What is it?
The recipe for a successful Q-car is, on the face of it, rather straightforward. You take one understated family car, add a dollop of power, a handful of chassis upgrades and hey presto, you’ve got yourself a ‘sleeper’. However, over the last few years, manufacturers have managed to overcomplicate this formula.
Machines that were once purchased for their rapid performance and covert appearance - think the first-generation Audi RS6 or BMW M5 – are now designed for individuals who actively want to stand out. So where do you turn if you want a practical performance car that allows you to fly under the radar? Step forward the new Skoda Superb Estate 2.0 TSI 280 4x4 DSG.
From the outside, the 280 looks almost identical to any other Superb of the same trim. The 4x4 badge on the bootlid isn’t unique to this model, and the twin exhaust pipes are tucked away so as to not attract any unwanted attention. Yet despite the Skoda’s restrained looks, its performance is anything but.
Under the bonnet is a 276bhp 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine mated to a permanent four-wheel drive system and a quick-shifting DSG automatic gearbox. It's effectively the same driveline that was found in the speedy Seat Leon Cupra 280, and allows Skoda's unassuming family estate to crack 0-62mph in just 5.8sec.
Factor in that the 280 has the same class-leading ergonomics as the standard Superb and, on paper at least, it looks like Skoda could have found the ideal mix of practicality and performance.
What's it like?
With plenty of low-down torque and a healthy mid-range, you rarely find yourself using the full potential of the powerful 2.0-litre engine in day-to-day driving. Instead, you simply waft along, enjoying the smooth and supple ride provided by the well-judged optional adaptive dampers.
However, flex your right foot and the Skoda accelerates at a pace that’s simply unbefitting of a car its size. In fact, the first time you experience the full acceleration of the 280, it’s hard not to be taken aback by the way it gains speed. You just don’t expect something with such an ordinary demeanor to pack such a serious punch.
Unfortunately, that straight-line pace doesn’t translate into a refined dynamic package. On demanding country roads, the Superb suffers from quite a serious amount of body roll and the artificially weighted steering gives little in the way of feedback. Flicking the car into Sport mode also has little impact on the stiffness of the suspension, with the 280 still lacking the finesse and body control of, say, a Ford Mondeo Estate.
Then again, the Skoda does make for an incredible all-weather machine. A rear-wheel drive BMW 330i M Sport Touring would genuinely struggle to keep up with a well-driven Superb on a greasy British B-road, and no matter how hard we tried, it was impossible to get the 280 to lose traction on our challenging test route.
Interior wise, the cabin is vast and well screwed together. It doesn’t feel wildly luxurious, but it’s hard to fault the practical layout and high-quality materials. The infotainment system, which includes an 8.0in touchscreen with sat-nav and a DAB radio, is also fast, responsive and easy to use.
Ergonomically, the 280 is also highly functional. The interior is wider across the second row of seats than either a Ford Mondeo or a Volkswagen Passat, and the Skoda's boot is simply vast.
Should I buy one?
Let’s face it, does anyone really need a Skoda Superb with nearly 280bhp? Probably not, but that doesn’t stop the 280 from being a deeply compelling package.
You only have to spend five minutes behind the wheel to be taken in by its unique blend of hot hatch rivalling performance and everyday practicality. It’s a combination that you simply never tire of.
However, despite its charms, it’s hard to ignore that, on paper, the 280 makes little practical sense. It costs nearly as much as a BMW 330i M Sport Touring, will depreciate at a faster rate and emits more CO2. The cheaper 2.0 TDI 150 Superb also offers the same level of practicality and enough performance to keep most buyers happy.
Ultimately, we’re happy that the 280 exists, but that enticing mixture of practicality and performance will only be experienced by the dedicated few.
Skoda Superb Estate 2.0 TSI 280 4x4 DSG
Location Surrey; On sale now; Price £33,995; 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 1560kg; 0-62mph 5.8sec; Top speed 155mph; Economy 39.2mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 164g/km, 32%