the cost-effectiveness of any car like this depends on how much mileage you're likely to do in it.
Over the last few years, diesel has become the fuel of the moment in practical family cars but times could be changing and models like Skoda's Roomster 1.2 TSI are in the vanguard of that change. The added cost of diesel engines is more keenly felt in affordable cars like the Roomster and the 1.2 TSI petrol models should do very nearly as good a job out on the road. The Roomster itself is a simple and effective small people carrier with lots of space and impressive build quality.
When modern small capacity petrol engines like the 1.2 TSI unit can achieve performance and economy at these levels, they have to be taken seriously. The headline-grabbing economy of diesel will still attract higher mileage drivers but everyone else should give a Roomster with this petrol engine serious thought.