When you choose not to play by the rules, things can end one of two ways: spectacularly - with a show-stealing performance, or well… you can imagine the other outcome.
Which makes Skoda’s foray into the large car scene an interesting one. Fielding a 1.8 litre turbo-charged four-cylinder car in a market usually reserved for something with a big-six might be considered a brave move. Particularly when offered by a relative newcomer.
A little technical know-how goes a long way however, and the value and - yes - performance packaged into the Skoda Superb 118TSI demonstrates just how seriously the brand is tackling this market.
Skoda intends to do things in the large car sector differently. While the range topping model features a conventional V6 and all-wheel-drive, the entry point kicks off with a 1.8 litre four-cylinder, front wheel drive and a seven-speed DSG gearbox.
A long cabin that liberates plenty of room, impressive luxury amenities and an innovative rear hatch make the Superb something of a unique proposition on the Australian market.
What’s the appeal?
Limousine levels of rear legroom give the passenger accommodation in the Superb a clear and distinct advantage over many in the sector.
Further back, an equally generous boot means nothing need be left behind.
What may surprise most though is the way the 1.8 litre with DSG goes about things, the serene premium feel to the cabin, and the equally serene ride comfort.
What features does it have?
Beyond that, the Elegance model includes heated front and rear seats, 17-inch alloy wheels, six-disc MP3 compatible CD sound with a 30GB hard drive driven through 10 speakers, and electric front seats with memory for the driver's seat.
There’s also a multi-function trip computer, dual-zone climate control, automatic Xenon headlights, rain-sensing wipers, tyre pressure monitoring and auto-dimming mirrors.
All models in the Superb range also feature rear park-sensors, illuminated interior door handles, air-conditioned glovebox and an amazingly useful umbrella holder in the rear passenger's side door – a touch that more manufactures should give serious consideration to.
What’s under the bonnet?
Large cars with even the slightest hint of luxury need six cylinders as a bare minimum, right? Well, maybe not. Meet Skoda’s 1.8 litre contender in the large car class.
Regardless, a relatively low kerb weight of just 1611kg and a handy 250Nm of torque on tap from 1500 to 4500rpm, combined with a seven-speed DSG gearbox (providing a gear ratio for every occasion), means that the Skoda Superb does a commendable job on the road.
Despite the raw numbers looking a little shy, Skoda claims the sprint to 100km/h can be run in 8.5 seconds. For the feel underfoot, there’s little reason to doubt that claim.
Beyond that, the Superb features a relatively conventional front-wheel drive layout with MacPherson strut front suspension, with a four-link independent set-up at the rear.
How does it drive?
Skoda’s vehicle range all share a similar ‘lightness of feel’ on the road, and the big Superb is no exception. Common platform architecture beneath the Superb and the smaller Octavia helps to explain it.
On-road manners are difficult to fault, a situation assisted by an electronic stability system that, whilst subtle, is eager to step in at the first sign of trouble. As a relaxed cruiser, the Superb is pretty hard to toss.
In keeping with its limousine image, the ride is wonderfully balanced and compliant - absorbing road imperfections and hollows without wallowing or pogo-ing unnecessarily. The long wheelbase means that even larger imperfections in the road surface barely register inside.
Conversely however, the relatively narrow track of the Superb takes the edge off cornering balance. In combination with the 118TSI's modest power output, soft suspension and inherent body-roll, the Superb's cornering performance is well-beaten by our home-grown contenders from Ford, Holden and Toyota.
But around town, thanks to a tight turning circle, the Superb’s easy manoeuvrability around carparks and narrow laneways belies its 'large-car' dimensions.
The steering is quick and relatively direct, but, on the downside, feels a little isolated from the road surface below. Torque steer is barely evident, even in the wet.
The well-tuned DSG transmission transmits power effortlessly and seamlessly to the front wheels. With seven well-spaced gear ratios to pick from, the 118TSI engine can be kept singing at its best for most situations.
While there’s no chance of confusing the Superb with a performance sedan, the chunky torque band from the forced-induction 1.8 litres engine up front can really hustle the big Superb along.
In busy town traffic, and for overtaking, the 1.8 litre turbo four-cylinder engine proves equal to the task. While a full load can take the edge off acceleration and longer inclines can have things huffing a bit, few will fault the TSI on raw performance.
That it performs so well with just 1.8 litres doing the work is something of a revelation (and certainly has you examining conventional wisdoms about cubic inches.)
