Skoda Superb

words - Stephen Ottley
Can the Czech brand's new large car live up to its impressive nameplate?

Skoda Superb

Local Launch
Sydney, NSW

What we liked
>> Small, but very efficient, engines
>> Masses of rear legroom
>> Clever TwinDoor system

Not so much
>> Styling looks gawky for some angles
>> Narrow back seat
>> A lot of money for a brand unproven locally

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0
Engine/Drivetrain/Chassis: 4.0/5.0
Price, Packaging and Practicality: 4.0/5.0
Safety: 3.0/5.0
Behind the wheel: 3.0/5.0
X-factor: 3.0/5.0

About our ratings

-- beyond the Octavia
It's not uncommon for car companies to have high praise and an optimistic outlook for their latest models. In most cases it's a lot of hyperbole to sell a mild makeover or basic specification upgrade. But for Skoda and its new Superb there's no hiding the fact a lot is riding on it.

Since the Volkswagen Group-owned Czech brand launched in Australia late in 2007, it has built its position on the back of the Golf-based Octavia limousine (hatch), wagon and high-ride Scout.

The smaller Roomster has failed to find a firm footing in the local market, but the Octavia has steadily grown and helped Skoda establish itself. Year-to-date sales are up 17 per cent, which may not be much considering the brand is coming from such a low base, but given the total market is down roughly 20 per cent, it is a sign that there is a future for Skoda in Australia.

Which brings us to the Superb, Skoda's first significant new model line since its local launch and its first step away from being seen as the "Octavia car company", as Head of Skoda Australia, Matthew Wiesner says.

The Superb is a large car aimed at some of the biggest players in the market including the homegrown Holden Commodore, Ford Falcon and Toyota Aurion. If it succeeds Skoda will be well placed for the future and its planned expansion with the Yeti SUV (more here) and perhaps the Fabia small car beyond that.

If on the other hand Superb flops, the company will be back to square one.

-- ambitious or elegant?
We first drove the Superb in Austria 12 months ago and were left impressed by its potential (more here) but there were some questions that could only be answered when it finally arrived here.

Trim and engine variants are pretty much as expected -- there are three engine options (1.8 TSI, 2.0 TDI and 3.6 V6 4x4), each with a DSG gearbox as standard. Two levels of finish -- Ambition and Elegance -- deliver extra depth of choice. Therefore, the most significant unanswered question was just how much the Superb would cost -- given the fluctuations in the exchange rate between the Euro, the Aussie dollar and the Czech Krown.

Despite some hopes that favourable exchange rates would see the entry-level 1.8 TSI Ambition start at under $40,000, it has actually ended up at $42,990 (price guide not including statutory and government charges); a competitive but not spectacular starting point. Moving up to the Elegance trim means a starting price of $45,990.

That is the same price that will buy you a 2.0 TDI in Ambition while an Elegance diesel starts at $48,990. The range-topping V6 4x4 is price from $56,990 and is only available in up market Elegance specification.

The base model, or Ambition trim, comprises cloth seats, nine airbags, electronic stability control, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, front foglamps, a tyre pressure monitoring system, leather steering wheel, eight-speaker CD stereo system with auxiliary input, trip computer, cruise control, 16-inch alloy wheels and even an umbrella located inside the rear door.

The top range Elegance adds a 10-speaker stereo system, bi-xenon headlights with Adaptive Front Light System (more on that later), electrically adjustable front seats with memory function and heated rear seats. The Elegance TSI and TDI remain with cloth seats but the V6 adds leather.

Each model rides on unique alloy wheels with the Ambition sitting on 16-inch Spectrum designs (with a full-size steel spare), Elegance TSI and TDI gain 17-inch 'Trifid' alloys (with 16-inch steel spare) and the V6 4x4 gets 18-inch 'Themisto' rims (with a space saver spare).

-- size doesn't matter
As mentioned above Superb offers three engine options, each fitted with a version of the VW Group's dual-clutch gearbox.

