What is it?
If you like a Q-car, then they don’t come any more cloaked than this Skoda Superb 2.0 TSI 280 4x4 DSG. You'd need to be an MI6 recruit to spot the twin exhaust tailpipes poking out from beneath the rear bumper - the only clues to its extra potency.
That comes courtesy of the 276bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine that once powered the Seat Leon Cupra 280, and it’s coupled to permanent four-wheel drive and a quick-shifting six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox.
Those are handy attributes, because they pretty much guarantee no bogging down, flurries of wheelspin, or a fluffed gearchange when you’re wiping the smiles off spotty-faced youths in hot hatches as you disappear away from the lights.
What's it like?
For all but the exhaust, it really is identical, inside and out, to any other Superb of the same trim; even the 4x4 badge on the tailgate isn’t unique. So not only will everyone else be surprised by its pace, but there’s a good chance you will be too.
You see, even when you've studied the form book and know it’ll crack 62mph from a standstill in 5.8sec, there’s something about its ordinary demeanour that lulls you into nonchalance concerning its potential. When you do give it some beans and it rockets off at a proper old lick, initially your brain questions it, and then delights in the experience. To the outside world, this is transmitted as a smile.
It really is a lovely engine. Quiet and smooth when you want to hang up the ‘do not disturb’ sign and cruise - something that’s aided by the supple ride when you switch the optional adaptive dampers to Comfort and let it waft you along on the (mostly) magic carpet ride. Then, when you rev it out, it develops a gravelly, four-pot growl, reminiscent of an early 1990s Peugeot 405 Mi16, minus the induction roar.
Like those old Peugeots, this Superb has plenty of top-end power, which it’s very willing to relinquish thanks to a rev-happy character; conversely, and unlike the peaky Mi16, the sizeable turbo adds a healthy slug of bottom end from around 1500rpm, and a solid mid-range, too.
Where this Superb isn’t quite so good is in the corners. Even when you flick the suspension into Sport mode to stiffen it up, you’ll never find the finesse or body control that a BMW 330i M Sport serves up.
The Superb still leans quite heavily through turns and the steering is pretty numb, but its good gearing does at least make it feel direct. It also weights up too much in Sport mode for my liking, so it’s good that you can mix and match the settings and slacken it off using the Individual mode.
While the Superb can’t offer the handling thrills of the 3 Series, if you were chasing one along a wet country lane, I reckon you'd have little trouble keeping up. Firstly, it’s just as quick as a 330i, and the grip you get from the four-wheel drive system should make up for its dynamic shortfalls elsewhere. As much as I tried, I couldn’t get the tyres to spin up even on cold, wet roads, and it’s so easy to drive quickly thanks to its predictable, front-limited bias.
When you are not trying to keep up with BMWs or showing up 17-year-olds at the lights, you can enjoy the Superb’s other talents as an excellent family hack.
The cabin is as roomy as anything you’ll find this side of a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, and the fit and finish isn’t far off one, either. Granted, there’s little fanfare to the way it’s styled – red stitching and carbonfibre trims are notable by their absence - but you can’t fault the useable layout or the excellent materials.
As this engine is only available in the top two trims, you’ll not want for toys. This is the cheaper SE L Executive version, and it still comes with an 8.0in touchscreen, sat-nav, a DAB radio, xenon headlights, adaptive cruise control and an electric driver’s seat with memory function.
Should I buy one?
Objectively, no you shouldn’t. It costs nearly as much as a BMW 330i M Sport, will lose more money and doesn’t handle as sharply, plus it drinks more fuel and emits more CO2.
However, this is one of those cars that has something - that 'thing' that makes you want one, in spite of the overwhelming stack of evidence against it. I have to say, it got me after no time at all. I really enjoyed the Jekyll and Hyde aspect - the smattering of lunacy trying to break through all the sensibleness. And don’t forget that by sensibleness, I mean a hugely practical, comfortable car that makes for a fine motorway cruiser.
Even so, I couldn’t buy one over a 3 Series. In a few years' time, though, when it’s a few quid cheaper and looking handsome on a forecourt somewhere? Yes, then I think I’d be quite tempted.
Skoda Superb 2.0 TSI 280 4x4 DSG
Location Surrey; On sale now; Price £31,020; Engine 4 cyls, 1984cc, turbo, petrol; Power 276bhp at 5600-6500rpm; Torque 258lb ft at 1700-5600rpm; Gearbox 6-spd dual-clutch automatic; Kerb weight 1540kg; 0-62mph 5.8sec; Top speed 155mph; Economy 39.8mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 160g/km, 27%