LAUNCHED: Skoda Superb

After a six-month delay, Skoda has finally launched its 4.8-metre long flagship, the Superb. With three drivetrains and a price range between $42,990 and $56,990, the big Skoda will compete with everything from the Nissan Maxima to the Holden Statesman.

The range opens with the 1.8 TSI Ambition, which features the 118kW/250Nm turbocharged 1.8-litre four and seven-speed DSG also found in the Octavia, for $42,990. It's a big car with a small engine, a similar philosophy to Nissan's base-level Maxima with its 2.5-litre V6.

But despite its 1647kg kerb weight, the Skoda's clever technology more than compensates - not only does it have seven ratios to play with, but peak torque is consistent from 1500-4500rpm, and peak power from 4500-6200rpm. Skoda quote an 8.5-second 0-100km/h sprint, which feels about right and squares up nicely against the 8.4-seconds we've recorded for a Commodore Berlina. Except the Superb's ADR sticker reads 8.4L/100km compared with the Berlina's 10.6L.

Step up to the $45,990 2.0 TDI Ambition, and you'll score a 125kW/350Nm oiler linked to a six-speed DSG. Despite being 0.3-seconds slower to 100km/h than the 1.8 TSI, it is more frugal at 6.9L/100km. And what a sweetly smooth, surprisingly quiet, and pleasingly torquey little diesel it is. There's little of the doughy throttle response or jerky low-speed shift issues often experienced with some diesel DSG applications, either.

Add an extra $3000 to the list price of both the 1.8 TSI and 2.0 TDI Ambition, and you'll score the Elegance trim level. Ambition includes nine airbags (dual front, front-side, rear-side, full-length curtain and driver's knee), ESP, 16" alloys, fogs, reversing sensors, leather-clad steering wheel, 8-speaker 6-CD audio, dual-zone climate and cruise control, and auto headlights and wipers.

Elegance adds bigger 17s, Bi-Xenons, an alarm, auto dimming rear view mirror, electrically-adjustable front seats, and heated rear seats. Curiously, leather trim is still optional on both Ambition and Elegance, so the 'heated seats' are actually 'heated cloth seats'. Bizarre.

Oh, and the Elegance also adds a seriously cranking premium sound system. With 400 watts, a 10-channel amplifier and 10 speakers, it sounds fantastic and remains crisp and clear even at max volume.

Flagship of the range is the $56,990 3.6 V6 4x4 Elegance, which in terms of both engine size and interior space comes across a bit like a Czech Statesman. It adds 18s, and full leather trim (finally!), though sat-nav is surprisingly still an option. As featured in the Passat R36, the VW Group 3.6-litre direct-injection V6 remains as brilliantly responsive and aurally delightful as ever - Holden should be taking notes.

We'll be taking the Superb for a more definitive test in the coming weeks, which will include a comparison test between the Superb and its nearest rival in the August issue, on sale July 22. But, on first impressions, it appears the Skoda's combination of space, drivetrain tech, and value is convincing. Stay tuned.

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