I'M WRITING THIS FROM THE BACK SEAT OF SKODA'S BRAND NEW 2016 SUPERB. Not the most conventional way to road test a car, but then again the Skoda Superb isn’t your average large car.
Skoda pitches it as a quasi-limousine, a big sedan (or wagon) that puts an emphasis on rear passenger comfort and wraps it up in a package that boasts an elegant air.
If you’ve come to think of Skoda as being VW’s budget brand, the Superb may force you to reconsider.
And while it’s not going to upset the Euro luxe limo establishment, the Superb arguably places more emphasis on back seat comfort than any other large car on the market. You’ll need to look to the likes of the Holden Caprice and Hyundai Genesis for a roomier rear bench.
But that was a hallmark of the old model too, so what’s changed? For starters, the Superb has ditched its dowdy old-man styling and slipped into a sharper set of panels, while an all-new platform sits beneath it to deliver weight, handling and packaging improvements.
Every variant is more powerful than the one that preceded it, and while the starting point of the range is more expensive than before, standard equipment levels have skyrocketed at the same time.
Does it past muster? We travelled to New South Wales to discover more.
Vehicle Style: Large sedan and wagon
Price: $39,990 to $50,990
- 162kW/350Nm 2.0 litre turbo petrol 4cyl | 6sp automatic (162TSI)
- 140kW/400Nm 2.0 litre turbo diesel 4cyl | 6sp automatic (140TDI)
- 206kW/350Nm 2.0 litre petrol 4cyl | 6sp automatic (Superb 4x4)
- 6.4 l/100km | tested: 7.1 l/100km (162TSI)
- 4.8 l/100km | tested: 5.9 l/100km (140TDI)
- 7.3 l/100km | tested: N/A (Superb 4x4)
It feels the more premium offering, and one that provides outstanding interior comfort and an impressive standard feature set. If you’re contemplating a European luxury midsizer like a 3 Series or A4, you may want to scope out the Superb as well.
It is, however, a more expensive proposition than most mainstream large cars. In its corner is a stronger value equation thanks to many of its standard features being optional extras on its rivals (or simply not available at all), but be prepared to pay more than you would for, say, the equivalent Commodore model.
- Standard equipment: Active cruise control, Alcantara upholstery, powered driver's seat, heated front seats, trip computer, tri-zone climate control, rear sunblinds, 18-inch alloys, front and rear parking sensors, reversing camera, bi-xenon headlamps, privacy glass
- Infotainment: 8-inch colour touchscreen display with satellite navigation, 8-speaker audio, AM/FM/SD/USB audio, Bluetooth connectivity plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring.
- Cargo volume: 625 litres minimum, 1760 litres maximum (sedan) | 660 litres minimum, 1950 litres maximum (wagon).
Our chauffeur-driven leg was in the diesel, and we appreciated its excellent sound and vibration suppression. The engine note is muted and lacks the gravelly rasp of a traditional diesel, and there’s barely any vibration to speak of.
In fact, the only shaking comes when the auto stop-start re-lights the engine, and even then it’ll barely put a ripple in your morning coffee.
It’s spacious too. Limousine-esque would be an appropriate description; there’s more sprawling space in the back of a Superb than in pretty much any other large car.
Backseaters can also adjust their air-temperature independently of the front passengers via controls on the back of the centre console, and there is privacy glass and standard retractable sunblinds to keep prying eyes at bay.
Need to work while commuting? A full-size tablet holder can be plugged into the (generously-sized) fold-down centre armrest.
Material quality won’t give the Euro limos like BMW 7 Series, Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Audi A8 anything to worry about, but Skoda’s liberal use of soft-touch materials and fine trim finishes will appeal (if you give it a close look).
Certainly when compared to large-segment fixtures like the Toyota Aurion or Ford Falcon, the Skoda creams them for material quality and design.
Go for the optional Comfort Pack ($1500) and you’ll also gain rear heated-seats and perforated leather upholstery, plus heated/ventilated front seats and an electrically-adjustable front seat that has controls accessible by the rear passengers.
Ditch the driver and hop into the front seat yourself, and you'll enjoy a well laid-out instrument panel, a large 8-inch touchscreen (with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring) and an excellent - if slightly tall - driving position.
The Superb’s clean no-nonsense design may not excite and might be lacking a bit of charm, but it definitely possesses a premium air.
However, a number of quality issues showed up during our preview drive. Things like a whistling door seal in one of the rear doors, a faulty infotainment display that refused to light up and a chronic rattle in one car’s door trim.
