Updated: June 29, 2015
You know the drill. First, we do a bit of serious Euro tripping, a handful of days and a bucketload of kilometers, we show you some nice pictures and videos, and we focus on some of the core points related to our test car. Then, we do a whole separate car review. We did it with Opel Insignia, following the Croatia tour, and we are going to do the same thing with Skoda Superb, after we drove it around Germany and Belgium.
All right. So let's see what gives. The test vehicle is one Skoda Superb, a Czech large family car with German underpinnings, equipped with tons of high-quality German engineering at an affordable price, and with top of the class credentials when it comes to equipment, comfort and space. It also brings along a nice four-cylinder two-liter turbo-diesel, rated at 140 HP and 350 Nm of torque. Enough for fun on autobahn. A rhyme. Let's take a closer look, shall we.
Or as the Czech would say, Jozin z Bazin. Skoda Superb is one of the more sensible cars you can buy, provided the model is being sold at your local market. It blends superb engineering, hence the name, with so much extra goodies, most of which come at extra cost in rival cars, including the VW Group family members.
Our estate came equipped with a decent level of trim, called SE Plus, which includes 17-inch alloy wheels, electrically adjustable and heated front seats with three memory options, dual-zone climate control with extra vents for the plebes in the back row, a touch satnav and media system, cruise control, roof rails, rear parking sensors, and a few other perks.
Another thing you get for free is interior space, which simply trumps all competition without even breaking a sweat. We will talk more about this later on, but this is one of the strong selling points of this car. Remember, just like Octavia, Superb is actually a hatchback, and it comes with a boot that can carry a dozen adult human bodies at once, although you will be above the legal kerb weight limit. And possibly a criminal.
You can't scoff the engine, either. It's one of the more refined two-liter offerings out there. Even in its lower rating, it's still very sensible, economical and practical, plus it does not rattle and growl like a typical diesel. On top of that, it has character, and mated to an intelligent DSG box, six-speed mind, it's a pretty good fit for upscale customers looking for a balanced blend between feisty and lazy. I don't like automatic gearboxes, but DSG is almost transparent, and it feels almost natural in a car like Superb. All this at a reasonable price. In Germany, only EUR34,490, or roughly USD43,000, which is the cost of Opel Corsa OPC in some other other parts of the world. Funny, eh.
Beauty before age
Now, when it comes to looks, Skoda Superb is a pretty decent car. Following the facelift in 2013, it's even prettier. The front is smarter, keener, the rear end has been sharpened and has become more angular, made more Audi like, and in the estate edition, it looks even better. Kind of sleeker, more elegant, more aggressive, all at the same time. There's something about the magic of station wagon transformation that makes cars look simply better.
The tires do look a bit small, and that's because Superb is a big car. You get a nice pair of tail pipes in the back, so everyone knows you mean business. The roof rails also add character, plus you can use them to lash down your personal shi ... stuff. Or use aerodynamic boxes that can actually withstand highway speeds. Rear windows are tinted, so you have privacy plus a rudimentary protection against sun, especially if you like to stove your DNA replicants in the back.
Skoda Superb looks posh, and with chromified elements and daylight LEDs, even more so. It's always looked like an honest rival to BMW 5-series and Mercedes E Class. Oh, you may think this is not so, but Superb offers similar physical dimensions, much more room on the inside, excellent driving dynamics, and very good safety, with eight air bags plus all the electronic acronyms you can think of. The gadgetry is not as refined, true, but it's not that far behind, either, especially if you choose the Laurin and Klement model. And let's not forget the price.
On the inside
You might be undecided, which is why you ought to step into a Superb for an all-family experience. Few cars offer that much room for adults and associated family members, front or back. There's more than 100 cm leg room available for the occupants in the rear. Plus, you also get 630 liters of boot space that grows to enormous 1,865 liters, which if you used to the max would snap your axles and make your tires explode. This vehicle also comes with its own umbrella, and that's something you won't see until you buy a nice Rolls & Royce or something else that costs a dozen kidneys and change. Still not convinced? How about a smooth and composed ride, comfy seats, low road noise levels?
The cockpit is very pleasant. And familiar. If you've driven one VW Group model, you won't feel a stranger. The panoply of shapes, buttons and levers is arranged with style and practicality. Everything is within easy reach, and the design is pleasant and modern without being outrageous. Just right. Neither too spartan nor too flashy.
The driving position is excellent, and you can adjust the seats and the steering wheel any which way you like. Thanks to the seat electronics, you can do this deterministically, and even share the car with bigger and smaller family members without any protracted OCD fits. The steering wheels also comes with satnav and media controls. The central console contains the rest of the pressable thingies, including the touch screen plus the mandatory button to turn off the annoying Start/Stop system. You get an honest, mechanical hand brake.
You can play football - soccer for the former imperial rebels among you - in the back, with personal air vents to keep you cool, but no separate climate controls. After all, it's dual-zone only, not quad or such. The boot space is another rage. Tons of space, practicality, low boot lip for easier loading and unloading. Although you will have to bend to reach deep into the boot. This can happen if you don't have that many items loaded in there, and frankly, most people with struggle filling it up, and if you happen to break hard once or twice, and everything ends up jammed against the back bench. True story.
