“The name alone is a commitment: a Skoda Superb has to be something special.”
Those are among the first words in Skoda’s media release for the third-generation of its flagship model — the car that singularly embodies its loftiest ambitions. Such vaguely ridiculous nomenclature does little else but set one up for ridicule if the execution is miscalculated. The pressure is inherent.
Indeed, it’s telling that Skoda’s jovial and comparatively relaxed Czech-based senior team are a little more austere and quietly determined when communicating about the third-generation Superb.
Perish any thoughts that Skoda’s positioning as the Volkswagen Group’s entry brand somehow makes the Superb anything less than a premium proposition. Quite the contrary. The big Skoda has always been about offering a huge, comfortable and vaguely luxurious offering at a reasonable price. The outgoing car is something of a European take on the Holden Caprice, if we could be forgiven for the parallel.
This new one is something a bit different though.
How do we know this? We’ve driven it, in Europe, on one of a multitude of global launch waves.
This Superb iteration adds a veneer of style that its frumpy predecessor never managed, both inside and out, and is underpinned and powered by the very latest Volkswagen Group technologies — something the outgoing version now lacks.
Simply put, this new model — based on the latest MQB B Volkswagen Group architecture — is significantly more powerful yet efficient, loaded to the gills with Volkswagen’s latest safety and infotainment technologies and a damn site easier on the eyes.
Only the liftback has been launched so far, though the wagon will premiere in Europe around August/September of this year.
The only downer for us here in Australia is that the local launch isn’t scheduled until about March 2016. Skoda has to wind up Czech production, and it seems we’re some way down the pecking order. The good news is that liftback and wagon models will launch concurrently when the new Superb comes to Australia.
And when it does eventually arrive, it will be pitched further upmarket than the current/outgoing version. The company is hinting at a local pricing spectrum kicking off below $45,000 — that’s where the current flagship sits — topping out at near $60,000.
This isn’t just thousands more expensive than the current entry versions, but pricier than segment rivals such as various specifications of the Holden Commodore. But this Skoda feels more like a rival for a $60,500 Lexus ES, or perhaps the $60,000 Hyundai Genesis. It's certainly bigger inside than the most capacious mid-sizers out there, Ford’s new Mondeo and Hyundai’s Sonata.
The price jump has basis. First, it’s larger than before. It’s about the same size as a Mercedes-Benz E-Class. It’s also 28mm longer, 47mm wider and 6mm higher than its predecessor, but vitally sits on an 80mm longer wheelbase. The Superb is about 75kg lighter, too.
Replacing the current 118TSI and 125TDI versions are substantially more powerful petrol and diesel offerings. There are eight engine options in Europe, but we will only get three in Australia — the three most powerful in the range, all turbocharged, and all with a 2.0-litre capacity.
Kicking off the range will be the 162TSI, using same engine as that found in the circa-$39,000 Octavia RS DSG (see, that proposed sub-$45K entry price sounds quite reasonable, no?) and the Volkswagen Golf GTI. The petrol engine makes 162kW between 4500 and 6200rpm and 350Nm between 1500 and 4400.
The 140TDI turbo diesel shares its engine with the new-generation (not yet sold in Australia) Passat, and pumps out 140kW between 3500 and 4000rpm and a strong 400Nm between 1750 and 3250rpm. Both it and the 162TSI use a six-speed dual-clutch DSG automatic gearbox and are front-wheel-drive.
Topping out the range is the 206TSI, using an uprated petrol turbo pumping out a Golf R-matching 206kW between 5600 and 6500rpm, and 350Nm between 1700 and 5600rpm. This 30 per cent more efficient engine replaces the old car’s 3.6-litre atmo V6, which produced ‘just’ 191kW/350Nm.
It is matched to a six-speed DSG as well, but power is sent to the ground via a part-time all-wheel-drive system activated by a Haldex 5 clutch that only couples the driveshaft to the rear axle when the car’s sensors detect slip.
All three units are sensational. The 162TSI engine is familiar, and it feels scarcely slower than an Octavia RS. And it isn’t — the 0-100km/h dash takes about seven seconds. That broad torque band makes it strong and linear in its delivery off the line, while you carry maximum power for a while as you approach redline.
The 140TDI is even better. Precious little gruffness or vibration pervades the cabin, while the 400Nm torque output comes on like a wave. It barely ticked over idle while sitting at speeds that would have you arrested in Australia. Skoda claims it’ll use only 4.1 litres of diesel per 100km, which is close to a Prius. You’d have to be feathering it…
Of course, the star is the 206TSI. Skoda cites a 0-100km/h figure of 5.8 seconds, and it’s not exaggerating. That’s serious pace for a $60K limo. The AWD system gives a sense of surety on greasy roads, and is decisive enough to send up to 50 per cent of torque backwards if the front tyres can’t handle you mashing the accelerator.
In all three engines, the DSG worked well. Dynamic driving and highway work rarely cause Volkswagen’s dual-clutch unit any grief, but in stop-start city driving this iteration of the six-speeder is also smoother and less indecisive than past versions. It also has more torque to use. Volkswagen’s Auto Hold function that stops you creeping in traffic while in D is also now fitted to the Superb, via the DSG.
