Although pictures like these aren't unknown on, we normally have to pay spy photographers to take them. These, of the forthcoming replacement for the Skoda Superb, were taken with the full knowledge and co-operation of Skoda. They asked me along to the Nevada desert this week, where they're currently shaking out the last of the car's refinement gremlins, in order to try out a development prototype of the new Superb, months before the rest of the motoring press will get a steer in it.

So what's it like? I first experienced the Superb from the rear seats, which was a good place to start. The ride quality is first class, with excellent damping and first-rate interior refinement. It was easy to hear everything the driver was saying. Rear leg-room is genuinely limo-like, the seats are first-rate too and the bootspace likely to top 500 litres, with the option of folding the rear seats.

The interior fittings are a clear step above those of the Octavia. It’s a credibly upmarket cabin and finished in soft-touch plastics with numerous chrome bezels around the instruments, controls and vents, and a modest amount of wood trim on the dash. The large, clearly marked dials are unique, as are the climate controls. I also spotted a switch for Tiguan-style self-parking feature hidden by the gear-lever surround.

Behind the wheel, the story is much the same. The big, bolstered seat makes an excellent perch – it’s easily as good as a Volvo seat – and there’s a wide range of adjustment for the steering wheel. The 1.8-litre, 158bhp turbo petrol engine was smooth, willing and more refined its namesake predecessor. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the accuracy of the suspension control.

On the variable roads of Death Valley, the Superb ran arrow-straight, was compliant without being floaty and did a good job of smoothing away ridges and ruts.

On tight corners, the Superb was keen to dig into the bends and pull its way around with the help of an extra prod on the accelerator. In fact, it seemed a very willing car considering its size and width and had more than a hint of Ford’s combination of relaxed cruising ability and agility on winding roads.

I detected a mid-range booming noise in the rear that’s already under investigation, and thought that some swishy tyre noise would show up on the UK’s ‘tar’n’chippings’ road surfaces. However, the latter was probably only noticable because of the interior’s sheer refinement. In any case, final tweaks will by carried out soon on British roads by Skoda engineers.

If the buyers of bigger, more upmarket mainstream cars will now consider the Skoda badge, the Superb – based on this development drive in Death Valley – could make significant in roads into the Mondeo market.

Its interior character is more sober than that of the Ford, as is the exterior styling, although both are classily executed. Overall build quality should be a match for the Mondeo, and interior space even better. Aside form the bizarre lack of a rear wiper, there seems to be no obvious chink in the Superb’s impressive armour.