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IAIN ROBERTSON

 

A long-time Skoda fan, Iain Robertson is always concerned about the use of excessive hyperbole, when discussing Skoda models, yet, despite the inner ‘conflict’, if the Czech cap fits, it is undoubtedly karma. Czechmate!

 

Living under a fairly oppressive Communist regime since the end of WW2, the Czech Republic was a relative unknown to westerners, until the fall of ‘The Wall’ in the late-1980s. While I was excited about it, my first visit to Prague, its capital, in 1990, was shrouded by the unutterable bleakness of its concrete jungle rows of collective flats, of darkly Gothic architecture and overtly promiscuous nocturnal activities. That it took place in winter surely did not help with first impressions.

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However, its people, while ‘shy’, an influence foisted upon them by an overactive ‘Stasi’, the former East German secret police force, were no less than delightful. They wanted western influences to ring true, yet not to destroy an inherently beautiful and important past. At one time, the centre of The Holy Roman Empire, its history is everything to the Czechs and, fortunately, despite its location in the heart of Europe, which meant that warring factions and marauders crossed the Czech geographical borders with impunity, it is clear that even they appreciated and neither damaged, nor wiped out that past.

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For the past 25 years, the Czech Republic has grown through its inland-Ayja Napa reputation, as the cost-effective focus for riotous stag and hen weekends, to become recognised for what it is. Former, sorely low wage levels have increased accordingly, yet its tourist industry has burgeoned, its commercial value has flourished and, whether for family holidays, or just a wondrously relaxing weekend break, Prague and its environs have appeal to a growing number of treasure, pleasure and joy-seekers.

 

Located some forty miles north of the capital city is Mlada Boleslav, the home to Skoda. However, around two hours drive due east is Kvasiny, where the Yeti, Roomster and Superb models are produced. The original Superb model of 1934 was a super luxurious 4.0-litre V8 saloon, complete with 4WD. It borrowed a lot of engineering ideas introduced by Hans Ledwinka on his Tatra models. It was advanced and, although unknown in the UK, was successful in Eastern Europe.

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The Superb brand name was resurrected by the Volkswagen-owned Skoda in 2001, after the Group had developed a long wheelbase version of the Passat model for the Chinese car market some two years earlier. Apart from some specific trim and detail changes, it presented well and owners were immediately drawn to its exceptionally spacious cabin, high quality trims and the quirky but useful pull-out umbrella from the rear passenger door jamb. However, its primary attraction lay in pricing, which meant that a potential VW Passat owner could obtain a significantly larger version of the car at a saving of several thousand Pounds.

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While Skoda prices have now caught up with the rest of the VW Group, even at £28,335 for the test car pictured, the Superb offers outstanding value for money for its latest model, which is not just exceptionally good looking, with its sharply creased flanks and a distinctive look of its own, but is also based on the VW Group ‘MQB’ platform architecture. This results in more flexible and cost-efficient manufacturing, but also makes available to it the advanced technology from across the Group. Sadly, it also embroils Skoda in the current ‘defeat ECU’ technical infringement that has rendered the firm as potentially ‘untrustworthy’. However, as VW is set to make amends for its ‘wrong-doing’ and that the Superb tested is in Euro6 emissions compliance mode, it should not affect Skoda very much, thus ensuring that consumer relations remain on an acceptable ‘high’, rather than the media-created ‘low’ that has been perpetrated.

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I should highlight that, despite the issues that have been brought to bear, the Superb is an excellent car that boasts outstanding fuel economy (I used it for both a Liverpool return trip to my Lincoln home and, on the same tank of diesel, a return drive to and from Darlington, still leaving 285 miles range available). Of course, the Official Combined fuel figure for the 2.0-litre 147bhp turbo-diesel engine is given as 68.9mpg, which past experience proves can be attained with due consideration, although my actual and respectable fuel economy figure of 53.8mpg is somewhat closer to reality. The range is aided by a sizeable and sensible fuel tank capacity of 14.5 gallons.

