First Drive – ŠKODA Superb - New high-end kid in the class
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Saturday, July 11 2009 - Drive The Age
ŠKODA enters the luxury market with a Superb offering, writes
If your model range consists of only an oversize medium car and an undersize people-mover, what’s the next logically illogical thing you do? Yep, launch a luxury car.
As off-beat as that may sound, ŠKODA has done just that by adding the Superb large car to local showrooms alongside Octavia and Roomster.
You see, the Czech brand is one that still manages to march to the beat of its own drum, even now that it has been absorbed successfully into the massive Volkswagen group.
The Superb promises a combination of big-car size and small-car economy, mixed with a mostly prestigious level of equipment for a competitive cost.
It comes in three mechanical specifications derived from Volkswagen: a 1.8-litre turbo-petrol engine, a 2.0L turbo-diesel (these are front-wheel-drive) and a 3.6L V6 all-wheel-drive. All are autos: the 1.8L gets a seven-speed dual-clutch unit while the diesel and V6 get six-speed dual-clutch units, all VW technology.
Indeed, if you’re looking for an idea of where the Superb sits, think of it like a modern-day Saab 9000 or 9-5.
Yes, that’s a compliment.
Those two were solid, competent, character cars from a company that did things its own way and last century occupied a worth, unique position in the prestige car sentiment.
They were cars for people that appreciated value, solid engineering, comfort and space.
Flashiness or pretentiousness simply didn’t enter the equation. The Superb is that kind of vehicle and ŠKODA is that sort of car brand.
The Saab linkage is obvious outside, where the solid, carved lines of the body say function rather than form. But you wouldn’t call it ugly or even plain – just simple.
Inside, the Volkswagen group reasserts its influence. That’s most obvious around the centre stack, where the media screen and climate controls have already been seen in the Passat CC and Golf VI, among others.
Deep, tube-style gauges backlit in ŠKODA green are a more individual design feature and the overall impression from the driver’s seat is of quality materials and construction.
But it’s in the back where the Superb’s most striking features reside – it has immense seating space for passengers.
It is truly limousine-like and no doubt explains why ŠKODA chauffeured media to the launch venue in a fleet of Superbs.
Then there’s the boot, which has a massive 565 litres of space that expands to 1670 litres once the rear-seat is split-folded.
And then there’s its “Twindoor” feature, which converts the vehicle from sedan to hatchback at the press of a button. It might sound like a novelty act but swapping to hatch does dramatically improve the size of the opening, making it a truly useful feature.
Of course, not all about the Superb is, er, superb. The front passenger footwell is an odd shape, there are no rear air-conditioning controls and it lacks cabin storage, except for the Rolls-Royce-inspired umbrella stowage in the left-rear door.
The top-spec Elegance 4x4 had plenty of blanks spread around the centre console, emphasising a long list of optional gear.
There’s sports suspension available for the Elegance model and paddle shifters for all the dual-clutch autos, neither of which really fit with the car’s character, if our drive in the environs of Sydney is any guide.
Considering the Superb is in effect a stretched and re-skinned Passat, it was no surprise the Elegance 4x4 felt like a Passat 4motion. There was a decent level of performance from a detuned version of the narrow-angle V6 also seen in the Passat R36, a compliant ride, a slightly nose-heavy attitude and a quiet cabin atmosphere. Leather seats were bolstered heavily and suitably supportive.
A brief, urban-only sampling of the TSI showed off its lighter feel (no doubt aided by its 150-kilogram-lighter kerb weight) and more even handling. However, as is the way with dual-clutch autos, there was more stammering down low when linked with the turbo-diesel.
ŠKODA is estimating modest sales for the Superb – about 30 a month – split evenly between the variants, although the early preference has been for the diesel. Even at those levels it will be a solid boost for ŠKODA, which is growing sales compared with last year despite a shrinking market.