Car reviews - Skoda - Superb - range
Slick styling, excellent fit and finish, high-end equipment, comprehensive safety, great pricing and frugal economy
Room for improvement
Some build niggles at launch (rattles and creaks), suspension crash on potholes, some gearbox lag in the diesel
16 Mar 2016
By NEIL DOWLING
EVOLVING generations improve the breed and create a creature than is better suited to its changing environment, more efficient and more attractive. Being more attractive is a key guarantee to a successful and ongoing future.
That is intended to apply to organic inhabitants but the rules for automotive products are equally as important.
The latest Skoda Superb is a case in point. This fourth-generation model has received considerable engineering and styling changes. Compared with its predecessor, it is a better balance of physical proportions and is wider than before to eradicate the feeling of being cramped within its cabin.
Its lines follow the tautness of the little sister, the Octavia, and the strake lines of the bonnet are shared with even the baby Fabia.
Follow it on the highway and it has an Audi-ness about its lines, particularly the sedan’s abbreviated tail and pencil-thin tail-light graphics.
There’s no need to mention that the Skoda is related by family to Audi because the resemblance, though subtle, is easy to see. It even continues inside, making rear-seat passengers glance at the dashboard or crisp-edged trim joins and restrained cabin design items and think of a relationship with Audi and Volkswagen.
Skoda insists it is going its own way with its products. Indeed, look at the target audience and there are differences compared with Volkswagen and Audi.
But the Superb, the flagship of a company more known in the past four decades for its durable cost-effective cars than luxury items, pushes the boundaries into the prestige sector.
At $39,990 plus on-road costs for the entry level 162kW 2.0-litre turbocharged-petrol variant, on performance and comfort it rivals BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C Class, Audi A4 and Jaguar XE. In terms of accommodation, it competes with the soon-to-be-killed-off Holden Caprice.
On cabin space, equipment and value for money, it’s a long way in front.
The problem with gaining new entrants to the ownership list will be perception.
“What does Skoda mean to me, to my friends and does it have all the panache that I deserve?” That type of thing.
It’s a similar situation to Hyundai’s excellent Genesis sedan and one that may take a while for the message to come across to resistant buyers.
Where Skoda differs from Genesis is its broader diesel and petrol drivetrain choice, sedan (actually a lift-back) or wagon body styles, sensible option bundles and keener pricing.
Superb is a large car in the sub-$70,000 segment that has been pretty much abandoned by buyers. Sales in this segment are down 21.7 per cent year-to-date compared with the same period in 2015.
But this isn’t the whole picture. The sales of the over-$70,000 large-sedan market has slipped a relatively less marked 6.3 per cent, showing there remains interest in a large car that is well equipped.
And this is where the Superb shines. It has a comprehensive standard equipment list with comfort and safety features well above most of its peers and similar in scope to cars in the $70,000-plus bracket.
It’s big, too. Skoda chauffeured journalists between functions in the expansive rear compartment and the available leg and headroom equates only to Audi’s long-wheelbase A8.
Yet it doesn’t feel like a large car to drive. Through the New South Wales’ Southern Highlands, the twists and turns of the roads showed a solid chassis and willing engines.
Ride comfort is generally excellent, as is low wind and road noise. So it impresses as a contender in the saloon category.
Suspension has been honed but you have to opt for the active dampening and drive-mode systems to fully appreciate the depth of how well the underpinnings have been screwed down.
There are few complaints about the standard suspension. It is compliant over rutted bitumen and masks any intrusion of noise and thump on normal roads.
But it reacts poorly to unexpected road bumps and holes, noisily expressing its discomfort. By comparison, the three-mode drive select system that alters ride and throttle response, could be set to 'comfort', 'normal' or 'sport' and find not only a balance to suit the road, but become ignorant of bumps.
Engine choice will be determined by the owner’s intended use for the car.
Limousine services may prefer the sole diesel, which in its 140kW/400Nm update is smooth, quiet and irresistibly punchy.
All engines run through a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that communicates with less abrasion with the petrol engines. There is some hesitancy with the diesel’s response on rapid standing-start acceleration exercises – a byproduct of the transmission’s less decisive nature and the turbo lag of the leisurely diesel engine – that gets frustrating. Owners learn to live with it.
Skoda claims a fuel average of 4.8 litres per 100 kilometres with this diesel, with our more demanding test resulting in 6.7 L/100km.
There’s two petrol engines, both the latest Volkswagen Group EA888 models with tweaks to produce 162kW/350Nm for the base front-drive model and 206kW/350Nm for the all-wheel drive model.
The characteristics are similar and the 162kW unit is so good that buyers would have to have good reason to choose all-wheel drive and the bigger-output engine.
The 162kW is quick, relatively frugal with our 9.2 L/100km on test (against Skoda’s claimed 6.4L/100km) and silky smooth. Its only drawback is not necessarily related to the engine, but to the traction control that has to work overtime to prevent the front wheels from spinning on slippery road surfaces.
The all-wheel drive – called 4x4 – is a better handler, particularly when hurried through tight country roads, and the engine has a little more punch.
But the all-paw drivetrain and the model’s extra features add a hefty 110 kilograms above the 162kW version and is also a bit heavier on fuel at a claimed 7.3 L/100km (11.1L/100km on test).
Wagon models are marginally heavier than their liftback equivalents, adding only about 27kg to the weight. Incidentally, the wagon is also shorter – but only by 5mm – yet has more luggage space at up to 1950 litres, compared with the sedan at 1760 litres with the rear seats stowed.
Two Superbs driven on test at the launch showed some annoying rattles and creaks, one with the sound of a mistuned radio signal. Skoda is investigating these problems.
Safety equipment worked as described, with the autonomous braking useful in slowing as freeway traffic dropped in to our lane, and adaptive cruise holding a safe distance behind the leading car.
Option bundles will add items such as blind-spot or lane-departure warnings so there’s a selection of options depending on owner needs.
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