Skoda Superb

Dowdy is out, stylish is in for excellent new Superb

BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

FIRST OVERSEAS DRIVE

WOLFSBURG, you have a problem. Skoda is deadly serious about its newgeneration Superb.

No longer the ugly duckling cousin of the overachieving Volkswagen Passat, the Czech-built large car will hit the ground running with value pricing, stacks of equipment, and a level of design and quality that will raise eyebrows among far more expensive luxury rivals.

Mark our words, the new Superb punches above its weight.

The 2001 original – also VW-derived – was a Europe-only test case, while the retina-searing second-generation oddball from 2009 has skulked along the outskirts of Australian motorists’ consciousness like some sort of motorised Quasimodo.

Not for much longer. The sleeker Mk3 will slink into view next March, leveraging the new Passat’s MQB-B architecture with a longer wheelbase and wider tracks to boost space while exorcising unsightly overhang.

Shorter than a Commodore, yet boasting Caprice levels of rear-seat legroom, aided by huge doors and supportive outboard seats (though the middle one is high and hard), the new Superb has a real sense of space. Limo operators, take note.

Meanwhile, the 625-litre boot (now accessed via a conventional tailgate that in some variants opens with remote foot actuation) is as big as a basement. And folding the backrests liberates a mammoth 1760 litres of space.

Too bad about the Superb’s inspiration-free dash, though the Mirrorlink connectivity at least keeps it feeling contemporary on its Golf-like background.

What personality there is – two Superb-signature door-sited umbrellas and brilliant velcroheld plastic luggage holders – are out of sight. Speaking of which, we’re not fans of those thick vision-impairing pillars, either.

Three 2.0-litre direct-injected four-cylinder turbo engines are coming here, with two (140kW diesel and 162kW petrol) driving the front wheels via a six-speed dual-clutch transmission. The flagship 206kW 4x4 petrol also gets a DSG, but in concert with a Haldex coupling capable of shuffling almost 100 percent of torque between each axle for added traction. Power is up 20 percent and efficiency 30 percent; 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, then picking up the pace effortlessly. Ours was fitted with a six-speed manual, yet there was enough torquey elasticity for low-speed, top-gear crawling.

The 0-100km/h time is 7.7sec while 4.5L/100km is quoted.

Smooth and hushed as the diesel is, the revvy 162kW/350Nm 2.0 TSI – the expected best-seller – is the more rousing performer, pulling away with robust yet refined determination, belying its 1.5-tonne mass, accompanied by a slick and intuitive DSG.

Best of all, though, is the 206kW/350Nm 2.0 TSI 4x4, dishing out a rapid 5.8sec to 100km/h, despite its 100kg weight penalty.

On a rainy high-speed stretch of autostrada, the Superb flagship stuck steadfastly to the road with silky insouciance. Its dynamics are dulled by overly light and feel-free steering, but it delivers satisfyingly agile handling, controlled cornering and a pleasingly supple (and quiet) ride even on 18-inch wheels, though every example we drove featured optional adaptive dampers.

With pricing set to straddle $40-65K, large-car buyers are in for a treat. Volkswagen ought to be worried; it may have made its Czech marque a little too clever.

Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Skoda Superb 2.0 TSI 1984cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo 162kW @ 4500-6200rpm 350Nm @ 1500-4400rpm 6-speed dual-clutch 1505kg 7.0sec (claimed) 6.2L/100km $45,000 (estimated) March 2016

PLUS & MINUS

Dull steering; fat pillars; derivative dash; hard centre-rear seat Elegant design; cushy ride; punchy engines; massive interior

01 LET IT B

Sharing the VW Passat’s MQB-B architecture, Superb is larger yet 75kg lighter than before. Torsional rigidity is 13 percent better. Lucky, that.

02 BEATING HEART

Australian-market drivelines will be FWD DSG 140kW diesel and 162kW petrol, plus a Haldexenhanced AWD system for the 206kW range-topper.

03 SLICK, YET SAME

Lengthy wheelbase provides limo-like rear lounging, but VW-generic dashboard lacks the pizazz promised by Superb’s luxo-barge stature.

Superb design

LASTING minimalism is the philosophy that drove Skoda’s Project SK481 design, prioritising presence and proportion.

Cutting overhangs and stretching the wheelbase and dash-to-axle ratios helped, aided by fasterraked front and rear glass, a clamshell bonnet and plastic rocket-panel spears. Aero rating is a slippery 0.275Cd.

Skoda-signature C-pillar kink, triangular headlight tear-ducts and a wide waterfall grille supposedly identify the new Superb from a distance while the PR puff claims C-shaped rear LEDs say, “Congratulate me, I’ve bought a Skoda”. proportion

OR TRY THESE...

Ford Mondeo Titanium Ecoboost $44,290

TWO years late but fiercely capable, Ford’s roomy, comfortable and punchy Spanish-built mid-sizer will initially be the Falcon replacement, but its level of refinement and dynamic prowess puts it into the premium league.

Mazda 6 Atenza $46,420

LIKE the Mondeo, Japan’s finest medium sedan soars above its (admittedly mediocre) segment with a style and sporting finesse that truly edges the loaded Atenza into Mercedes C-Class territory.

Worthwhile Series II changes have significantly improved the breed.