2009 Skoda Superb V6 3.6 FSI Elegance 4x4 Road Test Review
SKODA ROLLED OUT its first Superb back in 1934, yet the average Australian would seem to be blissfully unaware of both the badge and its long history.
In fact, we'd be guessing that the average Aussie will see the Superb badge and think Skoda has tickets on itself. Let's face it, calling your new sedan the 'Superb' is perhaps more than a little presumptuous.
Looked at from another angle, it's also an impressive display of confidence. If it was a steaming pile, the risk is high that the name would go down in history for all of the wrong reasons.
But the Superb has been on the Australian market since June, and we have yet to hear anyone take a swipe at the name after driving one.
We last tested the Superb - a 1.8 TSI Elegance - back in September, and thought it was definitely deserving of its moniker. This time around it was the top-shelf V6 Elegance 4x4 that we had on test, and we continue to be impressed.
Our test of the Superb coincided with our recent 1000km Commodore SIDI economy run, and while the Superb only had a bit-part in that production, it threatened to upstage the star and run off with the Logie.
The Superb's styling certainly divides opinion.
In profile the almost limousine-like proportions are obvious, with the roof-line remaining high over the rear passenger compartment for the sake of comfort and practicality.
It may challenge our large Aussie sedans on length, but it falls short on width and nowhere is this more obvious than from the rear view where it looks just a tad under-proportioned.
The dual-twin exhausts - exclusive to the V6 - look the part and almost save the day, but the front three-quarter view remains the best angle from which to gaze at the Superb.
Helping to add some visual width and balance to the Superb's nose is that large chrome grille-surround and impressively contoured bonnet.
The two-part tail-lights, with one half integrated into the rear wings and the other integrated into the boot lid, are a design element common to the Skoda model range.
Depending on the variant, the Superb rides on either 16” ‘Spectrum’ (Ambition), 17” ‘Trifid’ (Elegance) or in the case of the Elegance 4x4 test vehicle, 18” ‘Themisto’ alloy wheels.
The Superb certainly boasts a 'well-to-do' air of refinement and even managed to turn a few heads while on test. It's not beautiful in the conventional sense, but its pure "different-ness" is enough to make it a noteworthy shape.
The exterior styling may be the subject of debate, but if simple understated elegance appeals, then the interior is an open-and-shut case.
Easily one of the best interiors getting around, the fit and finish is impeccable and the blend of high quality plastics, wood and chrome is 'just right'.
There is hint of BMW in the curve and grain of the soft-touch black plastic dashboard, combined with a whiff of 1960's Mercedes in the simple, functional and delightfully elegant instrument cluster.
Our Elegance 4x4's black leather interior was finished to perfection and had an air of enduring quality and - most importantly - 'looked' expensive.
The front seats are electric (standard on the Elegance) and offer a full range of adjustment, adequate lateral support and proved very comfortable even after many hours on the road.
The Superb's interior is surprisingly commodious. And while it may lack the enormous girth of our large home-grown sedans, it seriously challenges them for rear-seat leg-room.
It could be argued that the Superb is more a four-seater than a five-seater. This is certainly the case where broad Aussie shoulders are concerned; but, rest assured, the Superb will accommodate four adults in supreme comfort, and five when required.
Then of course there is the boot, which brings us to one of the more unique features found on the Superb - Skoda's TwinDoor system - which converts the Superb from a sedan to a hatchback at the press of a button.
Operation of the TwinDoor feature is via two switches under the leading edge of the boot lid. The switch on the right is used to lock the bootlid to the rear window, allowing them to be opened as one unit via the switch to the left.
The choice is there; either open the bootlid on its own or in conjunction with the rear window. To be honest, the gaping aperture offered by locking the boot to the rear window, hatch style, is so superior that we think it should just be that way to begin with.
When the rear seat-backs are in an upright position, the boot will accommodate 565 litres of luggage. If folded forward, an enormous 1,670 litres is made available.
Below the boot's luggage floor there is further storage space for oddments, as well a full-size spare wheel. There are eyelets at the side of the boot floor to secure goods, and folding hooks to hold shopping bags.
