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The Skoda Superb offers German quality and Czech pricing, but does that add up to a great deal?

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We’ve been saying for years that a Skoda is a smart buy, that it occupies the ground of classless, good-value quality Volkswagen once called its own. But a Skoda luxury car? That’s a bit harder to credit, especially when it’s named so seemingly naïvely as the Superb.

That name was also met with wry amusement when the previous Superb was launched in 2001. But Skoda had the last laugh, for that Superb, based on the previous Passat with its wheelbase stretched for space, was a better car than the VW and rode British roads much more serenely.

Under the skin the Superb is broadly a stretched Volkswagen Passat

Still, if Skoda’s hefty new car is to gain credibility, then it needs a USP. That’ll be the Twindoor, in which the bootlid either hinges open conventionally or can stay rigidly attached to the rear window as the whole assembly opens to reveal a vast load bay. A conventional estate version is also available. This Twindoor boot, together with enormous rear legroom, make the Superb unique in its sector, if indeed it occupies any known sector.

Under the skin it’s broadly a stretched Volkswagen Passat, with some ‘modules’ taken from the Octavia/Golf, and is even offered with a turbocharged 1.4-litre engine at the bottom of the range, as well as a 3.6-litre V6 with four-wheel drive at the top. We’re testing the 138bhp 2.0-litre turbodiesel in Elegance trim.

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DESIGN & STYLING

Skoda Superb headlight

Skoda has gone to unusual lengths to convince us that the Superb is a beautiful car, suggesting there may be doubt. Certainly it’s an imposing one, and the way it flouts current design trends is refreshing, but you’d never gaze at it for pure pleasure. The hefty overhangs give it a clumsy air and the cluttered nose looks like a larger, untidier Fabia’s.

Strangely, its wheelbase, at 2761mm, is just 52mm longer than a Passat’s and shorter than the previous Superb’s, despite the latter having an overhanging longitudinal engine instead of a transverse one.

You’d never gaze at the Superb for pure pleasure

There are some pleasing details, though, especially on the higher-spec Superbs. Bright-metal surrounds for the side windows, emphasising the BMW-like kink in the rear quarter windows, are one; Superb logos in the optional bi-xenon ‘adaptive’ headlamps are arguably another.

And then there’s the Twindoor, a clever piece of engineering using electrically lockable hinges between the bootlid and the rear window. From the outside you have no idea this can be a hatchback, such is the neatness of the rear window’s seal against the body. The mechanism adds weight, of course, and at 1512kg this Superb is no waif.

INTERIOR

Skoda Superb dashboard

We’re used to modern Skodas having classy cabins, but there are usually subtle signs of economising. Not the Superb, though. The squeezable padding extends to the glovebox lid and its surroundings, and there’s a flock-lined, drop-down storage box by the driver’s knee.

Other standard niceties on this Elegance version include leather trim, dual-zone automatic air-con, electrically adjustable and heated front seats, a touch-screen stereo with built-in six-CD player and a built-in umbrella, plus drainage system, in the left-hand rear door.

For us the simple, better-looking and even more voluminous estate is the model to go for

Finding a comfortable driving position is easy, and it stays comfortable over a distance. Your rear passengers, meanwhile, can luxuriate with a good view forward, thanks to a high-mounted seat and a fine surplus of foot room.

Behind the foldable rear seat is a boot space seemingly big enough for a small wardrobe, but a high loading sill stops the Superb from being an estate car in the wrong-shaped body.

You open the bootlid with a normal catch. To its right is a similar catch; squeeze it until the high-level brake light flashes, then pull upwards to open the entire tailgate. It’s clever, but for us the simple, better-looking and even more voluminous estate is the model to go for.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Skoda Superb front quarter

Common-rail technology is applied to the entire Skoda Superb diesel range, which runs from a 105bhp 1.6 through to a 138bhp and 168bhp 2.0-litre. Petrols include a 123bhp 1.4 TSI, a 158bhp 1.8 TSI and finally a brilliant if unjustifiable 256bhp 3.6-litre V6.

This range-topper is the only petrol model that comes with four-wheel drive. All but the base 1.6 diesel can be had with four-wheel drive over the standard front-wheel drive layout for a £1500 premium.

