"SUPERB..." now there?s a name inviting a smart come-back. It?s a bit like walking around with an ?I?m terrific? badge on. Do it, and sooner or later you?ll come in for a bit of a punching.
Bringing things (and people) ?down to size? is something of an Aussie pastime. Kind of embedded into the national character.
So, on the face of it, Skoda is being a little brave in launching its new large car under the ?Superb? moniker. If it is? superb, that is? it?s ok. But if it isn?t, there are too many ready-made glib car review headlines just waiting for an airing.
Skoda Australia is more than aware of this. As Karl Gehling, Skoda Australia?s General Manager Press and PR said, ?The name leads with its chin.?
(The name, incidentally, has a history with Skoda that goes all the way back to its 1934-1949 ?straight-eight? engined Superb.)
Fortunately for Skoda, the 2009 Superb is a worthy contender ? large, well kitted, beautifully finished, sharply priced and with enough clever ideas to set it apart in the larger passenger car segment.
If it gets half a chance, it could grab a decent slice of the limousine market previously held pretty tightly by the discontinued Fairlane and Holden?s Statesman. It certainly has the rear-legroom, the sumptuous appointments and the drive-trains to compete.
It has a ripper diesel, familiar to us for its service under a VW badge, the equally familiar narrow-block V6 (with Haldex-clutch all-wheel-drive) and an efficient 1.8 litre petrol turbo.
Speaking at the Australian launch, Skoda Australia head Matthew Wiesner said, ?It?s a hell of a package. We?ve pretty much been the Octavia car company (in Australia) up until now; with the Superb we can broaden ourselves across other market segments.?
So, after a day in the saddle, how good is that package? Will it cut the mustard in a tough segment against some well-established badges?
Its pricing certainly strengthens the case. Starting at $42,990 for the TSI, $45,990 for the TDI and $56,990 for the V6 FSI 4WD, the Superb offers a lot of car for ? comparatively - not a lot of dollars.
It comes in two levels of trim and appointments: the Ambition, and the heavily-specced Elegance (for $3000 more for TSI and TDI models).
With upright and slightly awkward lines, the Superb could never be described as exciting. But it has a stately air, and is not without appeal.
The strong grille, heavily creased bonnet and nicely-styled headlights and lower fog-lamps, work for the front. And the stretched profile also works ok, especially when sitting on the 18-inch rims.
In this view, side-on, it is all limousine: surprisingly big (although the wheelbase is relatively compact), with long rear doors, extended roof-line and deep boot overhang.
The lines however do not work so well around the boot and rear tail-lights.
While the boot is cavernous offering 565 litres of luggage space with rear seats in place (bigger even than the Statesman), and the TwinDoor rear hatch which gives the Superb both sedan and liftback versatility is brilliant industrial design, it?s a pity things are a little drab aesthetically around those rear quarters.
But few buyers in this segment will worry much about that. This is a segment that thrives on practicality.
These buyers need a big boot, ample shoulder-room and an acre of leg-room in the back seat ? they also want first-class accommodation and a refined ride. The Superb has all of that covered.
More than that, it is generously appointed, whether as the ?entry? Ambition, or the ?fully loaded? Elegance.
Open the door, and the Superb is a real surprise. The dash ? soft feel and with a BMW-esque edge sweeping up over the instrument binnacle ? is smart and very functional.
The trim, polished wood highlights and high-quality leather (in FSI and ?Elegance? models), set off a premium interior.
Things fall nicely to hand, it?s easy to get settled and comfortable (thanks to electric seats), it feels good at the wheel and the large screen in the elegantly-designed centre console provides touch-screen functionality for simplicity of use.
It?s clear, sensible, and even techno-dunces (like me) can work their way around it easily.
The seats front and back are nicely padded, well-bolstered and beautifully trimmed. And there is an astonishing amount of legroom in the back. Without having run a tape-measure over it, at a guess it?s a match for the Fairlane here.
This will be a real ace in the Superb?s deck when limo-drivers get a look at it.
Attention to premium detail extends to monogrammed carpets and, in the FSI V6, the inscribed 4X4 in the polished metal head of the DSG shift.
There are other natty features like coat-hooks on the B-pillars (and also on the above-door grab-handles), a switch to disable the movement sensors (so you can lock the car with a pet inside), and an umbrella holder in each of the rear doors? perfect for the umbrella supplied, but also (to these eyes) the right size for a bottle of premium vodka. (The choice, then, becomes yours?)
So, for even fussy eyes, there is little to fault in the Superb?s interior.
Equipment and Features
There is a six-stacker CD, high quality audio (inexplicably branded ?sound system? on the front door speaker enclosures? it?s such a relief to be informed) and multi-function steering wheel.
The equipment list, even for the lower-specced Ambition models is impressive. It comes with driver, passenger and airbags, driver?s knee airbag, and all the usual acronyms (ABS, ESC, EBD) but also with hill-hold control.
