Best buys – family saloons: Czech mate has so much space it echoes inside

Skoda Superb lives up to its name, but Camry’s return adds some life to dwindling saloon market

 

Best in class: Skoda Superb

We really should re-name this segment Family Estates because those are almost inevitably the best versions, and while no-one in Ireland much buys estates, (a) they should do and (b) no-one is much buying the saloons now, either. Whatever, Skoda’s Superb Combi (Skoda-speak for estate) is one of the very best cars you can buy, and a far, vastly, brilliantly better family car than almost any SUV or crossover you care to name. First it’s so big inside that it echoes. That boot is 660-litres and that’s before you fold the back seats. There’s legroom for the Harlem Gloebtrotters in the back (and even dinky little footrests on higher-spec models).

The cabin looks a bit plain, but it’s comfy up front, and always well-equipped. There’s no hybrid version (yet - wait for the facelift model later this year which will have a plugin hybrid donated from the VW Passat GTE) but the 1.5 TSI petrol and 2.0 TDI diesel engines are good enough for now. Quality is good, reliability excellent, and while it’s not huge fun to drive, it’s a great long-haul cruiser. Forget SUVs, get one of these.

Best one: Combi 2.0 TDI 150hp Sportline for €38,805

Prices: From €29,485. Finance from €319 per month.

In two words: Genuinely Superb.

Also try

Mazda 6

Mazda’s mid-size 6 saloon has been around in its current form since 2013, and in that time has gone through a series of frequent, but careful evolutions. Some of those have been simple tweaks and updates to the styling or the cabin, other have been big mechanical updates, or a new stability control system that actually fiddles with the engine’s power output to give you a better cornering stance. It all adds up, now, to a deeply impressive car, one that verges on the desirable - if you can wade past the horde of SUVs and premium-brand saloons that fog the air around this class of car. The 6 is handsome, very rewarding to drive, has excellent engines, and that legendary Mazda reliability on its side. On the downside, the infotainment system is a mess, there’s no hybrid option yet, and it would be nice to have the 3’s excellent new mild-hybrid 2.0-litre engine as an option. It’s also on the pricey side.

Best one: 2.0 165hp SkyActiv Platinum Tourer for €40,045

Prices: From €31,945. Finance from €342 per month.

In two words: Evolution works.

Ford Mondeo

The Mondeo soldiers on, seemingly unaware that Ford is coming ever closer, ever nearer, to giving it the final sanction. It surely can’t be long, in a world where Ford’s US operations have foresworn making and selling anything that’s not an SUV nor a pickup, before the Mondeo is gently led outside and given the bullet. When that happens, it will be a crying shame. Since 1993, the Mondeo has been a torch-bearer for Ford’s theory that if you make a car that has dynamic excellence at its core, people will flock to buy it.

That worked brilliantly right up to the point where people decided that what they wanted was the faux-ruggedness of and SUV and to hell with handling or steering response. A shame - the Mondeo isn’t as sharp as once it was to drive, but it’s still pretty darned good, and looks rather handsome into the bargain. The cabin is too plasticy, but it’s very spacious, although you’d want to keep an eye on overall quality, as early versions of this model were pretty shoddy. Hybrid model is a decent alternative to the diesel mainstream, although slightly more thirsty than you’d ideally like.

Best one: Maybe wait for the new Hybrid Estate

Prices: From €29,815. Finance from POA per month.

In two words: Hanging on.

Wild Card: Toyota Camry

It seems somehow odd that we should dub a car as traditionally conservative as the Toyota Camry as a ‘wild card’ but it, for now, is something of an outlier in the saloon car market. That’s because it straddles the top end of the mass-market brands, and the bottom end of the premium boys, when it comes to prices - a basic Camry (albeit one that’s very well equipped) is €39,750. It’s also a hybrid, which while it’s certainly appealing to a growing number of buyers is still not quite everyone’s cup of tea. We do kinda love it though, mostly because it doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not (i.e: sporty, sexy, or an SUV). What it is is built like a tank, comfy like a sofa, and with excellent refinement and economy. Shame that the infotainment system is rubbish, but then again it’s already selling strongly so maybe people don’t mind. What was that about a wild card again?

Best one: Camry Hybrid Platinum for €42,950

Prices: From €39,750. Finance from €304 per month.

In two words: Welcome return

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