But we’ll forgive this car a lot, because there are other aspects of its interior that well and truly redeem it.
Things like an abundance of bag hooks in the luggage compartment, a sizable (and chilled) glovebox, that little rubbish bin that lives in the front door pocket - all are handy features to have in a car, yet are far from universal.
Then there are the carpeted door pockets that stop belongings from rattling around, the pair of rear-seat release handles in the boot, the wide fold-down centre armrest and, in the wagon, a pair of foldable brackets that can be stuck anywhere on the boot floor to help contain smaller items of luggage. Nifty
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 162kW/350Nm 2.0 litre turbo petrol 4cyl (162TSI), 140kW/400Nm 2.0 litre turbo diesel 4cyl (140TDI), 206kW/350Nm 2.0 litre petrol 4cyl (Superb 4x4)
- Transmission: 6-speed twin clutch automatic, front-wheel drive (162TSI and 140TDI), AWD (Superb 4x4)
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
- Brakes: Ventilated discs front, solid discs rear sliding calipers
- Steering: Electrically-assisted, 11.7m turning circle
- Towing capacity: 2000kg braked (162TSI and 140TDI), 2200 braked (Superb 4x4)
There are no bad choices when it comes to the Superb’s engine line-up. Not a single one.
In fact, it’s the cheapest model that won us over in the biggest way. The Superb 162TSI has the Golf GTI’s 162kW/350Nm engine (also used by the Skoda Octavia RS) under its bonnet, and it’s terrific.
Smooth, plenty of low-down torque and eager to rev, it makes light work of lugging around the Superb sedan’s 1463kg frame. The six-speed twin clutch DSG automatic does occasionally stumble and pause when getting off the line, but it’s better than a lot of twin-clutch units out there.
The 140kW/400Nm diesel is a relaxed performer and well-suited to long distance highway cruising, while the 206kW Superb 4x4 is genuinely rapid with its 5.6 second 0-100km/h time.
And so it should be. The Volkswagen Golf R hot hatch uses the same engine - albeit with an extra 30Nm of peak torque - and with all-wheel-drive it’s got the traction to utilise all of that extra oomph. An RS badge wouldn’t look out of place on the Superb 4x4’s bootlid or tailgate.
There’s a sharp ride on the 4x4’s standard 19-inch wheels, and there’s an extra level of firmness thanks to the 15mm-lower sports suspension of that model. It comes a price to comfort; it crashes into potholes with a cringe-inducing thwack, and there’s some rack-rattle over severe corrugations.
It sure does feel sporty though.
If you want ride comfort, the standard suspension and 18-inch alloys of the 162TSI and 140TDI are what you should chase.
The suspension of both is well-damped yet never feels too soft, with outstanding body control on windy roads. It’s a confidence-inspiring thing, and that’s bolstered by a well-tuned stability control program that works as well on gravel as it does on tarmac.
Low-rpm driveability is, well, superb on all models. The 162TSI makes its peak torque figure from 1500rpm all the way to 4400rpm, while the 4x4 stretches even further with its torque plateau ranging from 1700-5600rpm.
The 140TDI has a narrower torque band of 1650-3250rpm, but that's in keeping with that engine's more relaxed nature
But there are traction issues, particularly when the road is a little damp.
The Superb 162TSI in particular suffers. That car easily overpowers its front tyres even on a dry road. The comfort-biased Pirelli Cinturato P7 tyres (rather than the Golf GTI’s grippier P-Zeros) is the reason here.
Drive away too enthusiastically and the front tyres will chirp away. If you’re trying to pull out into fast-moving traffic, that moment of wheelspin could be a handicap.
ANCAP rating: Not yet rated by ANCAP
Safety features: ABS, EBD, brake assist, active cruise control, autonomous emergency braking and nine airbags (dual front, front and rear side, full-length curtain and driver's knee) are standard on all Superb variants.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Superb is one of the freshest offerings in the large car segment right now, and has the edge in interior packaging and standard equipment. It also compares very favourably with some of the larger offerings from the midsize segment, such as its corporate cousin the VW Passat and Subaru's Liberty.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
We like the Skoda Superb a lot. It straddles the divide between mainstream and luxury so neatly, and though relatively expensive in the context of its nearest large-car competitors, it is chock-full of value thanks to a long list of standard inclusions.
There are some minor cabin quality foibles that will hopefully be addressed, but, aside from those, the Superb really sparkles.
Our pick is the base model 162TSI wagon with the Comfort Pack, but you’re really not losing out on anything no matter which variant you select.