Skoda is an ambitious brand for sure. After initially tasting success with the Octavia and Laura, the company has followed it up with the new Superb. Our test drive reveals why the Skoda Superb remains the pick of the Premium Sedan market.
While previous versions of the Skoda Superb were really nothing more than a re-badged (and cheaper) version of the Volkswagen Passat, the new Superb is a ground-up design with a lot of intelligent and independent thinking. Sure, the Volkswagen Group parts bin has been raided for economies of scale, but then the Superb is only the better for it.
Design & Engineering
Clockwise from top left: Sunroof is standard on Elegance variant; automatic headlights have wash function; tail-lamps seem a little out-dated compared to rest of Superb; 16-inch alloy wheels available in 2 designs
The Skoda Superb impresses with its size, and this first impression is important for the customer demographic which buys into this class of car. It is a sharp-looking car, with clean lines and an understated air, which we find very appealing. Of course, it is not entirely perfect, and the tail lamps look like something from a late-90s Renault. When viewed from front three-fourths or in profile, the Superb shows off its best angles.
The long rear door is evident when you look at the side profile of the Skoda Superb, and clearly hints at the acres of space that await you inside. The Skoda Superb is nearly five metres long (4,838 mm to be exact) and the wheelbase is similarly rangy as well, measuring 2,761mm. The excellent space available on the inside has a lot to do with the Superb’s packaging, with a transversely-mounted engine and front-wheel drive arrangement.
At the front, suspension duties are handled by McPherson struts, with a triangular lower arm and a stabiliser or anti-roll bar. Such a layout is pretty standard with front-wheel drive cars, but a lot can be achieved with how the set-up has been tuned, and in the Superb’s case, Skoda’s engineers have pretty much nailed it.
At the rear, the Superb gets a multi-link axle, with one longitudinal and three transverse links. This layout is responsible in a large part for the way the Superb handles and exhibits good body control.
The Superb we drove is powered by the VW Group’s ubiquitous 1.8-litre TSI engine. This power unit boasts of direct fuel injection and a turbocharger to push out excellent power and torque figures: 160 PS and 250 Nm. The engine drives the front wheels through a 7-speed dual-clutch DSG gearbox, with paddle shifters on the steering wheel if you want to drive it in manual mode.
The Skoda Superb's boot can be opened conventionally, or fully like a hatch for towing large items. Boot is a commodious 565 litres, which balloons to 1700 litres with the rear seat folded. Rear seat back splits for added versatility.
Interiors & Comfort
Like we mentioned earlier, the Skoda Superb boasts of a truly commodious interior, and rivals cars three times its price on this front. The dashboard is dual-colour black and beige, with a faux-wood trim running the length of the dashboard. This wooden trim is also on the doors below the window line. Chrome garnish on the AC vents, door locks and steering wheel boss brighten up the interiors.
Our test car was equipped with cream leather upholstery, which is the only option. Skoda could offer customers the option of other colours as well, and this will definitely boost appeal for prospective buyers.
The Skoda Superb comes fully-equipped with a touchscreen audio system, with controls on the steering wheel. You can sync your phone to the system as well. On the Elegance variant, you also get a memory card slot and an in-dash 6 CD changer.
The driver’s seat is powered and has a memory function as well, which is useful is you are chauffer driven and also like to slip behind the wheel from time to time. The steering wheel adjusts for rake and reach as well. The Superb also has an electrically-operated sunroof, which is standard on the Elegance variant we drove.
For many customers in this segment, rear seat space is all important, and this is singularly the Skoda Superb’s trump card. The rangy wheelbase and clever packaging has liberated acres of space in the passenger cabin, and you’ll find enough space to stretch your legs even if you’re close to seven feet tall, and this is no exaggeration.
The Skoda Superb’s ride quality is slightly on the stiffer side, and it isn’t as pliant at low speeds as say a Honda Accord or Nissan Teana. You do tend to feel a slight side-to-side oscillation as the suspension copes with ruts and bumps. The suspension set-up is very ‘European’ in this regard, with the focus on body control and competent handling. The good part though is that at higher speeds the Superb boasts of superb ride quality, pun excused. The way the Skoda Superb smothers bumps at speed is a very impressive attribute of the car.
