– Fair engine power
– Tons of cabin space
– Self-parking feature
– Dull cabin styling
– No USB port for stereo
– Pricey for an upstart brand
It’s not every day that we get to drive a product of the Volkswagen conglomerate. It is also a rarer event when the product happens to be a Skoda, the Czech carmaker that was bought out by the Germans a couple of decades ago. The Superb 3.6 is Skoda’s flagship model, and while it is supposed to be a “budget” brand, this car is better in many ways than the German-built VW Passat it is based on.
For one, the Skoda Superb is visibly longer than the VW Passat. Some could argue it also looks as bland as a Passat, but the Superb has a sort of understated elegance to it. A squared-out roof area and long rear doors hint at what awaits inside.
The Superb may be a midsize, but with its stretched wheelbase, interior space is immense. Front passengers enjoy moderately-bolstered seats, but in the back, rear passengers get enough legroom to rival the Rolls Royce Ghost. It just is that efficiently spaced out, although headroom is more adequate rather than abundant, while width is visibly narrower than a real full-size car. There are two small covered cup-holders up front and two pop-out ones in the back, while the luggage trunk is pretty darn big. And that’s where the Superb is unique again, because the boot lid can either open in typical sedan fashion, or fully lift up like on a hatchback, window and all, to make the opening larger. While the benefits of this complexity are dubious at best, it will impress your friends. More useful are the little pop-out hooks in the boot to hang small grocery bags from.
Cabin materials are pretty good, on par for its price, with a soft-touch dash, soft-touch upper door trim, padded door inserts, padded stereo console and even soft-touch trim on the glove box lid. There are bits of hard plastic on the upper doors, while hard plastics dominate below the belt-line, but that is standard for this class. Build quality is perfectly solid, although some panel gaps are a bit excessive by intentional design.
Tech features in our tester were moderate, with regular keyless entry but no starter button system, touchscreen stereo control display but no navigation, and a sunroof but no panoramic glass ceiling. Also included in the Superb 3.6 are cruise control, a full set of airbags, HID headlights with fog lamps, pull-up sun blinds for all rear windows, and the usual power accessories. The dual-zone a/c performed perfectly fine in November weather, and it has rear pillar-mounted vents. Rear passengers even get a digital clock and outside temperature display, but no rear a/c controls. The stereo is very good, with steering wheel controls, working Bluetooth phone and even an SD card reader, but oddly enough, there is no USB/iPod port, which would require an aftermarket adapter to be installed via an included “multimedia” port.
But all that pales in comparison to this Skoda’s hidden gem. Tucked away next to the shifter is a button that activates the “Park Assist” feature, a system that detects parallel parking spaces and then actually parks the car! All the driver has to do is use the accelerator, brake and shifter according to the instructions displayed on an LCD screen within the gauges. The steering wheel twirls by itself and parks it perfectly each time, using the front and rear parking sensors as a guide. It takes a leap of faith to trust the system considering how close it cuts to other parked cars, but it does the job. Peculiarly, our test car has faults in other electronics which threw warning messages such as “Brake Servo Fault” and “ESP Off” once a day, but these disappeared once the car was restarted, and our brakes were always perfectly fine. However, we never could get the cruise control to work.
The top-spec engine is a sizeable 3.6-litre V6, delivering 256 hp at 6000 rpm and 350 Nm of torque at only 2500 rpm. These may seem like average figures in this segment, but that low-end torque makes all the difference, making the Superb feel quicker than it should be, and also making for unstressed daily driving. The heavier-than-average 1740-kg sedan clocked in 7.6 seconds in our 0-100 kph run, helped along by a “dual-clutch” 6-speed automanual gearbox set to ‘sport’ mode to hold on to revs longer. The automanual, also known as a “DSG” transmission, did its job smoothly without the usual jerkiness associated with such gimmicky gearboxes, while shifting in manual mode produced a split-second delay in responses rather than instantaneous changes. Our average fuel economy was around 12.5 litres/100 km, although it seemed to vary wildly between 9.5 and 13.5 depending on which day we were driving.
Handling is pretty damn good for a car like this. Grip is commendable from the 225/40 tyres wrapping the 18-inch wheels. We later remembered that our car had a “4×4” badge on its tail and on the shifter, but this car’s basic all-wheel-drive system doesn’t really come into play in dry weather, trundling along in front-wheel-drive mode most of the time. It did kill any hint of wheelspin on hard take-offs, even with stability control off. The ABS-assisted disc brakes work well, while the steering is limited in feel but comfortably weighted. Body roll is only moderate at the limit, and is suppressed very quickly. In fact, we were chasing cocky BMW drivers rather easily around off-ramps and curvy roads, not particularly because the Superb can out-handle a BMW, but because it is good enough to keep up with BMWs driven by aggressive amateurs.
Ride quality and general quietness are good too, up to a point. The suspension needs to be firm for handling prowess, so an occasional jitteriness may be felt on some road surfaces, but is otherwise smooth. Wind noise is quelled decently up to 120 kph, reduced to a constant hush. All-round visibility is good thanks to thin pillars and tall windows. Driving this car is easy.
The Superb is a great car considering what Skoda used to build 20 years ago. It is also unique in its combination of abilities that would make it a great buy to impress your friends. Who wouldn’t be impressed by a car that has a trick boot lid, limo-like legroom and parks itself?