Interestingly, we had a quick blat in the base taxi-spec 88kW/250Nm 1.6-litre diesel option with a six-speed manual gearbox for a laugh (no chance for Australia), and stopped said laughing once we had the cruise control set to 135km/h at which point the engine was ticking over in borderline tranquility.
Our 206TSI test car also had Skoda’s suite of driving modes and — in a company first — adaptive dampers that firm or soften the ride, depending on how sporty you want to get. Remember, the Octavia RS doesn’t have these yet.
That said, we’re not certain if the calibration of the dampers, part of the re-engineered all-round independent suspension setup, at either extreme is quite right.
The Superb felt a little too prone to bob around on its springs in Comfort — though it certainly floated nicely over cobblestones — and a smidgen too fidgety in Sport once you pushed it. Normal mode felt a good balance between limo-esque comfort and a modicum of dynamism.
It doesn’t feel quite as tied-down, and its front end isn’t as impressively adept at carving into corners, as that in its new-generation Passat cousin, which handles like a true sports sedan.
It remains competent in terms of the lateral grip you can wield in Sport, though, (helped by Volkswagen’s XDS+ system that brakes the inside wheel and redirects torque outwards on the axle) and the electro-assisted steering is direct, if numb and only on the light side in Comfort mode.
We’re not overly worried if the Superb isn’t a sports sedan like a 3 Series or, as mentioned, the new Passat. Its maker focused elsewhere — on comfort.
Alone in denting the achievement of this objective is the feeling that it does let a little more tyre noise into the cabin than a limo of this ilk should. This is something we’ve noticed on a few, though not all, MQB cars.
Otherwise, as a comfortable cruiser, the Superb is flawless. Its cabin holds precious few compromises, bringing a new sense of style and upmarket appointments to the table while building on the old car’s interior space.
The new instrument fascia is subdued in its design but Germanic in its execution — well-made and using tactile materials. In Skoda style, the dash in neutrally positioned rather than driver-oriented, but everything is pleasingly symmetrical, logical and ergonomic.
Top-spec cars get an 8.0-inch touchscreen, though lower grades get a 6.5-inch, both with satellite navigation. We'd rather a toggle drive a la BMW's iDrive or Mazda's MZD Connect. Both also come (and will launch in Australia with) SmartLink, Skoda’s software that supports Apple CarPlay, MirrorLink and Android Auto.
There’s also a reverse-view camera display for the first time — addressing a glaring oversight on the old car — and programmable ambient cabin lighting.
Additional technologies found on our test cars included features such as radar-guided cruise control, low-speed autonomous city braking, lane assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, traffic sign recognition, and nav-based speed limit display.
Local specs are yet to be confirmed, so whether they are sold in Australia in an options pack, or potentially standard (maybe only on the flagship) remains to be seen. On the topic of safety, there are two ISOFIX anchors, and nine airbags.
The seats up the front are good, but in the rear they’re spectacular. First, the rear is notably wider than before — a necessary revision — though it’s still more comfortable for two adults rather than three, and headroom is also clearly better. Legroom remains benchmark.
New chauffeur touches include the iPad holder behind the front passenger seat, and the dials on the side of this same seat that allow the rear occupant to move it extremely far forward, giving you room to stretch out your legs and sleep. Naturally you get vents, grab handles, rear ventilation controls, window blinds and map lights, as well as a USB point in the rear.
Local Superb aficionados — all three of them — should also know that the signature hidden umbrella mounted flush inside the rear left-hand door is gone… replaced by TWO umbrellas, one hidden inside each front door. There’s a nod to the Rolls-Royce Phantom there.
The cargo area remains arguably the Superb’s crowning glory. The roof-mounted hatch — it may looks like a sedan but, like a Mondeo, it is actually a hatchback — helps yield a remarkable 625 litres of cargo space with the rear seats in use, up 30L. That’s appreciably more than a Honda CR-V.
This expands to 1760L with the rear seats folded — this is more than a Skoda Yeti SUV with the rear seats removed entirely. And, we should add, this is with a full-sized spare under the cargo space, not a space-saver.
There are also multiple clever touches, including levers in the cargo area that flip the rear seats (like you’d find on some wagons and SUVs), eight hooks and four tie-downs, and netting under the cargo cover.
Genius additions include velcro-backed plastic planks that fold at right angles, and can be adhered to the cargo floor as moveable ‘fences’ to top bags moving about, a magnetic torch embedded in a charger in the sidewall that sticks to the car if you have to change your tyre at night, and a towball that hides flush under the rear bumper but flips down into place via a small lever hidden in the boot lip.
Really, the only issue in the cargo area is the loss of the complex, heavy, but cool two-piece hatch-turned-sedan tailgate found on the old car. The powerpoint in the rear found on our Euro cars likely won’t come to Australia either — obviously, Skoda would have to fork out to make an Australian plug design.
Small gripes. Until full, and final, Australian pricing and exact specifications are confirmed, we can’t pass complete judgement on the new Superb.
But what is obvious is that this is a seriously impressive car, one that builds on the old model's class-topping cabin space that frankly wrinkles your brain, and adds new levels of performance, style and various technology.
The third-generation Superb has all the hallmarks of a giant slayer. More expensive than the outgoing car, but set to be cheaper than almost anything that could rightly be called a rival. Skoda wanted to hit a new high with this car. It has.