After a not so fantastic ownership experience with a Mazda 3, it was with great trepidation that I again plunged into the new-car market to purchase a large car for an expanding family. Simply put, it had to seat five in comfort with plenty of space for prams and cargo.
In July 2017, the list was quite short – Skoda Superb 162, Holden Commodore VF SV6 or Mondeo. Each was a wagon (or estate) and room was important. Why no SUV? Well, put simply, I didn’t fail senior physics, and despite what some people will tell you, an SUV doesn’t have any more room than a large wagon. But I digress…
The Commodore was initially impressive. The interior was excellent (much better than the ZB) and there was tons of room. There were two problems. One: it felt heavy, and fuel consumption is an issue. The engine was tight but it did not feel at all sprightly. It did feel like a car on a 10-year-old platform, because, let’s face it, that’s what it was. The second major issue was the dealership – it had a distinct whiff of ‘we’re doomed’ and ‘I don’t care’ about it. Point of fact – I never received a follow-up phone call about my extensive test drive.
The Mondeo was too small and I didn’t really see myself owning one. That left only one – the Skoda Superb 162TSI. Why wasn’t the Passat tested? Same price, smaller, and runs the 132kW engine as opposed to the Superb’s GTI-sourced 162kW/350Nm. Interior-wise, there’s no significant difference – so for the same coin you’d be buying a smaller, slower car simply for its badge. I’m no badge snob. I own a Skoda.
I was worried about the DSG and its woes (so oft reported on here…). If your driving style is to mash the hell out of the pedals, then yes, I suppose they’re jerky. Driven with intelligence, there’s no issue.
I have so far covered 23,000km in 14 months of ownership. I average 8.2L/100km on 98 in Sydney traffic.
Mine is a white one with an Image Pack ($1900 extra RRP). This adds 19-inch wheels, flappy paddles, lowered suspension, and LED wrap-around coloured lighting to name but a few items. The interior is cavernous – indeed it has Holden Caprice rear leg room. It is only slightly narrower than the Commodore but just as long, yet only weighs 1490kg – some 300kg lighter. Thanks to the MQB platform for that one.
The interior is a pleasant, if staid, place to be. Everything falls to hand nicely, and the obligatory start/stop switch is easy to switch off on start-up. The electric park brake is fantastic and sounds like an aeroplane’s landing gear being raised. The seats are comfortable – and heated in the front – but could do with some greater lateral support. The rears hold three child seats, including reversed infant carriers, with no issue.
The cargo area is cavernous – in real-life terms it can hold a double pram, a single pram, and a week's worth of groceries without an issue. The hooks on the side make it easy to hang bags of groceries, so there’s no rolling around mess to deal with later.
The car still has a CD player, which is used occasionally, and the Columbus unit works well and has had no issues. However, VW/Skoda need to update their maps – I was most displeased to find that speed cameras are not listed/shown on this device. The speakers do an adequate job with music – they’re not the best, but unless you listen to music at 10/10ths, then there’s no reason to upgrade, I feel.
How does it drive? Essentially like an LLWB – a long, long wheel-base GTI. Driving maturely, you surf on a broad band of torque that is available from 1500rpm. There is a sport option – either through the menus or just tip the DSG lever down – and that sets things alight! The only problem is that it's the same engine map from the GTI, and in a family wagon it doesn’t really suit. Sport increases throttle response and holds gears until ridiculous RPM. On downshifts it revs out and sounds fantastic, but you probably look and sound like a bit of a wanker to passers-by…
In all seriousness, the ‘normal’ drive mode is all anyone needs in a car like this: the car is still very rapid (0–100km/h in 6.8sec as tested by several Australian publications) and super smooth. Using ‘sport’ mode on the roll, you will pleasantly surprise local V8 drivers. Off-the-mark acceleration is brisk and the traction control works well.
Do you need the AWD Golf R-engined Superb 206 for an extra $10K? Not unless you drive in the wet – a lot.
Considering there are quite a few Stage 1-modified Superbs running around with 233kW and 500Nm in both the FWD and AWD form, it is reassuring to know the VW EA888 is unstressed in its 162 tune. The steering is nicely weighted – you can tell it's artificial and lacks some feel, but only falls behind something like, ironically, a VF Commodore.
Perhaps the ‘worst’ thing about suburban driving in the Superb is speed humps, as the long wheelbase makes for a real bouncy, floaty feel, irrespective of how slow you go (and I’m a nanna on speed humps). Sound insulation, especially on 19s, is impressive, but not as good as the VF SV6 (which was on 18s).
The exterior design of the car is one of its great attributes. The previous model was very dowdy – for grandpas only. The lines of this model are stunningly sharp – Audi-esque. I’m sure VW and Audi salespeople aren’t fond of the Superbs sitting in their yard. I say that because no-one knows what car it is. Is it an Alfa, a Jag, a Volvo? Everyone has their guesses, but most say it's an Audi. I’ll take that, and I can see why – quite similar design language.
Frustrations? You have the feeling that Skoda is being held back by VW (and understandably so). Maybe the interior could have been more impressive (the VF's was better), and maybe the engine could punch out 180–190kW in standard form (but then it would have far too much head room on the Passat).
The build quality has been fantastic – the fit and finish, there are no panel gaps, rattles. The thickness of the paint could be better, but I think most modern cars skimp on this.
It’s had one service at 15,000km that cost $320. I am a 20-minute walk from my dealership, which sells and services about a dozen brands. No complaints with the service. There was a slight leak in the thermostat at 15,000km, which the dealership picked up during the service, and it was replaced no charge with a free loan car for the day.
Overall, the brand Skoda is the modern Saab. Understated but cool and respected by those in the know – scoffed at by those who are ignorant. I would happily recommend Skoda and the Superb to anyone looking for room for a family, a punchy dynamic car, and who doesn’t want to be a sheep and buy an SUV.