 

Thanks to the use of lightweight but sturdy materials in construction of the car, it tips the scales at under 1.5 tonnes kerbweight, which means that its engine can deliver a decent amount of grunt. Clocking the 0-60mph benchmark in just 8.6 seconds is a good start and its reported top speed of 135mph is eminently credible. The unit emits a mere 110g/km of CO2, which ensures that its taxable benefit is low and the current annual VED cost of £20 (which will rise significantly next year) is also most satisfying. Yet, these figures only tell a partial story, because the on-road experience is as superb as the model’s name. Mid-range urge is strong and available on tap and the six-speed manual gearbox (even though I would prefer the DSG automated alternative) slices sweetly and speedily between ratios.

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Being little more than 100mm shy of five metres in length, it is surprising how wieldy the Superb can be on twisting back-doubles, especially once its easy flow on main routes is taken into account. Never less than fluent and refined, the ride quality is firm but never uncomfortable and the Superb’s handling envelope is wonderfully engaging. Unusually for a car based on the ‘MQB’ platform, the electronic chassis adjustment facility worked better for me in ‘Sport’ mode, than ‘Comfort’, although either proved more than acceptable.

 

The cabin is comfortable, offering excellent space utilisation, with the now customary acres of passenger room and associated comfort in the rear. The brolly, by the way, is now located more usefully in the driver’s door. While the dash layout is typical VW Group fayre, with crystal clear instrument faces, backed up with a touch-screen in the centre of the moulding, minor comfort and entertainment controls beneath, its high quality and tactility is excellent and a lesson even to some purportedly more prestigious brands. The driving position is suitable for a wide range of frames and the visibility outwards is excellent.

 

However, complete with powered tailgate, this version of the Superb is all about space in the rear. While big Volvo and Citroen models used to be the preserve of the estate agency/auction house/antiques shop owner and the company ‘rep’ with a need to transport larger items, they have all but disappeared from the reckoning, which should leave Skoda with a sizeable chunk of the carry-all sector all to itself. However, the fast-track development of the SUV and MPV sectors has meant that the demand for commodious estate cars has also disappeared down the same route. This might be both beneficial and awkward for Skoda. Fortunately, the benefits of Skoda ownership play a vital role in ensuring that it is a viable model for UK new car buyers in both private and corporate sectors.

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Yet, there is a slight problem in the rear of the Superb. While the back seats ‘up’ situation is very good, with a deep and long load space that should not confound any Marco Polo-like luggage-carrying treks, notable for its lack of wheelarch intrusion and plenty of extra storage slots for smaller items, it is not quite the same once the back seats are lowered. The operation is eminently simple, by tugging on the remote releases located on either side of the rear compartment. However, a cross-car strengthening brace, at the hinged base of the rear seats, leaves a 1.5-inch tall carpeted ledge, over which lengthier items need to be hefted. It might not pose much of a problem to a great many owners but, if you are planning to carry two-metre lengths of plywood, or wall panels, you will need to take it into account. It is unlikely to be a ‘deal-breaker’ but be aware of it.

 

Otherwise, the rear is easy to load and unload and the access is excellent, either via the button on the fob, or a lower right-side of dash switch, or the rubber-lined button above the rear licence-plate, while lowering the door can also be operated in similar ways and also by depressing a button in its lower edge. A 640kg payload is possible and the car is also an excellent towing machine, with a braked towing capacity of two tonnes.

 

Conclusion:   The desire to own a large estate car is made economically possible with the Skoda Superb. While the mid-range Superb SE L Executive test car’s list price (highlighted above) is bolstered by almost £2,000’s worth of optional extras (including the electric tailgate at £100), it is well-equipped as standard, prices start at £19,840 and the engine choices run from a 1.4TSi unit to a 276bhp 2.0-litre turbo-petrol, or 187bhp TDi, with or without 4×4 and DSG ’box, along with other VW Group engines and transmissions. If a need for comfort and space is a criterion, the Skoda Superb might be all the car that you will ever require.

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About Iain P W Robertson

Frequently being told to 'go forth and multiply', Iain P W Robertson's automotive wisdom is based on almost forty years in the business, across all aspects from sport to production, at the highest levels. He likes dogs and drives a Suzuki (not related).