“A Skoda? They’ve come a long way”.
So my friend remarked as they settled into the vast rear compartment of Skoda’s flagship saloon/near-limousine.
Not a new story that, for those who follow the car trade. Yet, but even now, even after a quarter of a century or so since Volkswagen Group took on the task of rebuilding this venerable Czech marque, people still seem a bit surprised to get into a Skoda and find that it isn’t some sort of Soviet-era gulag.
Which it certainly is not. The Superb – not by any means an ironic name, and I mean that in a non-ironic way – has actually been around since 2001, and quickly garnered a reputation for being solid, reliable and comfortable transportation. it often finds a role as a minicab, which says something about its usefulness, but the Superb deserves better.
It looked like a scaled-up Octavia, and shared some underpinnings with the well-respected VW Passat. Its successor followed much the same approach, and was favourably compared with the Bentley Continental Flying Spur, an aristocratic cousin of the Skoda in the VW Group family tree.
The secret of its success, as my friend discovered, is the high quality of the interior materials – leather, soft plastics, matt plastics – and the elongated rear section, which endows the model with ample legroom and more than ample luggage space. As an unconventionally big five-foot hatch it is also eminently practical; we used to have lots of cars in this configuration such as the SD1 Rover, Saab 900, Renault 25 and Audi Avant, but they’ve long since faded away in favour of the old “exec saloon” school three-box shape.
With this, the third generation Superb – now with some cosmetic tweaks and extra kit to freshen up its appeal – is once again the recipe as before. If you’re a proper car spotter you’ll notice the revised styling for the front, and the new style for the badging on the boot – the name S K O D A spread out across the back, each letter no doubt lovingly applied by an artisan in the factory in Kvasiny, Czech Republic. It’s a thing that car makers do when they’d like to give their model a bit of a “premium” feel – you’ll see it on contemporary Volvos and Fords too.
In the Superb’s case, the effort is mostly justified. I could only find one small fault, which is that one edge of the nice big digital screen didn’t quite fit flush with the rest of the dash, a quite noticeable gap (and plainly not meant to be there as it was all nicely lined up on the other side). Erm, but that was about it for obvious flaws. They’ve fitted the latest with an adaptive cruise control system, so it will brake if you get too close to the car in front when cruising, and speed up again automatically; but the controls are still in one of those little pods behind the steering wheel, which are a bit fiddly to get at.
I appreciated the car’s softly sprung suspension. It gives it a lolling sort of ride as it tackles poor British roads, and at times it feels a bit like you’re piloting a boat. It’s not made for chucking around, but it’s a perfectly stable and secure handler, and the diesel engine (petrols also available) and modern DSG gearbox (which can pre-select the next gear you’re likely to choose) make for a good pairing.
Most of all, the Superb is still excellent value for money, and Skoda have not got too far ahead of themselves in their pricing strategy.
The Superb’s only real rival, I would say, is the rarely glimpsed but also excellent Kia Stinger, an even more stylish machine, and, in a slightly different bracket, the Volvo S60 saloon.
As one boss of Audi (another arm of the VW empire) unwisely remarked a while back, you get almost everything you get in an Audi – especially the underlying engineering and technology – but at a hefty discount. This is basically a budget Bentley, and will give you 40mpg in diesel form: Quite the offer, that.