First Drive: New Skoda is superb, if not quite supreme
The Skoda Superb is handsome, spacious and solid, but price is an issue, and it may face stiff competition from Skoda’s own Octavia
Date Reviewed: May 20, 2013
If you’re wondering why Skoda is launching an updated Superb at the same time it is bringing out the new Octavia and sundry Octavia variants, you are not alone.
Simple economics, it seems, is the equally simple answer. An all-new Superb is still some time away, and while that model will move the Superb up another notch in the motoring segments, the current model needs to do something to distract from the fact the new Octavia is partially poaching on its patch.
So, the Superb gets new styling, an updated cabin and some tweaks to the engines and transmissions that bring some useful improvements in efficiency. The front end, back as far as the windscreen, is all new, even if at first glance it doesn’t look it. It’s one of those facelifts that only really becomes apparent when you see old next to new. Then you spot the new bi-xenon and LED headlights, the smoother grille and, at the rear, the new LED tail-lights with their signature triple-swoop shape. Sadly, nothing has been done to reduce the awkwardly bulky lines of the c-pillar on the saloon, but the Combi estate looks as slick and classy as it ever did.
Inside, once again the tweaks are relatively minor. There is a new steering wheel, some new buttons and some new colours and trim items. Thankfully, the massive space and long-haul comfort and refinement have been retained, but here’s a new feature: the Superb has an optional controller for the electric front passenger seat. This allows a rear-seat occupant to move the front seat forward for even more legroom – it’s either for owners plying for chauffeur duty or for really bossy teenagers with freakishly long shins.
The same massive 595-litre boot (633-litre, expanding to 1,865-litre on the estate) remains, but the “Twindoor” system that allows you to open the boot either as a saloon or hatchback has been thankfully simplified. Before, it was press one button, wait a second, then press another. Now it’s one button for each function. The estate also has an optional electric tailgate.
Six-speed gearbox added
The most significant upgrade is the addition of a six-speed gearbox for the core 1.6 TDI diesel model, which previously made do with a five-speed box. It wasn’t exactly unrefined at a motorway cruise before, but the extra cog does make a noticeable aural difference (although it does struggle slightly for acceleration in that new top cog) and Skoda is claiming a 19 per cent increase in fuel efficiency. The 1.6 TDI Greenline version now records an impressive 109g/km CO2 emissions figure, knocking a tenner off your annual motor tax bill.
On the road the Superb remains much as it was before. It’s comfy, refined, easygoing and not interested in pin-sharp cornering. The nicely weighted steering is entirely mute, although front grip is actually quite good and the Superb can be successfully, if reluctantly, hustled through a series of tightening corners. Its competence is also partially ruined by a somewhat jittery ride quality. It just refuses to settle down properly on anything but a starched-and-pressed surface.
Other minor flaws include a fuel tank that’s too small, limiting cruising range even in the most frugal diesel model, and – because the Superb is built on a slightly older platform – an absence of the lovely, whizz-bang new touch-screen system that’s available in the Octavia.
Actually, it’s the Octavia that now represents the Superb’s biggest problem. The more affordable model has now become so talented that the only things the Superb can offer to justify its higher price tag are a smarter cabin and that massive cabin and boot volume.
Maintaining pricing distance
Price, too, could become an issue. Skoda Ireland wants to keep prices identical to the current model (€27,520 for the 1.6 TDI Greenline saloon; €25,510 for the nobody-will-buy-one base 1.4 TSI petrol spec), but headquarters in the Czech Republic wants an increase, to maintain the pricing distance between it and the Octavia and to better reflect Skoda’s burgeoning “affordable premium” reputation. While it has its flaws, I can’t think of a better family all-rounder than a 1.6 diesel Superb estate: except perhaps the Octavia Combi estate. And therein lies the Superb’s Achilles’ heel.
The Lowdown: Skoda Octavia 1.6 TDI Greenline saloon
1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel; 105bhp at 4,000rpm; 250Nm of torque at 1,500rpm
Claimed 4.4l/100km (63mpg)
109g/km ( motor tax €190)
Estimated at €27,500 (TBC)
OUR VERDICT Has the space and comfort features of a premium family car, but the more affordable Octavia is now its biggest rival