As much as we have plenty to be proud of with our locally produced cars, they simply don't offer the Superb's level of quality or class. With entry to the Superb range starting at just $42,990, this is a car that should be posing a serious price/value challenge for traditional 'large Aussie sedan' buyers.
Equipment and features
The standard equipment across all three trim levels - Ambition, Elegance and Elegance 4x4 - is impressive, more so when you consider the price.
Dual-zone climate control air conditioning, a multi-function trip computer and Bolero touch screen eight-speaker audio system with integrated six-CD changer and MP3 auxiliary input socket are standard features on the base 'Ambition' Superb.
Cruise control, auto-on headlights, front fog-lights with corner function, rear parking sensors, chrome interior trim and a leather package for the steering wheel, gear lever and handbrake grip are also standard-issue.
Opt for the Elegance or Elegance 4x4 trim levels and your Superb will also be fitted with Bi-Xenon headlights with AFS (Adaptive Front Light System), an alarm system and the addition of a 400W, 10 channel amplifier and 2 extra speakers for the Bolero sound system.
Electric roller blinds for the rear window and electrically-adjustable driver and passenger seats are also standard Elegance fare, while the Elegance 4x4 also includes a leather/artificial leather combination interior.
Notable options include the 'Columbus' navigation system that features a 30GB hard drive - 10GB for navigation and 20GB that can be used for storing music.
There is also Park Assist to take the hassle out of reverse parking, and a unique electric sunroof that uses solar cells to power a ventilator that assists air circulation inside the vehicle when it's parked.
Skoda claims that this optional feature is capable of lowering interior temperatures by as much as 25 degrees celsius. A conventional sunroof is also available.
The Superb has a full complement of safety features and has been awarded a 5-Star Euro NCAP safety rating. A nine-airbag package is standard across both trim levels and includes front driver and passenger airbags, front and rear side-airbags, curtain airbags and a driver’s knee airbag.
Also standard is Electronic Stability Program (ESP), Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) and Anti-Slip Regulation (ASR), along with a dual-rate brake booster, which contributes to a shorter braking distance in critical situations.
Being wholly owned by Volkswagen ensures that there is a choice of sophisticated drivetrain combinations at Skoda's disposal. In the Superb's case, buyers can choose from three engines - two petrol and one diesel - all of which feature direct fuel-injection technology.
Those preferring the torquey yet ultra-frugal nature of a diesel can opt for the 2.0 TDI engine. It produces 125kW and 350Nm, and is paired with a six-speed DSG gearbox. The 2.0 TDI is officially rated at 6.9 l/100km combined cycle and produces 182g/km of CO2.
The entry-level petrol engine is the 1.8 TSI, which outputs 118kW and 250Nm. The lower torque output means that Skoda can safely hook it up to Volkswagen's seven-speed DSG gearbox. This drivetrain combination is rated at 8.4 l/100km on the combined cycle, and emits 200 g/km of CO2.
'Our' Elegance 4x4 on the other hand came fitted with Volkswagen's magnificent 3.6 litre V6 FSI, which works in tandem with a six-speed DSG and permanent four-wheel-drive system.
With a healthy 191kW and 350Nm on tap it manages to offer up a well balanced mix of power and refinement. Officially it's rated at 10.2 l/100km on the combined cycle, but the worst we saw in urban driving was 10.4 l/100km.
Highway cruising was a real eye-opener, but more on that later.
The 3.6-litre FSI V6 - despite its significantly larger capacity - is actually commendably clean, producing a impressively low 243g/km of CO2.
The permanent four-wheel-drive system uses a fourth-generation Haldex clutch and monitors the distribution of torque between the front and rear axles electronically.
Normal driving conditions will see 100 percent of the torque channelled to the front wheels, however loss of traction can result in some or all of the available torque being directed to the rear wheels.
The Superb shares its chassis with the Volkswagen Passat, albeit slightly stretched. The front suspension is a coil sprung MacPherson strut with lower wishbone arrangement, while the rear suspension is an independent four-link configuration.
Both front and rear brakes feature vented discs ( 312 x 25mm (front)and a single piston floating caliper. Steering is rack and pinion with electro-mechanical assistance.
