Škoda Superb Combi Elegance
Škoda Superb Combi Elegance 2.0 CR TDI DSG 170 PS (2013)
The new, facelifted facade places the Superb right in with the recent design trend of Škoda. Lines originating at the A pillar lead down all the way to the grille; then take a sharp turn to mark out the headlights. This is the kind of design that will not win anyone over, it is completely void of any wow factor; yet if you find it pleasing today you'll also do so five years from now. This is automotive design at its coldest, most rational incarnation; no excess and no kitsch. I would call it reserved and conventional which is actually a good thing and a pleasant break from today's mould of flashy design gaining the upper hand over functionality.
Our test vehicle was darn near fully loaded with all the amenities available from Škoda. I don't think any customer would actually opt for this high a specification, save perhaps corporate managers who are limited by brands but not by costs in their choice of a company car. Namely, for this kind of money you could buy a Passat or several other cars that carry a badge of higher prestige. Many people still consider that an important asset.
If you want your Superb equipped with a 170 PS diesel and DSG dual clutch gearbox you will have to fork out a lot even if you opt for the basic specification. The entry level car costs €29.670, while the Elegance specification that we drove costs a steep €36K and it's little consolation to know that this is indeed a well-equipped motor vehicle. Note the choice of words: you would be hard pressed to call even the top of the range Superb fully equipped because there is simply no way to specify the car with equipment such as adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning or blind spot monitoring. This is probably meant to differentiate the Škoda from more prestigious models within the Volkswagen Group.
This specific car we drove costs a staggering €43.300. While this may sound steep this was an extremely highly equipped car with all the usual gadgetry as well as the small, usually unsung extras Škoda has to offer, from the umbrella hidden in the left rear door through the removable flashlight in the trunk to the dedicated rear seat heating system or the plethora of package hooks in the trunk. The latter are in fact more important than you'd think because if a bag slides to the front section of the huge trunk you'll need to literally climb inside the luggage compartment to retrieve it.
But that's all right since immense space is the prime forte of the Superb. Rear legroom is gargantuan, making the BMW 5 feel like a Goggomobil. Not only that, even the trunk is humongous. You could do anything back there, but of course people who can afford a €43K Superb would probably prefer to do their anything at home or in a hotel room. The front row also offers plenty of space although the seats are too hard and their contour is less than ideal.
If you are familiar with previous offerings from the Volkswagen Group you will drive the Superb in a constant state of déjà vu, as many details are on loan from the last few years. Steering column stalks come from the VW Golf V, so does the entire floor console - well, not exactly, but it looks very similar. These have worked before so why reinvent the wheel? Designers were not bound by the promise of Vorsprung to keep coming up with new stuff: this is Škoda, not Audi. Especially because the quality would be befitting a Volkswagen; both fit & finish and the choice of materials are among the finest within the segment.
But the display between the two main gauges in the instrument cluster is a simple monochrome unit - Audi retired these in 2005 and has been using TFT panels since. These are the small things that help differentiate among brands within the Group. The silver lining to this is that the Škoda uses parts that have proven their worth over the years. No surprises, no risks.
The 170 PS diesel is a similarly well proven unit: a 2.0-litre common rail engine hooked up to a 6-speed DSG dual clutch gearbox. It's hard to fault the drivetrain: consumption is reserved; gear shifts are precise and well timed; there are always plenty of reserves for an overtaking manoeuvre or for some dynamic driving. Of course, compared to an Audi or a BMW there is more vibration at low revs, and the road noise is also more noticeable, especially coming from the rear. On the other hand the Škoda costs at least €10.000 less and that's a lot of money. Point being: despite the Alcantara and the beautiful leather upholstery, there is a difference between premium and premium.
The engine is easy on the fuel; we measured a test drive average of 6.1 l/100km and that's great. Although the DSG gearbox only has six gears you don't really need anything more. The final ratio is long enough, at 160 kph the engine runs at 3000 rpm, while limiting your speed to 100 kph rewards you with a consumption less than 5 l/100km. The maximum torque of 350 Nm is available in a wide rev range, the engine pulls nicely and evenly throughout the power band, giving the traction control constant work at start-offs. Given the weight and power of the car it is only sensible to opt for the full-time AWD option which costs just a tad over €2000.
The tuning of the chassis is another area where the car decidedly differs from proper premium models. At speeds over 80 kph sudden steering movements cause strange body movements, triggering the ESP. This looks like another point where costs were cut although it is more a matter of principle than a real-life issue. After all, this huge family station wagon is not meant to be driven in a sporty manner, and the car remains safe throughout the drive.
There are other means of cutting costs and hence purchase price. Škoda uses slightly older technologies and slightly less modern design; also, the newest high-tech options are simply not available for the car. I also suspect that noise insulation is less effective than on, say, a Passat; the double door seals may be of a simpler construction. Whatever they do seems to be premeditated and well thought out. Either way, the Škoda Superb is not an inferior car, far from it. It is a highly rational choice and a highly likeable car.
Of course you won't impress anyone with the car. On the other hand your neighbour will not be jealous either - after all, it's only a Škoda. For the same kind of money you could buy an Audi A4 - it would be smaller, more sparingly equipped but much more conspicuous. Your call.
Judging by the ergonomics and the controls the Superb is about 3 to 4 years behind the best VW can offer. If you think the lower price outweighs the outdated details and the lack of modern extras, go for it, you'll be happy with it. The quality is there, but this Superb is definitely not for hipsters.