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First drive: Skoda Superb lives up to its name

Big changes: Skoda's drastically improved new Superb should arrive on Australian shores early next year.

Mk3 Skoda Superb discovers elegance as Czech brand gets serious with its big car


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8 May 2015


SKODA’S desire to become a volume-selling large-car force in Australia will be boosted significantly in the first quarter of next year with the release of the third-generation Superb.

With pricing set to range from about $40,000 to $65,000, plus on-road costs, the completely redesigned five-seat liftback swells in every dimension, gains a slew of efficiency-enhanced four-cylinder engine choices, and advances in the areas of luxury, safety, driver assistance, and multimedia technologies.

Much of the above is a direct flow-through effect from the closely related Volkswagen Passat, which – in upcoming B8 guise – continues the tradition of donating much of its platform and drivetrain underpinnings.

Thus the Czech liftback – and as-yet unseen Combi wagon, out in September, and launched at the same time as the sedan – switches to the all-new MQB-B modular transverse matrix architecture, resulting in a vehicle that is roomier, yet 75kg lighter than before.

The design and engineering work was carried out at the 110-year-old company’s Mlada Boleslav headquarters near Prague, with a focus on a line of elegance and longevity, aided by a 61mm rear overhang cut, and a 39/54mm front/rear track stretch.

Dimensions measure in at 4861mm long (+28mm), 1864mm wide (+47mm), 1468mm high (+6mm) and a 2841mm-wheelbase (+80mm). Among other gains, rear legroom – a Superb strong point – increases by 157mm and elbow space improves by 39mm.

As well as being the most aerodynamic Superb in the modern series’ 14-year history (the original interwar luxury sedan was built from 1934 to 1949) with a Cd of 0.275, the newcomer is also torsionally the stiffest (up by 13 per cent) with a 20 per cent increase in high-strength steel application.

The controversial and complicated Twin Door sedan/hatch tailgate has been dropped for reasons of complexity, cost and weight, replaced by a conventional one-piece item.

Cargo capacity grows by five per cent to a claimed class-leading 625 litres, rising to a cavernous 1760L with the split/fold rear backrests folded. Remote actuation for both the fifth door (via an optional remote foot wave under the bumper) and seats (using lever releases) has also been developed. Skoda is months away from divulging what the final specification will be for Australian-market cars.

Skoda says the completely overhauled interior includes redesigned seats and a dashboard with functionality visible to all occupants. Backing these up is more efficient climate control system, possible because of the MQB’s innovative CAN electrical bus systems that also usher in a new era of driver-assist, multimedia and connectivity technologies familiar to owners of the latest Skoda Octavia, Golf and Audi A3.

These include a reversing view camera, Bluetooth smartphone app access via the enlarged touchscreen, optional digital radio and an electronic park brake with hill-hold function for the first time in Superb. Furthermore, there is now an umbrella stowed in each front door.

All powertrains are now Euro-6 emissions compatible, consigning the old 191kW 3.2-litre petrol V6 to the past, with a trio of 2.0-litre direct-injection four-cylinder turbo engines slated for Australia. Each are tied to a six-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission.

For the front-wheel drive cars, the base powerplant is likely to be a 140kW/400Nm TDI turbo-diesel offering a combined 4.5 litres per 100 kilometres – a 15 per cent reduction from before or, alternatively, buyers will be able to choose a 162kW/350Nm TSI turbo-petrol unit capable of hitting 100km/h from standstill in 7.0 seconds (0.7s faster than the TDI) on the way to a 245km/h top speed it can return a 6.2L/100km average on the European cycle.

Sitting on the top of the Superb tree for now will be the 206kW/350Nm TSI 4X4 (denoting road-going all-wheel drive, not off-road capability), delivering a 5.8-second 0-100km/h result, as it sends up to 99 per cent of torque to each axle via a Haldex 5.0 coupling. It averages fuel consumption of 7.1L/100km.

As before, the Skoda flagship employs MacPherson strut front and a multi-link rear suspension, although both have been completely revamped for their Mk3 application. Steering is electrically powered rack and pinion.

With the option of the new-to-Superb Dynamic Chassis Control, the latter, along with the dampers and throttle responses, can be altered according to Eco, Comfort and Sport modes. Bigger wheel options (ranging from 16 to 19 inches) have also been incorporated.