Tyre-pressure monitoring, rear parking sensors, heated seats, lit footwells, dual-zone air-con and pollen filters add premium practicality and feel to the accommodation.
The Bi-Xenon headlights with dynamic angle control (tilting up at higher speeds) and with cornering function, are clever and useful features. So too is the optional solar-cell sun-roof, which automatically ventilates the interior on hot days, lowering interior temperatures by as much as 25 degrees when in the sun.
Whether in standard kit, or optioned, the Superb provides exceptional value in the context of its target market ? particularly against its Euro-badged competitors.
We spent most time in the V6 and diesel, with just a short run in the 1.8 TSI. Putting the potent V6 to side for one moment, what is apparent, and still messes with the head a little, is what the Volkswagen group is achieving from smaller, efficient engines.
The Superb is quite a large car, but for the feel underfoot and against the stop-watch, the 1.8 petrol-engined TSI is not at all shamed.
With 118 kW and a creditable 250 Nm of torque (from 1,500-4,500rpm), those 1.8 turbo-driven litres and seven-speed DSG transmission, push the Superb TSI to a top speed of 220km/h and dispatch the 0-100km/h sprint in just 8.5 seconds.
The barnstormer of the range is the 3.6-litre V6 FSI with 191kW of power and maximum torque of 350Nm (available between 2,500rpm and 5,000rpm).
With permanent all-wheel-drive and six-speed DSG, the FSI storms to 100km/h in 6.5 seconds and on to a top speed of 250km/h.
The fourth-gen Haldex clutch monitors traction electronically ? under normal driving, the drive is directed to the front axles. Then, depending upon the traction conditions and what is being asked at the accelerator, the power distribution switches to the rear wheels or shared front to rear.
Our favorite though was the 2.0 TDI diesel. It feels immensely strong especially in that mid-speed overtaking band, makes a nice ?rounded? hum when working (from inside the car), and delivers quite amazing fuel economy.
With common-rail direct injection, it delivers 125kW and ? matching the V6 FSI - 350Nm of torque from 1,750rpm to 2,500 rpm.
Mated to the six-speed DSG, the diesel TDI is capable of 220 km/h top speed and 0-100km/h in 8.8 seconds. It delivers on these numbers while also returning a combined fuel consumption figure of a planet-friendly (and wallet-friendly) 6.9 l/100km.
The drive, for each engine variant, is quite surprisingly composed, refined, and, in the case of the smaller-engined variants, quite surprisingly willing: the Superb is, after all, quite a large car.
For my money, at $45,990 plus on-road charges, the diesel is the pick. With those 350Nm on tap, and a willingness to rev freely, it provides more than ample urge with a miserly thirst. (Don?t you just love modern diesels?).
Front-wheel-drive only, as opposed to the all-wheel drive of the V6 FSI, the diesel TDI is slightly less-connected and less ?nailed? to the tarmac as the FSI, but few would notice, and fewer would care.
Pushing through the hills north of Sydney showed the inherently superior chassis balance of the FSI over the front-drive diesel, but there was little opportunity to stretch things out.
For ?real world driving?, there is just margins between the front-drive TDI and the AWD V6.
The suspension, Euro-style, leans a little to the firm, but even over some broken secondary bitumen, there was an absence of jarring and pitching. It is a conventional set-up with struts up front and three transverse links at the rear.
In all, the impression of the drive is that things below seem very well-sorted ? the Superb is considerably sharper at the wheel than its dimensions and conservative lines would suggest.
A longer test drive, and some exploring of the dynamic capabilities of each of the models will tell the story, but the preliminary call puts the diesel a nose ahead as the real value-for-money offering, with few noticeable compromises against the considerably more expensive $56,990 V6 FSI.
For all models, wind, mechanical and road noise is very low. Combined with the premium appointments, the sound isolation enhances the limo-like interior ambience.
So, is the Superb ?superb?? That?s a hard call. It is certainly a very competent, very well-kitted and satisfying drive.
It also has the style, practicality and refined interior appointments to give the segment a real shake.
So, yes, on the basis of this first drive review, Skoda has every reason to be confident it has the right car for the segment, with the right fuel efficiency for the times. Best of all, it is very sharply priced and offers real value as a package, right across the range.
If Skoda can get the word out, the Superb will win a lot of friends.
?koda Superb Pricing
- Superb Ambition 1.8 TSI 118kW DSG - $42,990*
- Superb Ambition 2.0 TDI 125kW DSG - $45,990*
- Superb Elegance 1.8 TSI 118kW DSG - $45,990*
- Superb Elegance 2.0 TDI 125kW DSG - $48,990*
- Superb Elegance 4x4 V6 3.6 FSI 191kW DSG - $56,990*
* Plus on-road statutory and dealer-delivery charges.