The latest Skoda Superb wagon maintains a fine tradition of going extra-large on every one of its attractions.
For: High-end ambience, good looks, practicality, a great companion for long journeys.
Against: That grille, having to explain the oddball starter button location.
SKODA is getting bigger, everyone knows that: Not just in respect to volume output, but also with its sports utility vehicles.
It’s a logical priority push; given how much global and local interest there is in SUVs, you the Kodiaq and Snowman stand as dead certs to elevate all the more this brand’s already rising status.
The first is the bigger of the two, a full-sized seven-seater that has been previewed as the Model S. It’s based naturally enough off the same underpinnings that provide the latest Audi Q7 and the next Porsche Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg.
Skoda’s car is the last off the development rank, but the production model will be seen at the Paris Motor Show in September, potentially a year ahead of its New Zealand on-sale.
Could Snowman be here for winter of next year? That highly possible; it’s the new version of what we currently called the Yeti, this time based off the latest VW Tiguan that is coming on local sale within a few months. That doesn’t mean it’ll simply be the same thing with a different badge. Skoda has never had to do that: It’s cars are VWs at heart, but at face level have their own distinct character.
So, anyway, to this week’s test. If you are currently looking for a large Skoda that has personality and four-wheel-drive ability, then there’s nothing larger nor more capable than what you see here.
The Superb 4x4 140 TDI wagon isn’t attempting to fulfill as a pukka sports utility: It casts more comfortably in the role of being a road-bound wagon. In theory, that should keep it from clashing with the Passat Alltrack that rated well in a recent test, given that the VW has a high-riding, dirt-attuned aspect lacking from Skoda’s recipe.
In reality … well, I’m not so sure. These cars run the same platform and drivetrain and, for 90 percent of the time, are bound to be seen in all the same places and, certainly, used for all the same purposes. And they cost much the same money.
Alltrack maintains a technology edge, but what you get with the Skoda, though, is more substance. Indeed, that’s where the Superb stands out against all of its ilk. If it comes down to the level of ‘bigness’ for your buck, then this is a car that demands to be given very serious consideration.
No argument, the Superb's principal strength – in either this or the alternate sedan format - is its packaging. Yet, if you compare this car against its previous two generations, then it’s clear that styling has been an emergent strength. We’ve gone from awkward (the first car), to acceptable (the second) to something that now looks truly elegant and of this age.
The model that has progressed most in shedding its awkwardness is the sedan, yet the wagon here maintains dominance still as the better-looking car. The previous wagons’ sales dominance over its sedan counterpart was as much due to aesthetic reasons as much as practicality ands I suspect that’ll be a continuing trend.
Anyway, from which ever way you look at it, things have really come together for the load-all. It still looks a bit more conservative than what you get from VW and Audi, but only because Skoda has stuck with a longtime tradition of delivering a bit more of an edge to the shaping of its panels. But don’t think this is a car built to look like a box: Those days are long gone.
Added width enhances its visual presence on the road too, but I still find Skoda’s frontages a bit too confrontational, even though I’d agree this face benefits from some really neat design implementation. As chintzy as the concept of headlight details inspired by Czech crystal might sound, they look really fantastic. So, too, the Pointed, wraparound LED taillights, even if these have a touch of Audi A4 Avant about them.
All in all, there’s a true sense of elegance to this model. That’s accentuated by viewing the car in profile; to my eyes this offers the very best enjoyment. It’s here where you see proportional perfection. The gently sloping roof line and steeply raked rear wind screen are both beautifully designed and help to hide its 4856mm length well. Perhaps, too, it is a shape that is sensitive to colour, in which case the test car’s silver seems the perfect choice, as it too diminishes any sense of visual bulk. All in all, though, it’s truly a car that wouldn’t look out of place when parked up amidst the swank brands’ wagons.
The sense of enhanced style extends to the cabin as well. There's an obvious Volkswagen corporate look to the infotainment screen and switchgear, but that’s hardly a detraction. The parent brand’s interior design elements are really solid, now, and there’s nothing about them that suggests a less than modern presentation.
If anything, Skoda’s opportunity for enhancement, though limited to bespoke fonts and LED colours, makes a good thing even better; there’s just a touch more warmth to their displays.
What’s also attractive is the genuine luxury feel. The quality of the leather and alcantara coverings and the abundance of other soft materials, all in dark tones, give real opportunity for owners to play guess-the-price games with those unfamiliar with this car. You could bet that nine out of 10 will be guessing well above the $57,900 price tag. It’s not just the finish that suggests this is premium play; the fit, too, is as good as you’ll find anywhere else in the VW family.
All this might seem icing on the cake, because the primary reason for looking at a Superb wagon, surely, will be more to do with its genuine capaciousness. It’s hard to reconcile that this model rates as medium wagon because, really, it’s so much larger inside than anything else in that category, Passat included. It’s as though they’ve taken the blueprint for the VW car’s and simply upped every dimension by 10 percent.
Alternately, they’ve simply scaled and reshaped the old one. After all, the new model is 47mm wider than its predecessor and thanks to a miraculously malleable MQB platform — shared across the Volkswagen group of car companies — the wheelbase has been stretched by some 80mm.
