There are two kinds of car enthusiast. I used to be one of the normal kind – we’ll call them ‘group one’ – but I’ve changed. Life has turned me into a ‘group two’ sort of feller.Here’s how you tell. Imagine a gleaming, box-fresh, 500bhp estate car parked 50 feet in front of you, in dead-on profile.
The passenger doors are all closed but the bonnet and tailgate are both open. So where do you go first?
‘Group one’ car buffs are drawn straight to the front, like wasps to a sugar cube, to gawp at the hulking lump of engine confined therein. It’s understandable. A few years ago, I’d have been the first one there. You don’t know an engine until you’ve stared at it for at least 10 minutes.
But these days I’d amble to the rear end first with all of the other ‘group two’ pragmatists, wondering whether the rear seats fold totally flat and how many cargo nets and lashing points one gets on a 500bhp load-lugger in 2015. Living with cars turns you into a ‘group two’ sort of bloke, I reckon. It teaches you that, regardless of what they are, big estates in particular only really earn their corn by what they can actually do for you.
Welcome, then, fellow ‘group two’ types. The following test is for you. It contains minimal references to powerful turbocharged multi-cylinder engines, and I’ll keep the sections about performance and handling short and sweet. Because we’d sooner read about load space, in marvellous, gratuitous detail, wouldn’t we?
And we’re all very excited that there’s a new estate on the block with a load bay of apparently unprecedented vastness. The Skoda Superb has an exceptionally large boot even in normal hatchback form, but as an estate, that hold grows to the kind of volume you’ll need binoculars to truly appreciate: up to 1950 litres, as claimed.
That makes any other wagon available for the same money look tiny. On paper, it even eclipses the carrying capacity of the estates that spring to mind as the most capacious and most useful available at any money – Mercedes-Benz E-Class (1855 litres) included.
Doesn’t that make this new Skoda the best estate in the world, then? In order to answer that question, you need an all-time load-lugging great to compare it with, such as the latest Mercedes E220 Bluetec – as well as a tape measure. You’ll need some props, too. Bald statistics seldom reveal where real-world brilliance is to be found, after all. And parting a two-year-old from her trike, as it turns out, is relatively easy on a rainy afternoon.
Before we get our hands dirty, an admission. We’re aware that the number of Mercedes brand devotees willing to defect to Skoda on the strength of Autocar’s say-so will be low. There will be a gulf between the average UK transaction prices of the E-Class and Superb estates, and the fact that we’ve managed to raise versions that are quite closely matched on power and performance level, and separated by less than £5000 on list price, suggests the cars are closer rivals than they really are.
Yet the Skoda wastes few opportunities to confound the inferiority that the badge snobs will expect of it. The vast load bay we already know about, but the Superb is also shorter and lighter than the E-Class, as well as more powerful and faster-accelerating. More capable, too, thanks to the availability of Haldex-type four-wheel drive, whereas the Benz remains rear-wheel drive only.
The E-Class counters meekly on paper, with slightly lower CO2 emissions and better claimed fuel economy. But the vitals more important to estate regulars, from maximum allowable towing weight on a braked trailer to maximum payload weight in the boot, are all on the Superb’s side.