THE latest Skoda Superb is the third-generation version, based on the upcoming Passat. Out goes the dowdy styling and in comes a sleek, spacious and ultra-smooth hatch-backed sedan that deserves to make a massive splash when it (finally) surfaces in early 2016.
WHAT IS IT
Based on the upcoming Volkswagen Mk8 Passat, the Superb is a five-seat liftback aimed at the large and upper-large segment. A 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine will power all three variants in either diesel or petrol guises, with front- and all-wheel-drive options. Value, luxury, and efficiency are this Czech upstart’s calling cards.
WHY WE'RE TESTING IT
With the Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore as we know them fading fast, there will be a call for large family-sized sedans and wagons to fill their void – which is where the Mk3 Superb will step in. The Skoda is in some ways a more beguiling alternative to the equally new Volkswagen Passat, with the potential to give the Wolfsburg-based mother company headaches.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
Skoda is deadly serious with the upcoming Superb. No longer the ugly duckling to the over-achieving Volkswagen Passat, the third-generation Czech-built large car will arrive with value, stacks of standard kit and a level of design and quality to raise eyebrows among rivals pitching similarly sized, but far-more expensive, premium and luxury sedans. Mark our words – the Superb punches above its weight.
PLUS: Elegant design, cushy ride, punchy engines, quiet cabin, massive interior
MINUS: Dull steering, fat pillars, derivative dash, hard middle rear seat
THE WHEELS REVIEW
WOLFSBURG, you have a problem.
The original 2001 Skoda Superb – also Volkswagen-derived – was a Europe-only toe-in-the-water exercise, leading to the retina-searing second-gen “sedan-back” oddball that since 2009 has skulked along on the outskirts of Australian motorists’ consciousness like a misunderstood motorised Quasimodo.
Not for much longer. Come next March, the far-sleeker Mk3 version will slink into view, looking like a Bohemian Brad Pitt alongside his Deutsch Doug Pitt sibling. In proportion at last, Skoda leverages the upcoming VW Passat’s MQB-B architecture, bringing the Superb a longer wheelbase and wider tracks, boosting space and exorcising unsightly overhang.
Shorter than a Holden Commodore, the Skoda Superb boasts Holden Caprice levels of rear-seat legroom, aided by huge doors and supportive outboard seats (though the middle one’s high and hard) that lend a sense of space. Limo owners, take note.
Meanwhile the 625-litre boot – accessed via a now-conventional, rather than the oddball “Twin Door” sedan-cum-hatch tailgate – is vast enough to be dubbed a basement. Folding the backrests liberates a mammoth 1760L. Some variants offer electric opening with remote foot actuation.
Too bad about the inspiration-free “dash-bored”, though. Yes, it has presence, is painstakingly crafted and is utterly functional – from the clear analogue dials and simple multimedia interface, to logically sited controls – but it’s just so Volkswagen Golf-like. The Mirrorlink connectivity, at least, keeps it feeling contemporary. What personality there is – such as the two Skoda Superb-signature umbrellas built into the doors and brilliant angled, Velcro-held plastic luggage holders – are out of sight. We’re no fans of the vision-vexing thick pillars, either.
Three 2.0-litre direct-injection four-cylinder turbo engines are coming, with two – a 140kW TDI diesel and 162kW TSI petrol – driving the front wheels via a six-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission. The flagship 206kW TSI 4X4 petrol is also a DSG, but in concert with a Haldex coupling capable of shuffling almost 100 percent of torque between each axle to improve traction. With power and efficiency improving by up to 20 and 30 percent respectively, the old V6 is history.
That’s no loss, for even the 140kW/400Nm 2.0 TDI is impressively muscular, stepping off the line quickly and cleanly, and picking up the pace with effortless promptness. Ours was fitted with a fine six-speed manual gearbox, yet there was still enough torque elasticity for low-speed, top gear crawling. The 0-100km/h sprint is 7.7secs, and its 4.5L/100km average appears achievable.
But as smooth and hushed as the diesel is, it is the revvy 162kW/350Nm 2.0 TSI – the expected bestseller – that is the more rousing performer, pulling away with robust yet refined determination, belying its 1.5-tonne mass to feel like a smaller and sprightlier thing, accompanied by a slick and intuitive shifting DSG.
Best of all is the 206kW/400Nm 2.0 TSI 4x4, dishing out its speed stridently from practically zero revs, despite a 100kg weight penalty. A rapid 5.8s to 100km/h isn’t shabby. On a rainy, high-speed stretch of serpentine autostrada, the Skoda Superb flagship stuck steadfastly to the road below with silky insouciance.
However, the Skoda Superb’s dynamics are dulled by overly light and feel-free steering. Otherwise, the Skoda delivers satisfyingly agile handling, combined with controlled cornering and a pleasingly supple (and quiet) ride quality, even on 18-inch wheels – though every example we drove also featured the optional DCC adaptive dampers. Unlike in most Skoda Octavias, all models include a multi-link rear end.
With pricing set to straddle the $40,000 to $65,000 sphere, large-car buyers are in for a treat. Skoda reckons the Mk3 Superb represents a new era for the brand from Mlada Boleslav. Ingolstadt, Stuttgart and Gothenburg also ought to be worried. VW may have made its Czech marque simply too clever.
Model: Skoda Superb 162kW 2.0 TSI DSG
Engine: 1984cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v turbo
Max power: 162kW @ 4500-6200rpm
Max torque: 350Nm @ 1500-4400rpm
Transmission: 6-speed dual-clutch
Fuel economy: 6.2L/100km (Euro cycle)
Price: $45,000 (approx)
On sale: March 2016