Clockwise from left: Skoda Superb boasts of enormous rear legroom; privacy blinds useful; powered memory seats
Performance & Handling
Key to the way the Superb drives is the excellent TSI motor and DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox) combo. TSI is the Volkswagen Group’s nomenclature for forced-induction engines, be they turbocharged (as in the case of the Skoda Superb) or ‘Twincharged’ that is to say the engine has both a turbocharger and a supercharger. Direct fuel injection also improves throttle response. The Skoda Superb 1.8 TSI pumps out 160 PS of power and a useful 250 Nm of torque, which comes in at a low 1750 rpm. Petrol engines aren’t known for low-rpm torquey responses, but in the Superb’s case the turbo and direct fuel injection together construe to develop very good low-end power and torque. The dual clutch automatic gearbox ensures that there is very little lag between gearshifts, with each ratio lined up to perfection, which translates to seamless power delivery. This gearbox is intelligent too, and when slowing from high speed, if you stab the accelerator to speed up again, it drops down more than one ratio to put the engine back in the meat of the powerband.
In traffic it takes a little getting used to however, compared to a conventional automatic, and sometimes the software is overwhelmed in stop-start traffic, leading to some lurching as the electronic brain scrambles to select the ideal ratio. You also have the option of using the manual override to change gears, which can be activated either by pushing the gear lever forward to change up, or back to change down, or by use of the paddles behind the steering wheel. Bear in mind though that the paddles turn with the wheel, so it may happen that you press the wrong paddle with the wheel turned.
The Skoda Superb’s small steering wheel feels good to hold and it is easy to pick a line, whether threading through traffic or attacking some bends on an open road. You do wish there was more ‘feel’ however, with slightly anaesthetised responses through the ’wheel. The stiffly set-up suspension we were talking about earlier sparkles in such conditions, and the Superb’s handling proves to be a delight for the enthusiastic driver, belying this car’s substantial size.
A large petrol saloon with an automatic transmission may give prospective owners palpitations when considering the fuel bills, but the Superb surprises once again, in a positive way. The technology on offer translates into good fuel efficiency, and the 7-speed DSG gearbox actually delivers better fuel efficiency than the regular 6-speed manual. ARAI has certified the Skoda Superb 1.8 TSI AT at 13.7 km/l overall, and while you may not get anywhere near that figure in city conditions, you can certainly match or exceed that figure on the highway. Our city fuel run delivered a more realistic 8.7 km/l, which is excellent for a car of this size.
The Skoda Superb’s strong European heritage comes to the fore when you look at the safety features on offer. The Skoda Superb Elegance we tested is fully-loaded, with 8 airbags, including rear airbags and full-length curtain airbags. The Superb Elegance also gets bi-xenon headlights with an automatic levelling system and a full-suite Electronic Stability Programme (ESP), which includes anti-lock brakes (ABS), Traction Control System (TCS), Electronic Differential Lock (ADL) and Anti-slip Regulation (ASR). The lower-spec Ambition variant gets ABS and ASR, but the full ESP functions are only available in the Elegance variant. A tyre pressure monitoring system is also available on the Skoda Superb Elegance, which detects a puncture or loss of pressure in any of the tyres and alerts the driver through the instrument panel display.
When you look at the Skoda Superb in its entirety, there’s no doubting what an excellent car it is. It’s hard not to be swayed by the high degree of safety and luxury features on offer. It is a technological marvel as well, and its powertrain is among the most sophisticated in its segment. Then you look at the price, which starts at Rs 18.5 lakh, ex-showroom Delhi for the manual Ambition variant. The Skoda Superb Elegance 1.8 TSI AT which we drove is available for Rs 21.7 lakh, ex-showroom, which is truly excellent value. It actually begets you to think why would a car buyer want to upgrade to a Mercedes C-Class / Audi A4 / BMW 3 Series, when the Superb offers so much more space and comparable features at a substantially lower price. The answer appears to be simply badge snobbery. Of course, a lot of technology means that the chances of something going wrong could be higher and we’ve all heard the odd horror story about the company’s obstinacy is placating its customers if and when something does go wrong. But this is crucial for a brand’s success in the lnog term, and a fact which Skoda India’s management is well aware of.
In sum, you cannot fault the Skoda Superb as a car. It truly is a superb automobile and its blend of quality, features and technology make it so.