On the safety front, Electronic Stability Control with Automatic Emergency Braking and Multi-Collision Brake (that keeps the vehicle from moving on to a secondary impact after the initial one), an electronic differential lock and tyre pressure monitors are standard, while Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Assist, Crew Assist (pre-collision braking and seatbelt preparation tech) Blind Spot Detect, Rear Traffic Alert, Traffic Jam Assist, Emergency Assist, Traffic Sign Recognition and Smart Light Assist cornering lighting have all been developed for the Skoda, but whether all will be made available on Australian-bound models is unknown. Six airbags are standard, with rear-side airbags optional to bring the count to nine.

Among the new and/or improved options are automatic parking with surround sensors, a panoramic sunroof, heated seats (vented up front), leather upholstery, ambient lighting and upgraded audio.

On the Superb’s international launch in northern Italy, only up-spec models with virtually all of the luxury interior trimmings, larger wheels and adaptive dampers were available for testing, but it is clear that the Mlada Boleslav-built range-topper has moved away from the long shadow of the Passat to become a very real large-car alternative to premium as well as mainstream brands.

That sense is underscored by the very Audi-esque profile and detailing, banishing the frumpy bottom-heavy look of the previous iteration. While some marque devotees may think that the clean new horizontal lines are less distinctive than before, even they must concede that the sleeker third-gen liftback is a far better proportioned proposition.

Themes of restraint and elegance carry on inside, although the very scaled-up VW Golf-like dashboard appearance and layout is a little bit disappointing.

Fabia, Octavia, Passat.. apart from the badges, the generic similarity is all-pervasive. Umbrellas aside, there is not much Czech personality to be found inside. Unless practicality and functionality are the national characters.

There is just no denying that the build and presentation quality is up to expectations elicited by the elegant styling, remembering that the Superb probably won’t be priced against luxury brands. And there’s no getting away from the fact that the amount of available cabin space is vast.

Both front and rear seat comfort is exemplary – the latter comparable to a Holden Caprice’s – backed up by smart instrumentation, excellent ventilation and logical, intuitive controls. Special mention goes to the Apple Play system’s easy connectivity and operation, mirroring a Bluetooth-connected iPhone’s screen with high-pixel faithfulness.

More impressively, and keeping in mind that the switchable dampers were included in all of our sample cars, the Superb is imbued with a refinement and quietness uncommon in vehicles with German DNA, particularly in terms of suspension absorption and road/tyre noise isolation. If the same remains true when the Mk3 lobs in Australia, then the Skoda will be a real thorn in the side of Audi, BMW, Lexus, Infiniti, Mercedes and Volvo. For quiet comfort alone.

The Czechs couldn’t provide a 140kW 2.0 TDI DSG automatic, so we had to make do with the six-speed manual version that is totally irrelevant for us, but it highlighted the torquey flexibility of the hushed turbo-diesel. It pulls hard from low revs, can be driven in higher gears at slow speeds without stalling, and has a velvety punch quite unexpected from a 4.9-metre long 1.5-tonne sedan/liftback.

Moving to the 162kW 2.0 TSI DSG – the potential best-seller – and the silky power delivery from the revvy four-pot turbo petrol proved another highlight, courting our favour with even greater effect thanks to its sprightlier acceleration and seamless responses from both the engine and quick-witted transmission. What a rapid beauty.

But our favourite proved to be the more urgently potent 206kW 2.0 TSI 4X4, despite the added weight (1615kg versus 1505kg) of the AWD system. This was driven (hard) on a wet and windy morning, and here the added traction and surety of having all four wheels driven came to the fore.

The power was delivered crisply and cleanly, for effortless yet relaxing performance in the adverse conditions. Hitting the autostrada at quite high speeds, the Skoda just stuck to the road. This is the Superb of choice, and one that – if sensibly priced – might prove to be one of the most compelling choices in its segment.

About the only qualm concerns the steering. Light to the point of dull in anything but Sport mode, we were forced to forgo the blissful Comfort suspension setting in order to have a decent amount of weighting. But even then the helm is too free of feedback to engage keener types at everyday speeds.

Only when really pushing through the tight turns that the Superb absolutely aces in all other respects, did we feel connected to the front wheels. The AWD didn’t make much difference here either.

Being an electric system, it’s probably just a tweak of a chip away from decent. Do it, Skoda. If the Czech brand complies, then the Superb will be a very formidable driver’s choice in the sub-$50K family car class.

For years, people have had a soft spot for the old one, but now that the Skoda has at last the style to match its impressive new MQB chassis, we reckon the next Superb may at last live up to its name. Roll on 2016.

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