It could be seen as quite telling that when Skoda greeted us at this week's 2016 Skoda Superb Australian launch, we were not directed to the driver's seat as per custom, but rather into the expansive back row.
In its eight years on sale in Australia, Skoda has forged out a reputation as the ‘thinking person’s' European car maker — one that leans more on practicality than blandishments to lure a growing pool of buyers.
And perhaps no model within the Czech brand’s range embodied this idea better than the previous B6 generation Superb, a dowdy but enormously practical hatch and wagon range that appealed to a sneaky few in the know.
This week hosted the launch of the new third-generation 2016 Skoda Superb, the B8. Spending any amount of time behind the wheel swiftly justifies both the nomenclature and the model code on symbolic levels, because this car feels a few generations ahead of its predecessor.
Right off the bat, perish any thoughts of Skoda being just a cut-price Volkswagen. The Superb is now priced near some premium cars, though specified above most and more spacious than any. A ‘thinking person’s’ option, indeed.
The latest range comprises three engine variants and two body styles, the sedan-look liftback and the $1700 more expensive wagon. The entry-level 162TSI kicks off at $39,990 (before on-road costs), growing to $43,990 for the 140TDI diesel and topping out at $50,990 for the 206TSI with four-wheel drive (add said $1700 to each figure for the wagon's cost).
Therefore, prices are between $4300 and $8000 greater than before. But the B6 and B8 are barely comparable. The new model is better-equipped, more powerful yet more efficient, more spacious courtesy of growth in every dimension by 30-80mm, and more upmarket in execution.
It also retains parity with size rival, the Holden Commodore, while it offers more metal for the money than the related and smaller Volkswagen Passat, and even more useable space than the Tardis-like Ford Mondeo.
We'd also argue that, with the right set of alloys, the Superb, with its crisp new lines, looks sharper than any of these to boot — especially in the extremely well-proportioned wagon configuration. You couldn't say that about the B6.
Let’s start in the cabin. Up front, the Superb is familiar generic Volkswagen Group. By that, we mean perfectly ergonomic, well made (tactile surfaces, flocked door pockets, nicely thudding doors), simply laid out and lacking a little flair, aside from the Mercedes-Benz-style changeable ambient cabin lighting on the flagship model.
But the features list is extremely strong. You can read about it in detail here, but for some idea, the entry-level petrol and diesel models get the following: Alcantara seats; 18-inch alloys; heated front seats; privacy glass; an 8.0-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto plus all the other connectivity; a reverse-view camera; adaptive cruise control; three-zone climate control; nine airbags; and umbrellas inside both front doors. Classic Superb, there.
In addition to this, the more powerful four-wheel-drive 206TSI gets 19-inch wheels, paddle shifters, keyless go, lowered suspension (by 15mm), ambient LED cabin lighting and adjustable driving modes.
If you don’t want or need the extra power, most of these features can be added to the lower-grade variants as part of a $1700 Image package. On the topic of packages, the $3400-$4700 Tech pack adds adaptive dampers, lane assist, blind-spot monitoring, a hands-free tailgate, park assist and reverse traffic alert.
The standardisation of the Apple CarPlay/Android Auto app integration is fantastic, as is the integrated navigation software and the screen’s general responsiveness. However, one of our test cars had a software glitch where the screen would simply not display (the audio still worked, though).
On that note, this was not the only glitch we found on this week’s Australian launch. Skoda might do well to check out the two cars — one we drove, the other by a writer from another publication — with loud buzzing rattles from either the door or console, and dependent on engine speed, and the one with excessive wind noise through a door seal.
We will cut these cars some slack for now, and take Skoda’s word that they’ll be fixed, but we’ll also keep an eye on the first Superb we get through the CarAdvice garage… Stay tuned on that front.
The B8 Superb is a larger car than before, with a few centimetres more rear elbow room and headroom. The vast amounts of legroom carry over unchanged from the old model, making this new Superb an altogether nicer experience in the rear.
Back seat occupants get standard features including vents with temperature control, sun blinds, coat hooks, an iPad holder and multiple storage areas. There’s little doubt that valet drivers will again look keenly at the Superb.
For that proper limo feel, though, they, and you, would be advised to option the $1500 Comfort options pack, which gives you perforated leather seats that are heated and cooled up front and heated in the back, with passenger side electric adjustment from the rear seat.
Move further back into the cargo area, and things get more impressive still. Both the liftback and wagon are cavernous — cargo space with all seats in use measures 625 litres and 650L respectively, expanding to a frankly outlandish 1760L and 1950L respectively with the back seats folded — but also cleverly configured.
The old Superb’s two-piece tailgate has been ditched to save weight and cost, which may concern some, but neat touches such as bag hooks, velcro-backed moveable cargo fences, levers to drop the rear seats from the boot and a full-sized spare tyre under the floor make up for it.
Simply put, there are few, perhaps even no, price-equivalent cars that can touch the Superb for practicality, save perhaps the also brilliant Subaru Outback.
