Czech-out time

Dude, whereís my $36K?

ALEX INWOOD

The biggest hurdle when the buying the Skoda, at least when it comes to value, is its hefty depreciation. Industry estimates are that the Superb will retain less than 40 percent of its value after three years of ownership. That means that if you were to buy a Superb in our spec, which includes the Tech Pack ($3400), Comfort Pack ($1500), panoramic sunroof ($1900) and metallic paint ($700), youíll shoulder a loss of more than $36K in depreciation. A Mazda 6 Atenza wagon fares much better; around 58 percent.

With its stay near complete, we bolt for the border in our ultra-accommodating Superb

BLOODY Bulmer. Looking back, I really should have known, but itís only now, as I sit in the Skodaís capacious cabin and try to drown out the insistent bonging of its warning chime, that I realise Iíve been duped.

With an interstate trip looming and the need to lug a bunch of gear, and the family dog, from Melbourne to Mudgee, Iíd asked to borrow Bulmerís long-term Superb. This will be the Skodaís final adventure in our care before it disappears back to company HQ, and it suits my needs perfectly.

Big enough to swallow our load with ease and luxurious enough to ride in comfortably for 13 hours, itís also exciting enough to keep a keen driver interested, thanks to its 206kW/350Nm turbo four and Haldex allwheel- drive system Ė both of which are lifted from the VW Golf R hot hatch.

What I didnít know, and what Bulmer neglected to mention as he dropped off the keys, was that a collision with a wheelie bin the month prior had sent the Superbís keyless entry system loopy. It still opens and locks just fine, but an annoying alarm sounds on start-up, and then again and again every time you slow below 60km/h.

Still, annoying bongs aside, Iíll admit I have a soft spot for this big, luxo Czech. To me it screams Ďsmart moneyí Ė youíre getting a lot of car for $60K Ė and Iím also rather taken with how it looks. Donít be fooled by its conservative design and restrained appearance in photos: in the metal, this is a handsome brute with sharp creases and exquisite detailing.

Itís an impressive long-distance hauler, too. At three-figure speeds on the Hume, the Superb eats up the miles effortlessly. The cabin is hushed, the leather front pews are supportive, comfortable and offer a good amount of (electric) adjustment, and with the adaptive dampers set to Comfort (one of three modes, along with Normal and Sport) the ride is long-legged and supple, though the large wagon body does struggle to settle over big undulations.

What really makes the Superb such a, ahem, superb cruiser, though, is the attention to detail. The glovebox and large centre console are cooled, there are window shades for rear passengers (something the dog appreciated), and we quickly filled the garbage bins in the front door pockets with chocolate and chip wrappers. Our Skoda is also fitted with the optional Tech Pack which, for $3400, adds the VW Groupís suite of driver-assist systems, headlined by Lane Keep Assist. Itís a convincing system that does a commendable job of lightening the load on the driver by providing decisive steering inputs to stay in the centre of the lane, even on the Humeís long, sweeping bends.

Breaking free of the urban jungle also saw the Superbís consumption tumble from the mid-to-high 13s Bulmer was getting on his daily commute to a more respectable 8.2L/100km.

Itís not all positive, though. Turning off the freeway for a backroads blast from Gundagai to Cowra reveals that while the suspensionís Comfort and Normal settings are fine on the freeway, their slacker body control means the big Superb can feel ponderous and floaty when the road gets twisty. Switching to Sport improves things, but the trade-off is a tauter ride that, while preferable on smooth tarmac, can feel brittle on poorly surfaced rural roads.

And despite its muscular Golf R heart, the Superbís 1600kg heft and boosted dimensions means it feels swift rather than fast. Skoda claims a 0-100km/h dash of 5.8 seconds, but that seems optimistic to me. Itís certainly no firecracker off the line, and the combination of soft throttle-tip and occasional hesitation from the six-speed DSG (even in Sport mode) can make it feel tardy to engage.

But these are minor niggles. While the Superb is no cut-price Audi RS4 quattro or a performance rival for the sold-out Golf R wagon, it trumps both for space, comfort, value and interstate haul-ability. Itís a car you buy more with your head than with your heart, but even so, thereís enough character and performance lurking beneath that handsome skin to convince any dyed-in-thewool petrolhead that the move to a more practical family car neednít mean an SUV snooze fest.

Space to burn

Itís easy to argue that despite its tidy dynamics and expansive view through the windscreen, the best place to sit in the Superb is in the back. Rolling on a whopping 2841mm wheelbase, rear passengers are spoilt with limousine-like levels of space, moveable foot rests and individual climate control dials to ensure their ambient temperature is set just so. Window blinds only add to the sense of luxury, and if you tick the optional Comfort Pack, the rear bench is also heated for those chilly winter mornings.

SKODA SUPERB 206 TSI

Date acquired: September 2016 Price as tested: $60,190 This month: 2228km @ 8.2L/100km Overall: 7408km @ 10.1L/100km 34 44 3 3 0 1 1 5 7 1 WEEK 18 URBAN COUNTRY SPORTS FAMILY MOTORWAY