Big is good for Skoda – and the latest Superb is good enough to significantly enlarge the New Zealand distributor’s sales count.
BAD for the owner brand could theoretically be good for Skoda – should, that is, Volkswagen fans who want to keep enjoying German engineering at mainstream price yet prefer to avoid having to experience it behind a tarnished badge look to the logical alternate.
If Skoda should benefit from VW’s image here being blighted by the ‘diesel gate’ fall-out, then it will be by nothing more than happenstance, not intention.
At the best of times, VW brands tend to avoid competing directly with each other anyway but it’s more a matter of playing a fair game – leveraging from another family member’s misfortune is not part of Skoda NZ’s plan, boss Greg Leet made clear to Motoring Network.
In any event, he says, regardless of the owner’s cheating controversy, Skoda’s brand strength is already climbing, with a significant 2015 ascendancy having already begun even before the Americans notified that emissions from a diesel engine offered by the parent (and used by just one Skoda model, a Yeti) was not as clean as the maker had advertised.
Reminds Leet: “In a market that has experienced around five percent growth year to date we are at 22 percent (growth).”
By August it had already surpassed the 870 sales total for all of 2014 and is confident the milestone of 1000 sales can be reached by December 31. And that target is nothing but a waypoint on the Skoda NZ sales journey. It is targeting 1300 registrations in 2016, a big effort for a sales network comprising just seven dealers.
The drivers are the medium Octavia (their No.1 for several years now) and the new generation of its big brother, the new Superb.
These medium and large models will hold the line until 2017, when Skoda’s first big sports utility – spun off the new Audi Q7 and next year’s VW Touareg – comes along.
Obviously, with SUVs being particularly hot stuff at the moment, Leet is expecting big things from what will be the largest Skoda of modern times.
“You can imagine what an SUV will do for our range – it will be very significant”.
This year, though, the big thing is Superb, whose arrival has certainly put a spring in Skoda’s step.
Big road-tuned passenger cars in general are losing sales, but the outgoing Superb was an exception. Being diesel, mainly in four-wheel-drive and presenting as a cost-effective extra-large European in sedan and wagon format is a format that worked well enough for the outgoing car and Leet and his staff anticipate the smarter-looking replacement will do so much better again.
Well, within reason. An anticipated 200 sales in 2016 is still one-third the predicted Octavia tally and, in fact, would be represent just a couple of weeks’ decent sales for the Holden Commodore (which, incidentally, isn’t a direct threat).
Nonetheless, that volume prediction is good enough to inspire the brand to bring in eight derivatives, against four before.
Now we have four sedans - a descriptive the brand insists on regardless that it is actually a lift back - and four wagons, from a 1.8-litre petrol front-drive sedan to a four-wheel-drive turbo diesel wagon, with a 2.0-litre turbo diesel that arrives in two states of tune, the bigger-muscled edition being reserved for the most expensive editions.
Whereas the old car placed from $43,900 through to $59,900, the new ranges from $44,900 to $62,900, a small increase given the big advances, starting with build being on Volkswagen Group's latest modular MQB platform.
It also adopts the latest new-generation direct injected and turbocharged petrol and diesel engines and delivers some significant new technology, though the update for NZ is not quite to the same level enjoyed by Skoda’s home market customer base.
The Superb’s ace feature has always been impressive interior space and nothing changes this time around. It’s bigger than ever and yet, impressively, weighs 75kg less than the outgoing car.
While being based on the VW Passat officially makes it a medium car, you’re going to think of it as being a large or, for that matter, an extra-large. The news is especially good for rear-seat passengers who get almost limo-like leg-stretching space. But boot size is also as impressive; 584 litres for the sedan and 619 in wagon format even before the seats are folded puts this car in the mega league, right up there with much physically larger sports utilities featuring the ‘Land’ prefix. It’s hard to name another Euro wagon that matches the Superb load-all for sheer capacity.
Smart styling is also a hallmark of the generation three car though it does dial back on the creativity in one respect: The nifty Twin Door. It’s a pity that the novel tailgate that offered both kinds of opening system has not transferred, though that’s hardly to suggest the conventional hatch opening that replaces is a step back in respect to convenience.