On paper the 1.8-litre TSI engine may seem inadequate for the job of pulling such a large car around. But the turbocharged, direct-injection, DOHC four-cylinder unit is capable of producing 118kW at 4500rpm but more importantly 250Nm from as low as 1500rpm. Unlike the other two variants, the TSI uses a seven-speed DSG that helps to contribute to a combined fuel consumption figure of 8.4L/100km.

The 2.0-litre turbodiesel produces 125kW at 4200rpm and a muscular 350Nm between 1750-2500rpm. To cope with the different demands of the TDI, a six-speed DSG is featured. Combined economy for the TDI is officially pegged at 6.9L/100km.

Both the TSI and TDI are front-wheel drive, but as the name implies the V6 4x4 variant gains a Haldex all-wheel-drive system. The addition of the 3.6-litre V6 means the top-line Superb has a lot in common with the Volkswagen Passat R36.

At 191kW at 6000revs power is down in comparison to its sportier cousin but, with 350Nm at 2500-5000revs, torque is the same. Thanks to the different tuning, fuel consumption is reduced to 10.2L/100km on a combined cycle.

For more details on the Superb's mechanicals check out our international launch coverage here.

-- making the most of the space
This should be one of the real keys to the Superb's success. Clever packaging has resulted in a very spacious car, despite its reasonable external size.

To simply look at it the Superb doesn't jump out at you as being in the same league as a Commodore or Falcon -- indeed on appearances it's able to straddle the line between upper-medium cars and large cars (widening Skoda's potential customer base). In fact, the tape measure has the Skoda measuring 4838mm long and 1817mm wide meaning it is actually only slightly smaller than the Australian-made 'big sixes'...

Sit inside it, however (front or the back), and you'd think you are sitting in something much larger entirely. The rear legroom is nothing short of excellent even with front seats adjusted for six-footers.

Due to variations in measurement practices by car companies there isn't a definitive technical comparison available on rear seat legroom right here and now. However, it is safe to say measured 'by feel' the Superb is comparable with the Holden Statesman for legroom.

The only fly in the ointment is width -- there's no doubting the Skoda is noticeably narrower than the Australian car. Three adults (or older children) across the back will be a squeeze. But if you need to carry four adults in comfort, then the Superb is more than up to the task. One of the best cars on the market, in fact.

The other impressive aspect of Skoda's use of the interior space is the boot. At 565-litres it is larger than Commodore, Falcon, Aurion and Honda Accord. What's more, it is very usable thanks to the clever TwinDoor feature.

In basic terms this is a tailgate with an extra set of hinges that allows both a traditional boot lid opening and a full hatch-style liftback. It allows for a huge opening to insert large or bulky items into the rear load area, while also catering for an easier (conventional) boot lid operation when required.

If the 565 litres isn't enough, with the rear seats folded down the luggage capacity is increased to 1670 litres.

-- adapting to changing conditions
In our initial review reservations regarding the international specification Superb not being equipped with curtain airbags as standard were mentioned. We're happy to say the local cars have been fitted with this important safety feature.

As mentioned above there are nine airbags -- front driver and passenger, front and rear side, driver's knee and curtains -- standard across the entire range. There are also the usual range of electronic safety systems including stability control, anti-lock brakes (with up to date features such as brake drying and emergency brake assist) and traction control.

Another interesting safety feature is the Adaptive Front Light System that makes its Skoda debut on the Superb on the Elegance specification cars. As the name implies it is a computer control system that changes the headlight beams to suit different driving conditions. There are four modes: inter-urban, urban, motorway and rain.

Inter-urban is the car's default setting and works at speeds between 50-90km/h and gives an even spread of lighting. Urban works at lower speeds, between 15-50km/h, and spreads the beams wider and shorter for improved visibility of side roads. Motorway works above 90km/h and creates a longer beam to give the driver a better long range view. Rain mode reduces the dazzle effect in heavy rain or even snow to cut reflections off wet surfaces.

