Skoda's first MPV, the Roomster, will make its public debut at the Geneva Motor Show at the end of February.
Sales in mainland Europe begin in summer, and right-hand-drive versions are scheduled to follow in October.
The Roomster is a compact five-seater designed to slot between the Czech company's Fabia and Octavia hatchbacks. However, it has the passenger and luggage space of the larger Octavia mainly due to its high roofline.
Its design remains faithful to the Roomster concept car (pictured), which wowed visitors to the Frankfurt Auto Show in autumn 2003. Only the roofline and rear side doors and windows have changed substantially.
Skoda looked at fitting sliding rear side doors (the concept car had just one), but decided against the idea, arguing that they are heavy and difficult to open from the inside.
Roomster is the first sign of a more confident Skoda, asserting its own personality while using Volkswagen Group parts. The new car is not related to anything else within the VW, Audi or Seat ranges.
The engines, gearboxes and front suspension assembly come largely from the Fabia, with some Octavia components. The rear suspension is from the last Octavia, which means a simple beam axle – this takes up less space than the independent set-up of the latest car. The floor, raised at the rear to give passengers a better forward view, is unique.
Space is particularly impressive. Within an overall length of just over 4.2 metres and a wheelbase of 2.6 metres, Skoda has dug out a roomy cabin with sliding, reclining, folding and removable rear chairs.
When the slim-line centre seat has been removed, its two neighbours can be moved inboard to improve shoulder room.
However, foot space for the centre rear passenger is compromised by a stout transmission tunnel. This tunnel gives Skoda the option of introducing a four-wheel-drive model later.
The 460-litre boot can be almost quadrupled by stripping the seats out, while the rear parcel shelf rests at one of two heights. Skoda promises a wide range of lifestyle accessories, including a clamp for the front forks of a bicycle once its wheel has been removed.
There will be six engines – three petrol motors and three turbodiesels – ranging from 1.2 to 1.9 litres and 64 to 105bhp. All have five-speed manual gearboxes, but a six-speed auto is available with the 1.6-litre petrol engine.
The cabin is smart and tidy, with good-quality plastics and decent storage, but Skoda has not sited the gearlever in the dash or fitted an electronic handbrake, which would have liberated more space. It is, however, an airy car to sit in, thanks to deep rear side windows and an optional panoramic sunroof.
Skoda will pitch the car against small MPVs such as the Vauxhall Meriva, Renault Modus and Nisan Note, as well as cheaper midi-MPVs such as Citroen's Picasso. It's these cars which give a clue to the Roomster's possible pricing.
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