However, what makes Skoda Superb extra special and extra family friendly are lots of little touches. The glove compartment is air conditioned, there are tons of little cubbies for your stuff, and the door panels are big enough for 1-liter bottles, perfect for long trips. The third back seat also folds partially down to become an arm rest, and you can actually reach behind and grab some of your luggage and bags without exiting the car. The gigantic boot also comes with a hidden compartment for valuables, shopping hooks, powerful lighting, and even a detachable, rechargeable torch.
Driving Miss ... uh ... Jozin?
Skoda Superb is not a car for racing. It's a big and composed family car, designed to be comfortable and useful. Indeed, that's the primary mission, and during our 830 km of testing, it stayed true to its mission statement. But it did that in a very pleasant way, proving you can be sensible without being boring.
Two liters of turbo-charged diesel is not exactly the perfect formula for entertainment, and yet, Skoda Superb 2.0 TDI did quite well. If you want a bit of spice, you get it. Just squeeze, and the engine will splurge fun, without gnashing of teeth and metal parts or any excess whining. The DSG box is fast enough to respond to your desires, and the engine is breezy enough so it does not choke the moment you floor it. The happy-go-lucky-you range is pretty wide, and you have a whole lot of revs to enjoy yourself before the juice runs out.
In more human words and with fewer silly analogies, the engine responds quickly, and it has enough power to give a good sense of urgency when you need it. You won't be stunned, but there's plenty of torque all the time, and the electronics are wise enough to downshift to make it all feel a little more energetic. There's no sound of parts coming undone, and the noise is extremely refined for a diesel, which is quite curious, because the same unit did sing a little less merry tune in a Jetta, when tested in the US. Strange, but those are the facts of life, as subjectively experienced by me. Or it could be superb [sic] noise isolation.
Flat-out acceleration is decent, and it feels more capable than the somewhat lower rated Insignia. However, at higher speeds, you do run out of wind, and the steering becomes a little too light, too artificial, whereas Opel's flagships keeps on gaining speed like a proverbial train, G. H. Wells style, slowly but surely. This is one drawback to how Superb carries, and that's the driving dynamics above 150 km/h. It can go there, but it'd rather stay further back.
You won't feel the car's size when maneuvering, in and out of the town. It's composed, there's no body roll, and road deformities are absorbed with ease, the very long wheelbase helping keep things smooth and tidy. This can make the experience feel a little effortless. It's relaxing for sure, and smacks of middle-aged quality, but if you want more chavine, which would be the protein that causes chavness in people, you're either driving a wrong car, or you will have to worsen your fuel economy for the sake of speed and overtaking bravado. Something like that. And of course, that earlier joke totally sucked.
Fuel consumption is very good. We averaged 6.6 liters/100 km, and given the fact we drove at Mach 7 most of the time, this is really neat. We had three people and their suit cases on board most of the time, we used aircon now and then, and we were never too gentle with the carbon-dioxide pedal. Conscious drivers will be able to average much lower figures if they put their hearts and minds and feet to it.
Overall, Skoda Superb 2.0 TDI is an excellent all-around performer. You want speed or a nice kick to the back, you've got it. Instant gear changes, plenty of torque, sporty feel. You want leisure and comfort, you've got it. This car can sail without any fuss, quietly, serenely, gliding across asphalt, with classical music playing gently on the DAB radio. When you feel nervous or edgy or confident, you can push your elbows out and crane over the steering wheel, jabbing and fencing left and right, and Superb will respond eagerly. When you want to behave more like a gentleman, it will accommodate your mood swings.
With Opel Insignia clawing at the back of my memory, a necessary comparison is in order. As hard as it is to imagine, Opel handles even more masterfully through corners, despite extra length and a weaker engine. And it's more composed and frugal at high speeds. But Superb can also offer you a rough treatment if you want it, which is not something you'll get from a 120HP Insignia. I just wish it was a little more confident at high speeds.
No, I can't really complain. Except for the Start/Stop system, which is really annoying, but that's true for any model. If you recall, I did berate Insignia for a whole bunch of little faults. With the Skoda, the one thing that sort of did not work was that sometimes the DSG thingie would not register when the gear level was moved into the P position, so when we'd switch off the engine, we could not take the key out, and we had to start the car again, move the gear lever to D then back to P, and then it would work. Lesson learnt, take a moment or two between slotting the level into the parking mode and turning the engine off.
Skoda Superb 2.0 TDI is a really cool car. It's almost too good for its sake. And that's why some younger people and drivers keen on pure performance might write it off when considering a new purchase. Superb appeals mostly to the sensible and worth-conscious owners, who want the max for their money. This normally means people who are somewhat older, burdened with a family and not too focused on the ballistics and 0-100 figures.
But the truth is, unless you're really anal about having only the purest of driving experiences, Superb can satisfy 90% of needs for 90% of the population. If you go with the larger, more powerful engines, it will do that extra bite and growl you so terribly seek, while offering massive amounts of comfort and practicality. It's a formula that's very hard to beat. That does not mean the 140HP unit is meant for scorn. Far from it. Again, it's a perfectly logical option for a wide range of drivers, and it will do most of the things you need pretty well. It's not a genius in the pure sense of the word. More like a Jack o' All Trades. Hot hatches are surely more fun to navigate down twisty bends. And expensive saloons will cruise with more pose and finesse at 250 km/h limited. But few can give you a bit of both without coming across as an ugly mutation that needs to be purged with napalm. Skoda Superb does just that, the good stuff that is, with grace and elegance. Overall, 9/10. Very nice.