► All-new 2015 Skoda Superb review
► Available as a hatchback or an estate
► Even more echoingly roomy than ever
The further Skoda travels away from its previous life as a purveyor of automotive jokes the more difficult it gets to assess its place in the market. Skodas used to be cheap but the new Superb is not a budget car. Skodas used to be poor men’s VWs, but Superb undercuts Passat by only about £1000. Skodas used to look a bit Soviet-era Eastern Bloc but now they’re European chic. Skodas used to be willfully alternative choices, but now? Now they’re mainstream.
Where does the Superb fit in?
Start from the driver’s seat – are we having fun?
Actually we’d rather start from the seat behind the driver, which just happens to offer the most legroom, shoulder room and headroom this side of a Rolls Phantom. Credit the wheelbase, extended by 80mm over the previous car. The rear doors are also wider than those on a car ferry.
But stick to the brief – the driving experience is perfectly fine, if low on drama. The engine we’re trying here is the 1.6-litre turbodiesel, which offers its modest 118bhp in good faith, but is hamstrung by an offbeat power curve that eludes the best efforts of the manual gearbox to keep you in the zone. Result is too much time spent too high in the rev range (not great for achieving the promised 67.3mpg). I suggest you try the 2.0 TDI instead – 148bhp ought to be enough – and maybe the 7-speed DSG box in preference to this six-speed manual, too.
The steering’s numb but linear, the primary ride compliant enough, and a tendency to thunk clumsily into secondary craters only occasionally jars. Excellent body control and the lack of any true mid-range urge means you can corner as fast as you need to without understeer.
What’s the Superb like inside?
Cavernous. They’ve rummaged around behind the seats and somehow found an extra 85 litres of luggage space to add to what were already truck-rivalling dimensions. Seats down you can fit 1950 litres in there, which is 170 litres more than a Passat estate, 95 more than an E-class wagon, 345 more than a Mondeo estate… I could go on.
The seats themselves are a bit flat, especially in the back (Alan Sugar wouldn’t swap his Phantom), and the whole interior atmos is a wee bit TOO VW – all don’t-touch plastics and funereal swathes. That it all works sublimely and is properly screwed and glued is the plus side of the VW equation, but I wish Skoda would have a bit more fun with it – take the odd risk here and there.
You’ll forgive them when you look at the kit list though. Our SE gets 17in alloys, adaptive cruise, dual-zone climate and DAB as standard, to which they added keyless go, the so-called ‘virtual pedal’ which lets you open the boot by wafting your foot under the bumper, and £1600-worth of sat-nav. You can go on adding to your heart’s content – Smartlink infotainment (with CarPlay or Android Auto), rear-seat remote control, tri-zone climate, adaptive cruise, traffic-sign recognition – but you might start to panic if signing for a £40 grand Skoda.
The car looks the part – more stylish than certain VW siblings?
Worryingly for VW, yes. Chief designer Josef Kaban can bore for hours about what he was trying to achieve, but the result speaks for itself. The new front end pulls all the furniture closer to the road, creating a crisp, sharky look, the bold side crease lowers the profile and the car, while bigger inside, looks shorter by virtue of all four wheels being plonked nearer to the corners of VW Group’s ubiquitous MQB platform. And the whole shooting match weighs 75kg less than the outgoing car. Wearing most other badges it would look genuinely premium.
Which brings us to the crux of it – what does the Skoda badge mean today?
To car buyers it still means a lot of car for the money, but the car tested here retails at £22,790 and costs a consequential £26,275 as tested. Not peanuts, and in an age full of Koreans waving seven-year warranties about on equally impressive (and cheaper) machines it’s no longer a no-brainer (Skoda warranty is three years). If a rock-solid VW is the obvious sensible option and a budget Korean is the cheap-as-chips variety, in some ways, ironically, Skoda remains the quirky, leftfield choice – only now it wears a badge of honour rather than a rotating bow-tie.
I remember, back in 2001 when they dusted off the Superb name (it dates back to 1934) it sounded like a very bad joke indeed, destined to haunt. Today it sounds like a very apt name for an excellent car.