Rear legroom is extremely good; Skoda itself modestly testifies that the only VW model with more is the long-wheelbase edition of the Audi A8 limo. It also wins a ‘best in show’ for boot capacity, with 660-litres with the seats up and a maximum of 1950 litres with the seats down.
This level of spaciousness is going to be considered a huge win for any family on the move, but what enhances the appeal of so much room is the dedication to detail: A 12-Volt auxiliary power outlet, locating hooks for shopping bags, a first aid kit and – something I liked best of all – a pack of luggage-locating brackets that can be positioned anywhere in the boot to keep luggage from sliding around. These are ingredients that show that Skoda has a very complete understanding of what makes a good station wagon. More? There’s also a ‘one-handed’ cup holder that grips a bottle for easy ‘one-hand’ opening and an ice scraper stored inside in the fuel filler cap.
There’s no shortage of good stuff up at the front end of the cabin either. As the top-end wagon, this version has all the usual creature comforts, but again seems to go that extra step: Instead of of a basic air conditioning system, for instance, it has a more upmarket three-zone climate control set up.
It also benefits from the latest in VW Group driver-assistance equipment. A forward-facing camera enables such technology as forward collision alert with autonomous braking in an emergency and lane-keeping with steering assistance. The adaptive cruise control is an option you need a must-have because it works so well.
The Superb is also one of the first VW Group cars here to take Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality in its infotainment system.
The only significant weirdness is the location of the ignition. Being the high-end edition, it befits a remote start button but for some reason, rather than plonk this in plain sight near the gear selector as Audi and VW do, Skoda has put their one on the steering column, right where the key would insert and completely hidden from view. I might have been caught out had not the service manager at the dealership where I picked up the car tipped me off. He professed to having spent some time looking in all the ‘right’ places before he located it.
Skoda doesn’t shy wholly from presenting as a sports brand – that’s why it still has a hand in the second tier of the World Rally Championship and also presents RS cars for the road – but at Superb level the emphasis is more on relaxed comfort than outright, tarmac-tearing kapow.
The choice of engine here reflects that consideration. With 140kW and 400Nm, this 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder is not without fire, but overall it’s the big torque that overshadows the power side of things and even though the car has a sports mode to hurry things along – and also bring the 0-100kmh time to a pretty nifty 7.7 seconds - it operates best as a relaxed cruiser.
That way you get to enjoy the typical diesel muscularity and have best chance to access some pretty decent economy. Skoda’s claim of an optimum 5.8 litres per 100km wasn’t met on our drive, but it doesn’t seem too far-fetched – the engine is certainly not straining at 100kmh. It’s quiet, too.
No surprise that it marries into a six-speed automated dual-clutch transmission. That’s the default choice for all VW Group cars with this engine. The DSG is generally a good thing, too, being more immediately reactive than a regular automatic or a constantly variable transmission, with facility to more easily drop back to the appropriate gear at the right moment for engine braking into a bend, and positive pull out the other side.
However, the engine and transmission are not always wholly in tune: I suspect the engine’s trait of offering a slight hesitancy in its response, what we’d call turbo lag, catches the transmission momentarily unawares, so there’s a bit of a jolt. I guess you’ve got to learn to live with it.
At the same token, once it gets through this there’s smoother sailing. You don’t find yourself having much need to chase ratios on regular basis in this car, so broad is the torque spread. But, as I say, it’s not about scintillating performance.
Relax, enjoy the ride. If you haven’t got that message from the engine, you’ll certainly hear it from the chassis. Even though it dresses up with flash alloys and lowish profile tyres, this version is not a sports wagon. At least, not in the same ilk as something out of the Audi Quattro stable.
Don’t sweat it. While the Superb isn’t as sharp-witted as anything built to an Ingolstadt recipe, it is equally as secure and there’s genuine compensation from Skoda’s preference for a softer suspension setting. A compliant ride is definitely welcome on the patchy and lumpy surfaces so prevalent on our secondary, country roads and the Skoda doesn’t disappoint in that situation. Yes, there’s some body roll, but on the other hand it floats over bumps and ruts. Obviously, the sports setting does alter things, but even with the ultimate firmness enacted there’s still a decent ride quality.
Consider it a cruiser with a confident ambience; the handling never approaches athleticism. On the other hand, it never falters to the point where the car feels like it is distancing itself from the road, either.
Even though the steering is light and precise there’s always a sense of engagement. You can add more weight (as well as sharpen throttle and DSG gearbox shift times) by toggling through the various driving modes – Comfort, Normal, Sport, Eco and Individual. The latters offers good opportunity to finetune.
However it is tailored, though, if you start pushing, it doesn’t take long to be reminded this is quite substantial car in respect to its size and, because of the all-paw drivetrain, its weight. But that’s not exactly unacceptable behaviour; if you’re going on a family holiday, for instance, the other occupants will be thankful if you dial back a bit and enjoy the scenery and, because of the engine, some very long stints between fuel stops.
Being sharper-looking than ever before and better-kitted too will do the Superb wagon no harm whatsoever, and the spaciousness and comfort are also winning aspects. Likewise the value pricing. All this adds up to it being a car that utterly aces as an absolute champion of the credo that ‘sensible is smart.’ That’s certainly what sells it to me.