Boxy and practical but no beauty

If the Škoda Roomster looks a little strange – as if the front half of the car was developed by a different team to the back of it – it’s not accidental, it’s by design. The concept underlying the Roomster set out to split the car into two “rooms”, a “driving room” up front and a “living room” in the back.

Looks-wise, the front of the car suggests sportiness while the back is more practical and the resulting car is more successful as a living space than a driving one and gives the car its quirky split personality.

From the outside, this 2010 Roomster S may look a little schizophrenic but not unattractively so. Looking at some of its small MPV rivals, it’s a positive oil painting, though there’s no doubt that reactions are mixed. But it’s a clever design inasmuch that as a family car it’s practical and flexible.

Two things in particular mark the Roomster out. The first is that the windows in the rear are extra low, lower than the front in fact, which contributes to its unusual looks. Second, the seats sit much higher than conventional rivals, which is why the roof pitches upwards at the rear. Together these two unusual characteristics mean there is loads of visibility in the rear, even for the smallest kids. Rear seat passengers can see the road outside and the road ahead. Which is pretty cool if you’re a little one. From a parent perspective it helps alleviate boredom and travel sickness in kids. Which is quite compelling.

Unfortunately you may have to compromise elsewhere. There’s no avoiding it but the 1.2 12V 70bhp engine in the Roomster we tested is just too slow. It feels surprisingly bunged up on the motorway and though comfortable enough around town, it’s a tortoise. Pootling will be what you’ll be doing, whether you’re in a hurry or not. Combine this with light steering, an unremarkable ride and a noisy diesel engine – and not a nice noise either – and it’s quite clear that the Roomster is all about the inside.

Cheap plastics – on the dashboard, steering wheel and gearknob in particular – let the interior down somewhat, although this is the lowest trim option. But the fabric trim on the doors helps to lift what would otherwise be a fantastically dull place to sit. The Roomster’s master stroke inside is its seats which tumble forward individually – or can even be removed – so you have a great deal of flexibility to carry whatever stuff you’re into. There really is a lot of space for both passengers and luggage, 450 litres with the seats up and a mahoosive 1,780 litres with them folded.

There’s no doubt the Roomster is unusual looking. It’s a very imaginative and practical car that is really quite unusual amongst its rivals. It’s not thrilling, just very sensible and practical. If you’re in the market for such a family-focused car its worth a look, but go for one of the turbocharged engines in the range rather than this one if you can.