Lastly, from the wheel, the narrow A-pillars and large windows mean that visibility up front is excellent, however a small rear windscreen and broad C-pillars eat into over-shoulder visibility. The large side-mirrors help, but we'd prefer a little more rearward vision.
What did our passengers think?
Once ensconced in the Superb’s roomy interior however, they quickly warmed to the logical layout, the premium trim and solid feel of the interior. Solid closing doors, really comfortable seats - heated front and rear - and generous rear-legroom quickly converted even the hardest of critics.
For interior stretching room, front to back, few cars come close to the Superb. For width however, for shoulder room, the Superb is a little tight.
Three adults abreast in the rear will not be happy with their lot for long. Ok for kids, but for adult passengers, better to treat the middle rear seat as emergency accommodation only.
Interior quality and feel?
The dash, with a full-width edge curving up over the instrument binnacle, is particularly appealing in both style and for its tactile appeal.
Every contact point, every visible surface and every control is finely finished, with consistent weighting and smoothness to the operation of moving parts. Layout, and fit and finish, is impeccable with tight gaps, nicely matched surfaces and rattle-free assembly.
To use and to touch the Skoda’s interior is to appreciate the kind of quality that the Volkswagen Group has become synonymous with.
Opening the bootlid reveals a conventional cargo bay, but by pressing two buttons on the underside of the boot garnish, the entire rear window and bootlid swing up, opening to an expansive hatchback ready to swallow all manner of awkwardly-sized items.
With the rear seats in place there is 565 litres of space, extending to 1670 litres with the seats folded. There are also tie-down eyelets and shopping bag hooks to keep things secure when on the move.
How safe is it?
EuroNCAP has awarded the Superb a 5-Star rating for crash protection. It carries an impressive list of safety equipment.
Nine airbags protect occupants with the usual dual front, front seat side and curtain airbags joined by rear seat side airbags and drivers knee airbag.
The Superb also features electronic stability control (ESP) with an Electronic Diff Lock (EDL) plus ABS brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) and Hydraulic Brake Assistant (HBA).
Fuel Consumption and Green Rating
Official fuel consumption for the seven-speed DSG equipped 118TSI is 7.3l/100km. That’s the kind of figure to make large cars like Commodore and Falcon blush with shame.
On a test that put the Superb through equal parts punishing peak hour traffic and open country road work we matched that claim exactly. That happens rarely; most times we struggle to match manufacturer's claims in 'real-world' driving.
The Green Vehicle Guide gives the 118TSI Superb a four-star rating out of five. CO2 emissions are 171g/km.
How does it compare?
Realistically though the Aussie pair are marginally larger inside, although with less rear legroom than the Superb offers. They are also rear-wheel-drive (which comes with some advantages, particularly when towing) with larger, more powerful engines - but with bigger thirsts to match.
The Superb however comes more lavishly equipped than either of these two challengers, and while the Passat can hold its own, the 159 simply looks over-priced.
The Camry – credible competition in Grande specification – while closely matched in terms of performance and premium specification, can’t match the Superb’s fuel economy nor that intangible feeling of quality oat the wheel.
All new Skoda cars are covered by a three year, unlimited kilometre warranty with 12 years of corrosion cover.
Exterior colours include Candy White, Pacific Blue, Brilliant Silver metallic, Rosso Brunello (maroon) metallic, Cappuccino Beige metallic, Mocca Brown metallic, Storm Blue metallic, Amazonian Green metallic, Blue Aqua metallic, Platin Grey metallic, Amethyst Purple metallic and Black Magic pearl effect.
The interior is available with black leather trim or Ivory leather trim with either light or dark carpet.
The Superb 118TSI Elegance starts from $44,990 plus on road costs, with the metallic paint on our test car adding $500.
We like Skoda's Superb. On price, quality, features and performance, it is very hard to fault.
That's why we annointed it as winner in the large car segment in The Motor Report's 2009 BEST DRIVE BEST VALUE Awards.
That assessment also stands for the 118TSI. It slays its Euro competitors on price and takes the fight to local large offerings with an unmatched equipment list.
Dynamically, in straight line performance with a load up, a conventional 'six' has the edge on the 118TSI Superb, but only marginally.
Should your priorities rest more on passenger comfort, driving ease and frugal fuel consumption, then the sublime comfort and quiet economical running of the 118TSI make it hard to beat.
So, if you're not afraid to break with convention, Skoda's elegant and capable 118TSI Superb is very good buying.