All but the base 1.6 diesel can be had with four-wheel drive over the standard front-wheel drive

The double-clutch auto ‘DSG’ transmission is also available on all but the base petrol and diesel models for roughly £1400 extra. Ultimately the 138bhp 2.0 TDI Superb tested here isn’t massively fast – top speed is claimed to be 128mph and 0-60mph is dispatched in 10.1sec – but its pace is very accessible once past some initial turbo lag.

Cruising is very quiet, with little noise from the engine, which becomes more refined once into its stride. Overtaking in the mid-rev range is a good turbodiesel forté and this one is true to type.

A smooth and precise six-speed gearchange helps the impression of low-effort pace, and means that we would live without the DSG ‘box unless you were a heavy motorway user and would really feel the benefit. It is a great gearbox if that is the case.

The more modern 168bhp common-rail engine – which has stronger performance and only marginally worse fuel consumption, at 49.6 next to 52.3mpg – is the more pleasant engine to use, and given the small £900 premium it commands over the 138bhp equivalent is our pick of the range.

If outright economy is more of a concern, the Greenline diesel is worthy of consideration. Ultimately a 104bhp 1.6-litre diesel powering a car as big as the Superb won't produce startling acceleration, but it's far from unpleasant to drive. Compared to the higher-powered diesel Superbs, it does lack overtaking punch, but this simply means such manoeuvres require greater planning.

RIDE & HANDLING

Skoda Superb cornering

As the UK’s roads worsen, there’s a greater need for cars with supple suspension that is able to allow fluid handling over poor surfaces without feeling vague or sloppy. The Skoda Superb is just such a car. You don’t get super-sharp steering and razor responses from a Superb, because it isn’t that sort of car. It’s meant instead to give its occupants a serene ride, and if the driver can enjoy the process, so much the better.

Body control at speed, over undulations and through bends is excellent. Naturally, this nose-heavy, softly sprung Skoda understeers strongly if coaxed too quickly into a corner, and any line-tightening it offers in response to a lifted accelerator is too languid to be of much practical use.

Body control at speed, over undulations and through bends is excellent

But if you drive the Skoda in the flowing fashion it encourages, it shows strong grip, terrific poise and confident steering. Mercifully, given the breadth of range brought by the multitude of engine, transmission and driven wheels combination, suspension is standard on all the Superbs and is hard to fault. Stick with the big-selling 17- or 18-inch alloys and you can’t go wrong.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Skoda Superb 2008-2015

Superb prices start at under £18k for the entry-level 1.4 TSI Superb and stop at under £30k for the 3.6 FSI V6 Elegance. Our chosen 2.0 TDI 168bhp, in SE Plus with standard manual and front-wheel drive comes in at a seriously competitive £23,400. That may be a couple of hundred more than an equivalent Mondeo but for the amount of interior room, and extra residual value you’re getting, the Skoda looks like a bargain.

If CO2 and tax is a priority, the 168bhp model isn’t the one to go for as there are similarly powered rivals out there with notably better emissions than the 149g/km that the Superb manages. However, fleet drivers will like the look of the impressive 114g/km, 16 percent BIK-rated 1.6 TDI Greenline model, which in practice is a great car if you don’t carry full complements of people or expect to go anywhere very fast.

Top of the class? No. But very close

Ultimately, the Superb isn’t top of its game for emissions, and it’s very competitively priced given the lifestyle benefits it offers. Top of the class? No. But very close.

VERDICT

4 star Skoda Superb

However much it may have gained in credibility, there’s little point in a brand like Skoda directly confronting the premium names. So it’s good that the Superb doesn’t really try, offering instead a unique blend of attributes centred around space and that Twindoor.

The Superb will appeal to someone with particular practical needs who probably won’t be bothered by its square-cut, slightly old-fashioned looks. In purely logical terms, probably nothing else comparable makes quite as much sense as the Superb. It’s a pleasure to live with and a pleasure to drive, if not exactly engaging in the way of a Mondeo.

The Superb will appeal to someone with particular practical needs

So it’s just a question of whether you could make the leap to the Skoda badge on a car with prestige pretensions. And whether you like the looks. There may lie the stumbling block.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Skoda Superb 2008-2015 First drives