Skoda jacks up the Superb wagon, and the price of its diesel-engined large car, with mixed results...
Although the Skoda Superb 4x4 Outdoor is a fresh, special edition added to the Czech brand’s large wagon range, the formula it follows is nothing new.
We’ve seen regular hatchbacks and wagons with all-wheel-drive capability and obligatory black plastic cladding before on most notably the Subaru Outback that is just switching to a brand new generation, and more recently the Group's own Volkswagen Passat Alltrack.
There is also the Volvo V40 Cross Country if you’re okay to downsize, and the XC70 and Audi A4 and A6 Allroads if you’re willing to spend more on a similar sized semi-off roader, but otherwise the Outback and Passat Alltrack have few rivals.
Unlike all the above rivals, though, Skoda insists that the Superb 4x4 Outdoor isn't marketed as a jacked-up offroader because it has unchanged ground clearance compared with the regular Superb wagon models. So what, then, is it exactly?
Priced at $52,690 plus on-road costs, the Skoda Superb 4x4 Outdoor – of which 150 are coming to Australia – is available as a single model grade priced $6000 above the front-wheel-drive Elegance on which it is based.
Both grades share a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine producing 125kW of power (at 4200rpm) and 350Nm of torque (between 1750rpm and 2500rpm), linked to a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
The 4x4 Outdoor adds a Haldex clutch-based drive system that delivers almost 100 per cent of torque to the front wheels in typical situations. The system can also split torque evenly between all wheels, or push 45 per cent to the rear wheels, or even 85 per cent of drive to a single rear wheel depending on slip detection.
There is no ‘lock’ button to fix drive to particular wheels, however.
Astonishingly, Skoda insists the Superb Outdoor weighs the same 1605kg as the the Superb Elegance, though the 0-100km/h claim is reduced by a tenth to 8.8 seconds. Meanwhile combined cycle fuel usage lifts by 0.3 litres per 100 kilometres to 5.9L/100km.
The Superb 4x4 Outdoor offers 15kW more power but the same torque compared with the outgoing Outback, but the Subaru in 2.0D Premium specification costs less, topping out at $43,490. More worryingly, the Superb 4x4 Outdoor has 5kW and 30Nm less than its home-town sibling, the slightly smaller Alltrack that costs $48,290.
Added equipment over the Superb Elegance includes a driver fatigue detection system and keyless auto-entry, while low-profile 40-aspect, 18-inch tyres remain standard.
That unchanged ground clearance of 141mm is substantially less than the new Outback’s 213mm.
Surrounding the tough-looking body cladding are front foglights, cornering lights and bi-xenon headlights.
The Superb 4x4 Outdoor is well-equipped inside in some instances, but lacking features you might expect for the price and particularly from a ‘value’ brand.
Well-bolstered leather/Alcantara seats are standard, with heating for both front and outboard rear passengers, the latter of whom also score neat side blinds and B-pillar-mounted face level air vents back there.
The Superb wagon stretches 4.83 metres long (the same as the liftback) and even with a driveshaft going through the middle, its rear legroom remains more Caprice-humungous than Commodore-generous.
The narrowness of the cabin remains an issue, however, so sitting three-across won’t give you the shoulder-rubbing liberation you’ll get in a home grown Holden Sportwagon. In both instances, though, the Skoda is more accommodating than its Subaru closest rival.
Electrically adjustable front seats are also expected, and standard, for the money, though the lack of any sunroof at all is curious on a model no doubt designed to go off the beaten track and see pretty scenery.
The interior plastics and general design of the Skoda Superb are showing their age, and are particularly underwhelming for the price.
Satellite navigation is standard, but it is housed in a 7.0-inch touchscreen from yesterday’s Volkswagen products.
You have to connect your phone via clacky steering wheel controls through the monochrome display between the speedometer and tachometer, which looks and operates in a more downmarket way than even an entry-level Volkswagen Golf.
The voice control system is unituitive to use, there is no internet or apps connectivity, and even using the USB function requires its own, optional-extra Skoda cable.
The biggest black mark of all, however, concerns the lack of a reverse-view camera even as an option.
While front and rear parking sensors and even automatic reverse-park assistance are standard, the lack of a camera in a big car designed for families is disappointing.
For our drive we took the Skoda Superb 4x4 Outdoor right to the heart of where it should thrive, threading it out of the city hustle and bustle towards a long stretch of Pacific Motorway between Sydney and Newcastle, and further to a weekend getaway to the upper Hunter Valley.
The bags of two passengers barely touched the sides of the enormous 603-litre boot, so we didn’t think to then fold the rear back rest down to access the full 1835L cave.
There is a handy electric tail-gate, however, and clever little cubbies on either side of the nicely carpeted rear area perfect for securing down smaller items such a six-pack of the Very Best.
Initial driving impressions are that the big Superb certainly feels heavy. What is a spritely and refined diesel in a small hatchback (it was used in the previous-generation Golf, for example) struggles to deliver the expected verve in this application.
The raised suspension also seems to struggle with the extra body mass. The Superb 4x4 Outdoor rides decently in an urban context, but over speed humps and larger undulations the whole wagon body rocks up and down several times before regaining control.
On the freeway, the gearbox seems quite short geared, with a sixth that sees the diesel buzzing along at 2200rpm.
Even without rear passengers, the Superb needed to dip back several gears on minor hills and struggled to deliver brisk overtaking often required after a truck in the middle lane has slowed you down, and a fast-approaching Commodore is in the fast lane.
On flowing, coarse-chip country roads the Skoda feels more at home. It is reasonably quiet and lopes along nicely at speed.
On a short gravel section it proved grippy and predictable, rarely bothering its stability control system while leaving the all-wheel drive system to keep things into shape when you power out of a corner.
After a 500km weekend shifting two travellers, the Superb 4x4 Outdoor used 6.8L/100km.
While that is impressive for such a large car in isolation, we’d put some money down on a more effortless six-cylinder turbo-diesel engine producing much the same result in such cruising conditions.
So while the Skoda Superb 4x4 Outdoor does have some performance issues for the price, it is offset by decent economy, and the sheer weight of this wagon is reflected in the size of the interior, which is more cavernous than that in an Outback.
We'd suggest bargaining hard on this well appointed cruiser that while lacking some technology, gets basic comfort levels spot-on. That it is also reassuring on dirt and gravel (or the snow in winter times) gives it a flexibility for the adventurous family lacking in all affordable wagons ... except of course that classic Subaru foe.
Click the Photos tab above for more images by Christian Barbeitos.