The 1.8 TSI and 2.0 TDI equipped Superbs feature 312×25mm front ventilated rotors and 286×12mm solid rear rotors. Skoda has seen fit to beef up the brakes on the Elegance 4x4 model, by fitting 345×30mm ventilated front rotors and 310×22mm ventilated rear rotors.
There is no proximity key, nor push button start. Firing up the Elegance 4x4's V6 is done the old fashioned way, by turning the key.
A low-pitched starter motor kicks life into the 3.6 litre, which gently settles on its idle RPM. The process sounds distinctly 'German', as befits the drivetrain's origin.
The six-speed DSG offers three modes of operation. Select 'Drive' and the Elegance 4x4 will waft around, with seamless changes as it maintains forward momentum.
'Sport' mode wakes both car and driver, with the emphasis placed on extracting performance. The appropriate gear for maximum thrust is held longer and at higher revs, keeping the V6 on song and sounding delectable.
Be warned though, Sport mode is addictive, and while it will have you grinning, you'll pay for it at the pump.
You can of course, move the selector across to the left and manually select gears, or if you prefer, you can option a steering wheel with paddle gear-selectors.
Whatever setting, and however you choose to change gears, it is hard to think of a more accomplished gearbox than Volkswagen's DSG. It never put a foot wrong on test, never hesitated over a gear selection, and never made a choice that wasn't appropriate for the situation.
The sexy-sounding 3.6 litre V6 FSI engine is a pearler that enjoys a rev, and offers a surprising combination of performance and efficiency. We took the Elegance 4x4 along on our recent 1000km VE Commodore Berlina 3.0 SIDI economy trial, and it nearly stole the show.
The Berlina averaged 7.9 l/100km and covered 980kms before spluttering to a halt. The Elegance 4x4 completed the same course and managed an 8.0 l/100km average (remember we're talking AWD here), its touring range only compromised by its smallish 60 litre fuel tank.
Both the Octavia and Superb share a distinct and unique character. Defining it is difficult, but the feel from behind the wheel of both Skodas is one of light-footed solidity.
On the road it is clear that the Elegance 4x4 has a very well-sorted ride. Damping is a fraction on the firm side, but only a fraction. Falcon and Commodore offer a better ride on our less than stellar country highways, but keen drivers will appreciate the Elegance 4x4's more 'connected' feel at the wheel.
Throw in some corners and the Elegance 4x4 shines again, cornering confidently and with minimal body-roll. The Haldex 4WD system is not at the cutting edge of AWD development, but it works and imbues the Elegance 4x4 with a significant handling and safety advantage when the going gets slippery.
There is no question that the Elegance 4x4 packs an abundance of balance and poise but it does have an issue or two. Well, actually only two.
The brakes are noticeably over-assisted and make a smooth stop challenging. Sure you get used to it over time, but it's at odds with the precision that defines the rest of the package. First time or careless drivers will find it difficult to strike a happy balance between pedal pressure and stopping power.
There is also a case for improved sound deadening, if only to deal with the course-chip bitumen roads in this country. The VE Berlina was noticeably better insulated from road noise on these surfaces.
On the other hand, the Elegance 4x4 has it all over the VE Berlina when it comes to wind noise. In this regard the Superb is well, superb, while the Berlina whistles Dixie around its side mirrors.
The Elegance 4x4 headlines the Superb range and is priced at $56,990*. That surely has to be some kind of bargain?
It is the equal of its European competitors on quality, absolutely smashes them on value, and frankly offers unbeatable comfort and performance for the money.
Compared to the local large cars, it offers superior build quality, arguably better dynamics, at least matches them on equipment and has to be considered a more prestigious offering.
The Elegance 4x4 should be selling up a storm. In fact the entire Superb range should be proving irresistible value for money for anyone looking for a well-equipped, large family car that will seat four very comfortably.
Of course the reality is that Skoda is in the process of re-establishing the brand in Australia. Buyers are concerned about resale values, and still wrongly cling to memories of the early 1980's Skodas, produced before the Czech manufacturer was taken over by Volkswagen in 1991.
Whatever your perception of the brand may be, we can tell you one thing. The Superb in general and the Elegance 4x4 in particular offer extraordinary quality, technology, precision and value for money.