Regardless, it is a sharp-lookers from having retained the basic design themes from the extrovert Vision C concept revealed at the 2014 Geneva motor show.
The Skoda corporate grille sits prominently and is flanked by angular headlights; short front overhangs and a low nose, while in profile the sedan is more coupe-like than the current offer.
For all that, it’s not going to be a surprise that the wagon looks even better. European design studios consistently knock out some stunning load-alls, of course, but it’s a real thumbs up for Skoda that their people have potentially just delivered the best looking hauler within the VW Group; it’s actually not difficult to imagine this version comfortably wearing the four interlinked circles of Audi, actually. It has that level of quality.
Design boldness continues within a cabin that, again, is hardly short of Audi-esque design overtones. The NZ market cars deliver a Style level of specification which makes heavy use of brushed aluminium, and in the front-driven models the seats are upholstered with alcantara materials, while the four-wheel-drive models have leather.
Standard safety, security and connectivity specification in front-drive includes radar-based autonomous braking, front and rear parking sensors and reversing camera, satellite navigation, dual-zone air conditioning, SmartLink connectivity that brings together Apple and Android operating systems, Bluetooth with wireless signal booster, and voice control for the telephone.
The four-wheel-drive models lift further, with radar-based adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, blind-spot detection, parallel park assist, keyless entry and start, and a function called Virtual Pedal which allows the holder of the key to open the rear load area by waving a foot under the vehicle's rear bumper.
It could have been smarter. Like VW with Passat, Skoda has unfortunately been denied the smart tech features of auto-dip headlights and road sign recognition until VW Group establishes our conditions are up to snuff (a touch pompous when BMW and Mercedes run both without issue). One curiosity is the keyless start; the push button activator is hidden away on the steering column where the key would normally insert.
The outgoing models’ petrol performance ranged from 118kW (1.8 four) to 191kW (3.6-litre V6 petrol) and 103kW and 125kW in 2.0-litre four-pot turbo diesel.
The six-cylinder has gone, but the fours all give more: That entry 1798cc four-cylinder turbo petrol creates maximum power of 132kW at 5100-6200rpm while the next step up 1984cc unit offers 206kW at 5600-6500 and 350Nm at 1700-5600rpm. In turbo diesel, the 1968cc pumps in two levels of tune, either 110kW at 3500rpm or 140kW at 3500-4000rpm and 340Nm at 1750-3000rpm and 400Nm@1750-3250rpm. The latter is restricted to the four-wheel-drive editions. The transmissions are direct shift manuals, a seven-speed for the petrol and a six behind the diesel.
Manufacturer-claimed fuel and economy ranges from 4.4 (TDi 110) to 7.1 (TSi 206kW 4x4) litres per 100km on the EU combined cycle. The fuel tank holds 66 litres.
You’re potentially already thinking how good this car looks against the rivals Skoda cares to list – Mazda6, Holden Commodore – and the higher-priced one they don’t (VW Passat).
Leaving driving impressions until now might suggest a ‘best for last’ angle, but that’s not entirely true. Out on the road, the parent brand will claim a sportier drive, for good reason.
Superb’s ride quality is quite refined in either body format, moreso than with the next size down Octavia, but though the pay-off for the comfort is, ultimately, a degree of body roll. It’s not a wishy-washy mess – crispness is still part of the package - but there’s enough movement to remind that this is not the Skoda in which you would choose to barrel into a corner and out the other side at some crazy angle. Skoda does build that kind of car, but it has badges that say ‘Octavia’ and ‘RS’.
The four-wheel-drive lends more traction on slippery roads and potentially gravel too; don’t venture into the green zone, though. Even though a suspension lift kit is optional, it’s not intended as an off-roader. The front-drive model is less sweetly balanced and its steering system offers less feedback. And, of course, tyre size comes into it as well; the Superb runs from 225/55 R17 to 225/45 R19s; the latter provide the best ride compliance and are quietest on coarse chip, but the latter of course look smartest and seem to provide the best grip.
If a word was required to sum up this car, it’d be ‘comfortable.’ The diesel engines are strong – though the higher-performance edition’s 60Nm torque gain is noticeable – but it’s a cruiser with a confident ambience.
Even if VW wasn’t in a rough patch, it’d have to be worried having a car of this competence within the family group.