Skoda’s Superb flagship has always been a leftfield option among mainstream motorway fodder. It had two difficult names to overcome, generic Volkswagen-esque styling, a lot of hand-me-down componentry and no real heritage to speak off. That didn’t stop 12,500 brave souls from buying one in the UK. Skoda reckons its new Superb will be a far more attractive proposition when it arrives in September 2008 and the Czech marque hopes to shift at least 4000 a year here (that’s compared to 1700 annual sales for the current model). Now we’ve driven it, we reckon that figure might be a touch conservative…
This Skoda Superb is no looker!
Good point, so let’s get the Superb’s opinion-polarising styling out the way first. The cruel will call it uncoordinated and awkward. The kind will describe it as distinctive and individual. I started off cruel, but after two days of driving and looking at it, it’s slightly too-long proportions grew on me. It’s no beauty, but it is distinguished, and at least no one could mistake it for an overgrown Passat – a criticism easily levelled at the outgoing model.
What’s it like inside?
Its sheetmetal styling may scare off some potential buyers, but the Superb’s cabin is a delight. With its ergonomically excellent layout, lavish level of equipment (seven airbags, dual-zone climate control and a top-drawer sound system all standard) plush materials and faultless construction, it oozes showroom appeal. It’s also decadently spacious – its 2761mm-long wheelbase offering stretch-limo levels of rear accommodation.
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What’s going on with that boot?
Skoda’s innovative Twindoor gives you the option of boot or hatch access to its cavernous loadbay. The system was engineered to cater for both European saloon tastes and the hatchback preference in emerging markets like China and Russia. And we’ll be seeing this on the new BMW PAS in 2009, too. If enough lounging and luggage space for a family of six-footers is the price to be paid for the Superb’s curiously odd proportions, it’s money well spent.
Tell me about the engines…
The Superb has the Volkswagen group’s new 170bhp 2.0-litre common-rail turbodiesel. And it’s a winner. Cultured and smooth, its relaxed and muscular performance suits the Superb’s unruffled demeanour perfectly. It’s expected to be one of the key sellers, as is the 160bhp 1.8-litre TSI. The blown four-pot – effectively a smaller version of the Golf’s GTI engine – hauls the chunky Superb along with a sprightly effervescence.
They’re hooked up to a six-speed manual transmission as standard, but go for the DSG gearbox (six-gears for the diesel, seven for the petrol) if only to avoid the terribly offset pedals in the manual version. There’s also a 105bhp 1.9 and 140bhp 2.0 diesel, a 1.4 TSI petrol and, for those keen on both depreciation and petrol forecourt points, a 260bhp 3.6 FSI with an all-wheel drivetrain.
The last Superb was a right soggy mess through corners. Is this one any better?
Yes, much better. Skoda’s ride and handling engineers obviously took the criticism levelled at the outgoing Superb’s dynamics to heart. While its predecessor wallowed around like a wheeled waterbed, the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction because the new Superb feels far more lithe and alert than its sober styling suggests.
It may be a big car, but the Superb never feels cumbersome or awkward off the motorway. Turn-in is crisp, the steering is mute but well weighted and body control is unexpectedly impressive. You’re never going to wake up early to take it out for a blast, but the Skoda is entertainingly capable.
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Indeed. It may sit a few rungs lower on the dynamic ladder currently topped by the Mondeo and Mazda 6, but it’s well ahead of its Passat, 407, Vectra and Citroen C5 rivals. I’m concerned about the ride quality, however. It might serve up a comfortably cushioned motorway waft, but over Salzburg’s patchworky city roads, where Skoda launched the car, the Superb’s front strut and multi-link rear suspension felt a touch brittle and fidgety. It’s hardly unbearable, but it could be thrown into sharp relief by our own difficult roads.
The Superb is one of those rarities – a car that overcomes preconceptions to exceeds all expectations. It’s the kind of car that has real-world appeal that goes beyond its basic architecture and componentry – the kind of car that real people buy with real hard-earned money. Skoda’s marketing suits claim the Superb will be punted hard at the fleet sector, keen to tap into the vast business market. But I can’t help thinking its deep-seated appeal will entice the private buyer too.
Those who can’t get their heads – and egos – around the idea of driving a Skoda will be missing out on a pretty compelling package. It doesn’t quite live up to its name, but it’s an awful lot closer than I ever expected.