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Car reviews - Skoda - Superb - 5-dr sedan range

Launch Story

Skoda logo16 Jul 2009

By MARTON PETTENDY

FORGET for a moment the fact that Skoda’s out-of-the-blue new Superb is, in effect, a stretched and rebodied version of Volkswagen’s B6-series Passat (which rides on a platform unrelated to Audi’s B6-series A4).

Alhough some of the Superb’s lengthy PQ46 underpinnings are shared with the Passat, which is itself derived from the Golf, the new Skoda range-topper rides on wheelbase that is 50mm longer, as well as being 40mm longer overall and 10mm lower but about the same width. The result is a boot that’s almost 25 litres bigger than the Passat’s at 565 litres.

What’s more, it is accessible via both a conventional rear bootlid that gives the Superb a classic three-box sedan silhouette and separates the noise and contents of the boot from the passenger compartment, as well as a huge rear hatch that opens high and wide to expose almost the entire cargo area.

It does so via a clever, patented tailgate system dubbed TwinDoor, which effectively allows either all or part of the hatchback to be opened at the touch of a button and gives the Superb a split personality - practical hatchback and stylish sedan.

While the unique system is likely to remain so until BMW follows suit with its upcoming 5 Series GT, it will be a handy point of difference among its large-car competitors for a long time to come.

The Superb’s inoffensive styling might not have the same visual clout as Chrysler’s 300C, which shook up Australia’s upper-large car segment enough to drive Ford’s Fairlane out of production and steal a significant slice of the Holden Statesman’s sales action, but it makes up for this with a bevy of features not presently available in the large-car class.

For starters, they include the availability of diesel power, in the form of Volkswagen’s premium-spec 125kW/350Nm 2.0-litre TDI engine, which returned even better than the claimed 6.9L/100km average on the mostly urban launch drive out of Sydney, yet delivered seamless acceleration in tandem with the same maker’s (six-speed) dual-clutch auto.

The latter is still not as decisive or smooth during take-off as a conventional auto, but there’s not much in it. Nor does the diesel give much away to the somewhat gruff turbo-petrol 1.8 TSI base model in terms of engine noise, and although the latter is slightly quicker and should account for most sales because it is $3000 cheaper, we doubt many buyers will be swayed from vehicles offering large-capacity petrol V6s.

Just as the entry-level Superb lines up with the likes of Holden’s Berlina V6 and Ford’s G6 straight-six, and both Superb TDI versions bookend the likes of the Calais and G6E, the top-shelf Elegance V6 4x4 carries an almost identical price as the Calais V-Series and Falcon G6E Turbo.

For the circa-$57,000 sticker price (which matches that of the 3.2-litre Passat 4Motion V6 sedan), the 3.6-litre engined Superb flagship offers more boot space than both the Commodore and Falcon, enough rear legroom to rival the long-wheelbase Statesman (priced from about $64,000), more standard safety features than all three models with a total of nine airbags and the traction benefits of all-wheel drive.

It might employ a detuned version of the V6 that powers the Passat R36 and Passat CC, but on paper it matches the outputs of both the identical-capacity Holden V6, even if it doesn’t offer as much torque as Ford’s straight six. Fuel economy, at an official average of 10.2L/100km, is slightly better than in both homegrown sedans, despite being about 100km heavier at around 1800kg.

Cutting-edge standard technologies such as adaptive bi-Xenon headlights and cornering foglights are complemented by somewhat expensive options such as a DVD-based sat-nav system with hard-drive, an automatic parallel parking system and a Prius-style electric sunroof with solar cells to cool the cabin while the car is parked.

We found the 18-inch alloy-shod Superb V6’s ride quality to be slightly more jarring over deep pot-holes than the Elegance TDI shod with 17s, and the Superb won’t win any handling contests, with a bias towards understeer at the limit of adhesion, especially in the nose-heavier V6. Some steering shake also presented itself during hard cornering on rough surfaces in both variants we drove.

But overall the ride/handling compromise is good, offering a refreshing level of grip and body control for a car this size, while interior design and build quality appears to be of the same high standard as the Superb’s level of refinement, thanks to a whisper-quiet cabin that’s impressively well isolated from road and wind noise.

For the record, the Superb is just 40mm shorter overall than the Commodore but rides on a wheelbase that is a whole 150mm shorter. Thanks to the Czech model’s much longer front and rear overhangs, the Superb’s interior is almost identical in length and height, but both the Commodore and Statesman cabins are about 50mm wider.

Given the Superb has more rear legroom and a bigger and more flexible boot that the Commodore or other large-car entrants like Toyota’s Aurion, Honda’s Accord or Nissan’s Maxima, however, that is unlikely to deter large-car buyers looking for passenger and luggage space.

In fact, the Superb’s tall, expansive rear bench seat offers a commanding, ‘theatre-style’ seating position with generous leg and foot room, and comes complete with B-pillar-mounted air-vents.

Unfortunately, however, while there is a digital clock and outside temperature display for rear passengers, there is no four-zone climate-control system with rear-seat controls, and overall cabin storage options are nothing special.

Overall, however, the Superb’s extensive safety and equipment list, European design and engineering, inoffensive styling, economical but muscular petrol and diesel engines mated to slick self-shifting transmissions and sharp pricing make the born-again Skoda brand’s latest offering extremely good value.

Much more than a one-trick pony, think of Skoda's all-new large-car contender not as a stretched Passat, but as a cut-price Phaeton or, dare we say it, Audi A6.

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