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Motoring writer June Neary checks out Skoda's impressive Superb
All of this 'surprising Skoda' stuff is getting a little boring. If you're reading this page, then you likely already know that this Czech maker produces some pretty impressive cars these days - and none more so than the model I've been checking out here - the third generation Superb. This is supposedly a medium range Mondeo-sized family saloon: at least, that's the way it's priced. Check out the room in the back however and it's much more akin to cars from the next class up - BMW's 5-Series, Audi's A6 and so on. Of course, if you don't care about back seat space, that's not going to attract you very much. But what you can't get away from is that this car, like every other Skoda, offers quite outstanding value for money. And on that basis, you may well feel like I did, that it's a car you just can't ignore.
Once I seated myself inside, the first thing that struck me was the wood trim on the top variant I tried - actually done rather well. Adorning the dashboard and the doors, the dark timber is tasteful and Germanic. The Superb's size immediately strikes you. Previous Superb models were hardly compact but this model is 28mm longer in the hatch guise I tried or 23mm if you go for the estate. From some angles, the shape isn't particularly graceful but it's pleasant enough and from the inside it's hard not to be impressed. The Volkswagen and Audi design cues are evident all around the interior and the general feeling of quality is tangible. In the rear, your lucky passengers will find legroom of a level only usually found in luxury saloons, with space for even the preposterously tall to get comfy. I liked what Skoda calls its 'Simply Clever' touches too. Like the umbrella holder in the door. Or the way that you can cool not only the glovebox but the spacious centre armrest compartment to keep drinks and sweets cool, then dispose of the litter afterwards in an optional waste bin built into the door panel. Then there's a clever 'one-handed cupholder' that removes the need for the driver to take both hands off the wheel to unscrew a bottletop. By integrating an ultra-grippy rubber base to the cupholder, unscrewing even the tightest of bottletops becomes easy. Other more familiar practical touches include the usual cupholders, an overhead compartment for your sunglasses, a ticket holder on the A-pillar and door bins big enough to hold a 1.5-litre bottle.
On the move, as ever in a Superb, the ride and refinement are exemplary. What's changed here though is this car's dynamic demeanour. Thanks to the adoption of the Volkswagen Group's lighter, stiffer MQB chassis, the car feels far more agile through bends you'll be able to attack with a little more gusto thanks to sharper steering and a standard XDS+ Electronic Differential Lock that reduces understeer and improves stability as you turn. Under the bonnet, most customers will want a TDI diesel: possibly the entry-level 1.6-litre 120PS unit but more likely one of the 2.0-litre TDI powerplants. I tried the 150PS unit, an engine capable of making 62mph from rest in 8.8s, yet still returning 68.9mpg on the combined cycle and 108g/km of CO2. If you want this kind of frugality with a bit more pace, then a 190PS version of this engine is also available and both these 2.0-litre TDI variants are offered with the extra-cost option of 4WD. Those Superb buyers in search of petrol power have the choice of a couple of 1.4-litre TSI derivatives at the foot of the range. These develop either 125 or 150PS, with the more powerful unit featuring clever ACT technology for more efficient returns. At the top of the line-up lie a couple of 2.0-litre TSI derivatives that come only with the DSG auto gearbox that's optional on other models. There's a 220PS 2WD version and a flagship 280PS 4WD model.
The 'executive car for medium range money' premise that has been so central to the Superb's success down the years holds firm with this third generation model. It doesn't really cost very much more than Skoda's next model down, the Octavia hatch, and with a pricing span starting at around £19,000, is costed directly against medium range Mondeo-class contenders, even though its size and space can rival or beat that of full-sized Executive class models like the BMW 5 Series and the Audi A6. Most Skoda customers don't consider cars such as these as being direct rivals, though there is a potent 280PS petrol-powered 2.0-litre TSI Superb flagship model priced at around £35,000 for the few that do. Most versions of this car though, will be sold in the £20,000 to £25,000 bracket, with over 60% of customers in this country prefering the Estate bodystyle that's offered at a £1,200 model-for-model premium over the equivalent Hatch version. DSG automatic transmission is also a popular option, suiting as it does the character of this Skoda and offered at a £1,400 premium on most models.
Skoda, as we all know, has changed out of all recognition over the last five years. And yes, the Superb is just as good as the other VW-inspired designs which have gone before it. Forget the 'surprising Skoda' rubbish. This is a great car. Full stop.