Ever since I first drove a Skoda Octavia VRS back I’ve extolled the Czech marque to anyone who listened. Looking for a new car? Save yourself some cash, I said and buy a Skoda. And for years – long after Skoda had washed off the rust-bucket image of old – I got a sideways look, like I’d suggested something a bit odd. I argued that a Skoda was basically a VW which was basically an Audi, and that it was cool to get the Cinderella version of a smart car at a fraction of the price. I don’t think anyone followed my advice. I didn’t even follow it myself.
When Skoda brought out the second generation Superb (first time round there was no estate car) this puzzling resistance (mine included) to an inexpensive version of a very good thing became plain bewildering. The Superb was a luxurious tardis: more spacious than anything on the road, well-equipped (there was even an umbrella sheathed like a sword in the driver’s door) and a helluva lot of car for the money. And yet it sold inexplicably fewer than its big-sister stablemates, the VW Passat or Audi A6.
Now there’s a new version of the Superb and if anything could make a case for the impact of styling it’s this third incarnation. The frumpy, startled bovine looks of its predecessor have transformed into something altogether more sassy, sharp, predatory even. I first noticed it on the road late last year when someone I knew swept by, shades on and cool at the wheel of a car which would have looked quite at home parked beside an Audi or BMW or even their rather grand house. ‘Ho ho,’ I thought, ‘the Skoda has landed’. A month or two later someone else I knew was at the wheel of a new Superb. Soon they were everywhere. Now other people were telling me about the covert virtues of a Skoda and I was trying to say I knew already. Having never owned one my protestations were thin. In one sweep of the pen Skoda had shucked off whatever misgivings people were having and suddenly they couldn’t build their cars fast enough. Sales of the Superb doubled, then trebled in the months after the launch.
So what’s all the fuss about? The same only more so. Beyond the chic exterior, the new Superb builds on its established virtues of spaciousness, practicality and specification. You won’t easily find a car that will swallow more luggage or transport all its occupants so roomily. The boot is a cavernous 660-litres and with a flick of two levers the rear seats ping flat and stretch the loading space out to wardrobe and kitchen-sink proportions. In their upright position the rear seats offer club-class leg-room, even with the front seats pushed right back.
Neat design touches abound: a boot-light that can be taken out and used as a torch; a boot-lid which opens when you sweep your foot under the bumper; a fold-out tow-bar; a glove-box that doubles as a chiller; luggage nets and shopping-bag hooks and cubby holes all over the place. It’s a car designed for growing families by someone with a growing family, as if they’ve gone shopping with three lively kids on a busy weekend, come back to the car all hot and bothered and laden with stuff and thought through everything that would make life that little bit easier.
On the move the Superb is a pleasant, if unremarkable drive. The handling is neutral and tidy. The Superb’s 4×4 incarnations are powered either by a grunty 190bhp 2-litre diesel whose buzzy soundtrack when pressed hard doesn’t quite do justice to the otherwise imperious machine, or a smoother and more lively 280bhp turbo-charged petrol. The diesel will give you just over 50 to the gallon, the petrol just under 40. Both use the VW group’s fabulous DSG automatic gearbox. Thus equipped and in the SE L trim the generously apportioned Superb will cost about £3,000 less than a VW Passat Alltrack, and £5,000 less than an A4 allroad. In terms of space the Superb is actually a closer rival to Audi’s A6 allroad (yet it’s much bigger on the inside) and is a whopping £15,000 cheaper. Now that it actually looks the part too, it’s little wonder this Czech superlative is selling like the proverbial.
Skoda Superb 2.0 TDI 190PS DSG 4×4 (in brackets 2.0 TSI 280PS DSG 4×4)
OTR from £31,885 (£32,320)
Annual road fund licence £130 (£185)
Combined fuel consumption: 55 mpg (49 mpg)
Power 190 bhp (280 bhp)
0 – 60: 7.7 secs (5.8 secs)
Top speed: 142mph (155mph)