Rather a ballsy move calling a car ‘Superb’.
What complicates the issue is that it’s an overused term and one open to massive differences in interpretation, so determining whether it’s an apt name for a car is a minefield of conjecture.
This Škoda’s certainly really rather good but that makes for a long-winded chrome badge on the tailgate. Whether we like it or not, Superb is more succinct and reflects Škoda’s constantly upward-trending confidence levels and sales trajectory.
What’s here is Škoda’s second generation of the modern interpretation of its largest line; whilst the first was a tradservative four-door saloon, the latest comes as an ungainly hatch that looks like a saloon and this infinitely more elegant estate.
It’s barely two decades since Škoda produced cars that made their drivers the punchlines of neighbourhood jokes. Is the Škoda Really Rather Good appealing enough to tempt Mr & Mrs Suburbia out of their Volvo estate?
It looks good but huge – surely the Superb will be simply too big for most families?
Stand beside your newly-purchased Superb estate and you’ll certainly be impressed by how much metal you’ve got for your buck. Not that in this high specification Elegance model, with 168bhp of turbo diesel power and a four wheel drive system transmitting it to the bitumen, is the Superb particularly inexpensive at £27,610, but it is competitive.
That commodious-looking tail might have you thinking the Superb is a size above the popular Mondeo wagon, yet it only dwarfs the Ford by a solitary millimetre. Where the Škoda bests the Ford is in the luggage bay: with the seats up, the Czech’s boot is almost 100l more voluminous than the Belgian-built offering. It’s also over 50l larger (and several thousand cheaper) than the modern-day Margot Leadbetter’s favourite, Volvo’s V70.
From almost every exterior angle, the Superb looks, well, superb. It’s large and imposing without being stylistically arrogant, with visual hints of strength and solidity. The vault-like door handles typify this impression of sturdiness, hanging downwards as if struggling to cope with their own weight.
The tail is significantly better resolved than the contrived and ungainly resolution to the hatchback’s rear but both share the overstyled and frumpy nose. Recent Škoda faces have been the epitome of clean yet distinctive design but the Superb’s visage looks downbeat and fussy. The recently unleashed Citigo and Rapid suggest a return to form may be on the cards come facelift time.
So is the Škoda Superb a case of never mind the quality, feel the width?
Not at all. In fact, the Superb is one of the best-assembled cars I’ve tested all year, totally free of any kind of squeak or rattle despite that cabin space to act as an echo chamber.
Being a top of the range Elegance model, the Superb is well equipped, with electrical controls for almost every function, fine leather clad seats which proved supremely comfortable on long journeys and a powerful infotainment system in the double DIN dashboard slot.
Interior plastics didn’t disappoint either, with soft touch mouldings on the upper surfaces offering a satisfying depth of finger squidge, precise and well-weighted switchgear and a general sense of wellbeing permeating the interior and its occupants.
The primary reason for this was the standard feature that the Superb has oodles of – interior space. Five adults can occupy the seats in comfort with ample space for heads, legs and arms, safe in the knowledge their luggage is firmly restrained in the cargo bay. A full length glass roof allows masses of light to flood the cabin and further increase the spacious sensation.
How does the Superb cope on the open road – engine meaty enough to haul its bulk?
Those torquey Volkwagen Group TDI motors have a reputation for being great for low end grunt and therefore swift propulsion but they weren’t the last word in aural refinement. Even with the latest generation of common rail injection technology, this 2.0-litre 168bhp example is a little on the gruff side but the harshness of the diesel clatter has eased whilst its urgency to go forward is better than ever.
Positively, as well as strong performance, the Superb also serves up decent economy too, regularly matching the claimed 44mpg average during its week on test. Whilst this offers an excellent range for long distance travel, take note of its Band G VED rating which equates to a bill of £170 per year in road tax.
With the benefit of four wheel drive traction the Škoda transmits all its go effectively allowing fun and games to be had with unsuspecting yoofs in their chavved up 90s chariots should the urge overwhelm you. What it also means is that whilst cross country dashes along wending B-roads aren’t exactly thrill-a-minute, you do feel secure all of the time. Despite much provocation, not once did the Superb suggest it was going to break away at the tail; its nose only waving the white flag when a corner’s tackled with too much exuberance and Mistress Understeer cracked her whip.
Snicking the manual six-speeder between its ratios is a pleasant affair although the lever itself does feel detached from the action, such is the level of vibration suppression engineered into the gearbox. Lower gears are spaced effectively to make the most of the 258lb/ft’s worth of torque on getaways, the top ones suited to cruising along at low revs.
Ride quality is a Superb strength, dealing with both the primary bump-thump and secondary ripples effortlessly. Whether one or five up, the largest Škoda feels totally unruffled and undaunted by the road surface conditions ahead permitting passengers to arrive at their destination without needing to shake out their compressed spines.
The oddest disappointment was with the Superb’s brakes. They stop the Škoda effectively and rapidly but the pedal action itself feels somewhat spongy and over-servoed, initially impairing your judgement about how hard you’re actually braking. It’s something you quickly learn to drive around and lighter braking forces are judged by the angle of your right ankle but something to consider recalibrating at the facelift.
I’ve a huge amount of admiration for Škoda as a brand. There’s little pretention to its model lines’ styling and although the prices are now right in there with the competition, you still feel as though they represent strong value for money, both in terms of size and space and equipment levels.
What I particularly enjoy is the way they go about their own thing (well, as much as they can as part of a global car-building empire) and have spent two decades evolving into a class-less range of cars that appeal to people of all wallet sizes. The irony isn’t lost that they’ve come to occupy the territory that used to Volkswagen’s heartland as the people’s car climbs relentlessly further upmarket.
The Škoda Superb should be rejoiced for what it is: a comfortable, practical, spacious, safe and reassuring family car. It knows its remit and doesn’t chase the flat cornering, hard riding, load-hauling powerhouses from more prestigious marques.
It might sound a little boring but in reality isn’t. It generates a positive sense of wellbeing, such are its wealth of qualities. This Škoda’s more than simply being Really Rather Good – it’s Superb.
Thumbs Up: Spacious, well-built, generously equipped in Elegance specification, torquey engine, unpretentious, reassuring
Thumbs Down: A little expensive for some in this guise, nose not the prettiest, brakes a little vague at the pedal
Škoda Superb estate starts at £18.915 for the S 1.4 TSI rising to £28,110 for the Elegance 2.0 TDI CR 140PS 4×4 DSG.
Model Tested: Škoda Superb Elegance 2.0 TDI CR 170PS 4×4
Top Speed: 135mph
Combined cycle fuel consumption: 44.8mpg
CO2 emissions: 165g/km
VED Band/Cost: G/£170pa
Engine size: 4/1968cc common rail fuel injection, turbocharged diesel
Boot space: 633-1865l
Kerb weight: 1579kg
Price: £27,610 (April 2012)
All photographs © Keith WR Jones 2012