-- no shortage here
Skoda was not shy when it came to naming competitors for the Superb at its Australian launch. Given its heritage, size and price, the brand has targeted prestige European brands, upper-medium cars from Japan and the locally-made large cars.

From the European side that means Audi A4 and A6, BMW 3 and 5 Series, Mercedes-Benz C and E Class, Renault Laguna, Peugeot 407 and Volvo S80 just to name the ones Skoda did. They did 'forget' to mention the Volkswagen Passat, which although not as large, will almost certainly be cross-shopped against its Czech relation.

From Japan, Skoda has called out the Honda Accord, Mazda6 and Nissan Maxima as rivals while also targeting the locals -- Commodore, Statesman, Falcon and Aurion.

Consider the above list and there's not much left of the medium and large car segments.

Given that Skoda's sales targets will be relatively low (Mr Wiesner refused to give out a number but did reveal 100 cars have been ordered), achieving three digit sales before the end of the year would be a major triumph for the brand. That said, based on the wide breadth of competition and segments the Superb crosses over, it would be surprising if it didn't sell in those sort of numbers.

-- Superb by name...
As car names go, the Superb is among the most confident doing the rounds. It immediately places substantial expectations on a car unfamiliar to the Australian buying public. The fact that it is a large car with two small capacity engine options (one of which is a diesel no less!) means the Superb is unlike any of its big car competitors.

While it would be easy to dismiss the 1.8 TSI as being too small for such a large car, the reality is it is anything but. What it lacks in capacity it makes up in bottom end torque and leaves you marveling at the efficiency of the boffins inside the Volkswagen Audi Group (of which Skoda is part). It is a great engine in a small car, like the new VW Golf, but its ability to haul around the Superb is nothing short of remarkable.

There is enough power to spin the wheels, it pulls strongly through town and on the open road and has good pick-up when you need to overtake.

It's a similar story with the TDI with good torque low down in the rev range proving again that it is preferable to more powerful but higher revving engines; especially in a car designed primarily for urban driving. One criticism of the TDI, however, is the power delivery has a sudden urge at 2500rpm that feels jerky before it returns to a smoother delivery above that. It's a minor criticism and something not unique to the Skoda -- it's shared with the new Golf TDI which uses the same engine.

Both the TSI and TDI reset your perspective on what small engines can do in big cars. It makes you wonder why others, particularly Holden and Ford, haven't been able to crack the concept with large cars yet.

That said, the V6 is still a worthy addition to the line-up and a suitable range-topper with its prodigious power and torque. Although not as sporty as the Passat R36, either in tune or engine note, the car is a good match for the other six-cylinder offerings in the segment.
As for the rest of the car it is like the V6, as good as any of its competitors but nothing spectacular; or dare we say, Superb... The chassis is well sorted with nice steering, a comfortable ride -- neither too hard nor too soft -- and good brakes.

The cabin ambiance, switchgear and instrumentation all has that same VW Group feel but with the traditional Skoda green highlights. And that's no bad thing because cabin touch and feel quality is one of Volkswagen's strong points. It perhaps lacks some of the finer detail found in prestige European models but it is on par with Japanese and Australian rivals.

The gearbox remains a small problem for Volkswagen though. While on the move the DSG is a great unit, as smooth as a traditional torque converter automatic, on take-off there remains a slight hesitation that has become a trademark of double-clutch transmissions. In a larger, heavier car like the Superb, this seems to be more noticeable.

The good news is it is less pronounced in the seven-speed unit than the six-speeders. Perhaps in another generation, it'll be gone for good?

The Superb is well equipped for the price and should be competitive against both upper medium and large cars. It may not quite live up to its name, but some how the Skoda "Considerablybetterthanaverage" doesn't quite have the same ring to it...

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Published : Thursday, 16 July 2009
In most cases, attends new vehicle launches at the invitation and expense of vehicle manufacturers and/or distributors.

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