On the road, the Superb feels pretty sharp as well. By shuffling across to Volkswagen’s ubiquitous MQB architecture — the same base platform as the Volkswagen Golf and Passat, Skoda Octavia and Audi A3 — the new Superb is also 75-odd kilos lighter than its predecessor.
As we noted on the international launch, it perhaps doesn’t feel quite as tied down, and its front end isn’t as impressively adept at carving into corners, as the absolute class leaders, think the mid-sized Passat and Mazda 6. That said, the XDL system that brakes the inside front wheel does tame front-drive understeer.
But in corners it feels lighter than its almost 5.0-metre length would seem to dictate, with crisp change of direction and good balance. The electric steering is detached and free of feedback, but responsive enough to place the car as you want.
Perhaps the main bugbear is the occasionally jittery or brittle ride on back roads with the 19-inch alloys and sports suspension, which undoes what should be a more supple feel for such a passenger-oriented and practical car. Basically, we’d like just a little more cosseting.
At a highway cruise, the Superb is comfortable and compliant, though, a little tyre noise does penetrate into the cabin (those low-profile tyres again). Then again, in this area at least, it’s superior to a Mazda 6. The adaptive cruise control is also very intuitive.
To the engines. Kicking off the range is the same 162TSI engine found in the Octavia RS and the Volkswagen Golf GTI. The turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine makes 162kW of power between 4500-6200rpm and 350Nm of torque between 1500-4400rpm.
The EA888 engine is just great, with a torque graph that looks like Table Mountain. It gets up and goes, helping the Superb hit 100km/h from standstill in 7.0 seconds. With this engine, the massive Superb also only costs $100 more than said Octavia RS with the DSG, and undercuts a Golf GTI. Bargain.
The 140TDI turbo-diesel option shares its engine with the new-generation Passat, and pumps out 140kW between 3500-4000rpm and 400Nm between 1750-3250rpm, and uses a claimed 4.8 litres per 100km.
A tip though, unless you do more than 50,000km a year, the cheaper petrol engine (even with its taste for 95 RON premium unleaded fuel) is the better bet. The diesel is fine once the turbo spools, with huge mid-range oomph and not as much initial lag as some would think, but the economic argument doesn’t stack up.
Both the 140TDI and the 162TSI use a six-speed dual-clutch DSG automatic gearbox, and are front-wheel drive. The DSG is never the most decisive box in urban surrounds, but we’re stuck with it until Volkswagen gets some ROI (return on investment). It’s generally quite ok. The odd tyre chip and occasional axle tramp on wet roads, however, suggest torque isn’t always perfectly translated through those front hoops.
Topping the range is the 206TSI. Using an uprated turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine pumping out 206kW between 5600-6500rpm and 350Nm between 1700-5600rpm, the new flagship is 30 per cent more efficient than the old naturally aspirated V6-powered B6 Superb. It's also 15kW more powerful and equal on peak torque.
The engine is matched to a six-speed DSG as well, but power is sent to the ground via a part-time four-wheel-drive system activated by a 'Haldex 5' clutch that only couples the driveshaft to the rear axle when sensors detect slip. Skoda cites a 0-100km/h figure of 5.8 seconds, and it’s not exaggerating. The 4x4 system lends more mid-corner surety to the big Superb, and also more effectively transfers torque to the road - up to 50 per cent can be sent rearwards if called upon.
Consider this — the top-spec Superb uses the same engine as the Golf R, and yet in wagon guise is more than $5000 cheaper. And vastly more spacious. It’s a dead-set steal. For the more practically minded, the 206TSI also ups the braked towing capacity from 2000kg to 2200kg.
From an ownership perspective, the Superb comes with the option of pre-paid servicing plans that cost $2650 for five years or 75,000km. You can also pay $1699 to expand the three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty to five years.
And that’s our first look at the new 2016 Skoda Superb. Its priced with broad equivalence to mid-sizers such as the Volkswagen Passat, Ford Mondeo and Mazda 6, or the Subaru Outback, but offers more cabin space perhaps than any, and cargo storage that beats the most spacious medium-sized SUVs to boot (sorry about that pun).
On the other side of the coin, even its base petrol engine is from a Golf GTI, and the 206kW 4x4 flagship is a slightly less sporty, but almost-as-fast and much bigger Golf R wagon, for substantially less money.
This car is a textbook 8.5/10, at least. But those few quality gremlins (that we hope are swiftly ironed out) lead us to show just a little reticence and deduct half a point for now. When we get a Superb through our garage we will re-evaluate, and hopefully chalk the launch experience up to teething problems, or something of that nature.
None of this detracts from the very palpable fact that the new Skoda Superb remains a hugely practical choice that ticks almost every conceivable box. And this new one is also a genuinely desirable car as well. It's very nearly the complete package.
Click the Photos tab for more 2016 Skoda Superb images.