THE JOKES about Skodas spluttered to a halt at the roadside almost two decades ago, partly because there was nobody left who hadn’t already heard them all at least a dozen times, but chiefly because Skodas stopped being comical in October 1994.
That was the month the company launched the Felicia hatchback, an accomplished little car that marked the early phases of Volkswagen’s investment in – and eventual takeover of – Skoda. It has been a happy union ever since. The VW Golf-based Octavia of 1997 and the Polo-flavoured Fabia that followed a couple of years later sold like hot cakes.
Still, it must have been the brassiest of Skoda’s brass-necked marketing boffins who, buoyed by his company’s turnaround at the turn of the millennium, dared to suggest that 2001’s new flagship Skoda should be called the Superb. Accomplished, yes. Enormous, no question. But Superb? That was a bold bit of badging by anyone’s standards, not least a company that had only recently stopped being the butt of everyone’s car gags. There’s a very good reason the Austin Allegro wasn’t called the Austin Fantastic, and that your dad drove around in something called the Ford Cortina and not the Ford Saviouroftheuniverse. It’s called setting yourself up for a mighty big fall.
That the Superb has managed not to career off the credibility cliff, dragging its maker with it, speaks volumes for Skoda’s rising stock. Yes, there are still a few people who wouldn’t dream of driving a Skoda simply because of the badge on its nose, but they are fools. What is more, the bootful of accolades it has collected from the motoring press in the ten years or so it’s been on sale suggests the car might even live up to its billing. Accolades schmaccolades. We needed to test the big Skudder for ourselves, so we phoned Skoda and they dispatched one very quickly indeed. A Superb Estate SE Plus, with a 138bhp diesel engine to make it go.
Jings, it’s big. Almost 16 feet long, but sleek profiling towards the back keeps it from being cumbersome. The first-generation Superb looked much like a VW Passat. This one, less so. Parked on a petrol station forecourt, the Superb catches the eye of a few fellow filler-uppers. Perhaps some are trying to work out if it’s a new Audi A6 Avant or even a prototype Merc E-Class replacement. Or maybe they simply like the cut of its jib.
There’s little to take issue with in the cabin, which is tastefully upholstered and tightly fastened together. In addition to an already generous specification that includes dual-zone air conditioning, cruise control and an umbrella in the rear doors (just like a Rolls Royce), the SE Plus gains built-in satnav, electrically-adjustable front seats and Bluetooth for your phone.
The seats are a mix of imitation suede and fake leather but, if I hadn’t just told you, you would never have guessed that no cows were harmed in their making. Can’t say the same of the leather-trimmed steering wheel, gear knob and gear-leaver gaiter, though.
But it’s accommodation that’s the Superb’s trump card. In an age when a pokey one-bedroom flat in a ok’ish suburb of Edinburgh or Glasgow will set you back six figures, room in the £25,000 Superb is generous to the point of obscene. Plonk three adults in the back seats and there will still be space in front of their knees to build an alcove kitchen or box room. The boot is bigger than some student flats and can be divvied up with a system of rails and partitioning straps that’s a lot less Heath Robinson than I’m making it sound. The interior light in the boot can be removed and used as a torch.
Skoda’s game of fun-with-names doesn’t stop at Superb – what the rest of us call “privacy glass” or “blacked-oot windaes”, Skoda calls “sunset glass” and the SE Plus gets it from B-pillar back. The wheels are 17-inch “Trifid” alloys, so it’s something of a disappointment that the car doesn’t lurch along on giant poison-spitting plants from the 1950s. They would have made short work of the queues at Hermiston Gait junction.
Actually, the car doesn’t lurch at all. Rather, it glides, helped by its long wheelbase and supple suspension, which soaks up bumps but stays reasonably firm in the bends. Steering-wise, it goes where you point it, which is always reassuring to know. Its Audi A6 cousin will try to woo you with the promise of a sportier chassis, but is that really what you, or your labradors, want from an estate car?
The 138bhp 2.0-litre TDI engine sits in the middle of the Superb’s diesel range and is paired with a six-speed manual gearbox. There’s also a 1.6 diesel, which trades a slice of performance for better economy, and a 168bhp diesel that trades a slice of economy for better performance. Again, though, think of the labradors. Despite the Superb’s immenseness, our foot-in-both-camps unit never feels short of power and is, for the most part, very quiet. Skoda says to expect 51mpg on the combined cycle. In the real world, mid-40s is what you should aim for.
The panoramic sunroof is a £1,050 option and, though it floods the cabin with light and makes everyone go “oooh!” when they see it for the first time, it also pinches an inch from the roofline, leading to grumbles from Son of Scotman Motoring (6ft 1in, despite his vegetable-free diet) that rear headroom was not as generous as he had expected. Anyone not as tall as he is won’t have anything to worry about.
That’s it. Just like the gags at Skoda’s expense, this review has run its course. It’s Skoda owners who are having the last laugh now. Superb indeed.
CAR Skoda Superb Estate SE Plus 2.0 TDI 140PS
PRICE From £23,880 (£25,270 as tested)
PERFORMANCE Max speed 127 mph; 0-62mph 10.2 secs
MPG 51.4mpg (combined)
CO2 EMISSIONS 145g/km
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Monday 20 May 2013
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