Thursday, December 18, 2008

Skoda Superb


This is not the second-generation Superb from Skoda, but the third. The first appeared back in 1934, complete with running boards and huge proportions. The second took its time, not arriving until 2001.

Based on the Volkswagen Passat platform, it offered huge levels of comfort, a great drive and fantastic build quality, living up to is name. It underwent a facelift to come into line with the new Skoda 'look', but it was largely unchanged - until now.

The new Superb is a dramatic reincarnation - not just on the outside but in the interior too. Skoda is proud of the fact that this car is all-new, not just a Volkswagan Passat with Skoda body panels and switchgear.

It's also had a wholesale rejuvenation under the skin, using a combination of Passat underpinnings and Octavia parts, but Skoda insists that the platform on this car is totally new... and for the record, it's 6cm longer than the Ford Mondeo.

Almost 1,800 Superbs were sold in the UK last year, but Skoda is hoping this update will capture the imagination of those who just want something a bit different. It's a busy marketplace full of class acts: the Mondeo, the Citroen C5, Mazda 6 - and that's before you even consider the imminent arrival of the Insignia, Vauxhall's Vectra replacement.

So, can the Superb muscle its way through the family car throng and take on the heavyweights? Prices have not been finalised but they are expected to be competitive, ranging from £15,500 to £24,000. It's got a good platform and, with Skoda's increasing reputation for reliability, it must be a consideration for those who want a solid, classy, family four-door.

Reliability and quality

Skodas are generally very reliable and that is reflected in customer satisfaction surveys. Each year the Czech brand is right up there in the league tables and in 2008 Skoda finished second in the well-respected JD Power Customer Satisfaction Survey.

There's little to suggest that there'll be many issues with the new Superb. Everything feels solid, and the cabin materials are of high quality. Although Skoda boasts that this car is 'Skoda' from top to bottom, a lot of the interior equipment looks like it has come from a VW parts bin. The door panels and the controls on the doors are straight out of the Passat and the dashboard design on the Superb looks remarkably similar.

On the road

There are six engines available, three petrols and three diesels. Petrols include a 1.4-litre 123bhp, a 1.8-litre 158bhp and a 3.6-litre V6 which produces a hearty 256bhp. The entry-level petrol comes in six-speed manual only, but the 1.8 and 3.6 come with the DSG automated manual. The 3.6 is four-wheel drive only.

On the diesel front there are 1.9-litre 104bhp, 2.0-litre 138bhp and 2.0-litre 168bhp units. The 1.9 features a manual five-speed gearbox and the higher-powered diesels come with six-speed manual or DSG transmissions.

The new-seven speed Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) available with the 1.8 is new in the Superb. Unlike previous DSG gearboxes, the clutches are dry and this helps reduce friction, with the knock-on effect of reducing fuel use and lowering CO2 emissions.

We tested the 2.0-litre 138bhp diesel DSG and the 1.8-litre 158bhp petrol six-speed manual.

Both cars offer just enough grunt to pull the1,500kg kerbweight, but there is little between the two in outright performance. The DSG gearbox on the diesel felt slow to respond on kickdown: the 0-60mph sprint takes an ambling 10.2 seconds. The petrol version felt more energetic and, through the manual 'box, it takes 8.6 seconds to get to 60mph.

The Superb, though, is not about high energy - it's almost regal in its power delivery. You feel that it's telling you it's not going to compromise its dignity with a lot of noise and action.

It's hardly nimble and again you can feel the weight of the car when entering corners. That's not to say it lacks grip: you get just enough traction to make you feel confident about cornering at reasonably high speeds. Turn-in is keen and the steering is perfectly weighted. The brakes also feel solid and dependable.

And that's what this car is: solid, dependable and unflustered. It's not engaging, but it's not totally dull either. It's not as driveable as a Ford Mondeo, but you do feel more relaxed behind the wheel. The Superb is a great cruiser, with little road, engine or wind noise coming through to the cabin. It is quite serene and you'll feel relaxed after a long trip on the motorway.

Safety and security

Standard safety equipment includes seven airbags: dual front, dual side, dual front curtain airbags and a driver's knee airbag. The front passenger airbag can be switched off if you want to fit a baby seat. The rear seats feature Isofix child seat fasteners.

There's a gamut of safety systems on offer. Anti-Spin Regulation (ASR), Electronic Stability Programme (ESP) and anti-lock brakes are standard on all models. There's also remote central locking, an alarm and remote tailgate unlocking.

The new Superb has not been tested by Euro NCAP yet, but its platform is close to that of the Octavia's, which scored four out of five stars for adult occupant protection, four for child occupant protection and two (out of four) for pedestrian protection.

Running costs

There is a 'Greenline' version of the Skoda - another ecology-conscious variant that promises good fuel economy and low carbon dioxide emissions. This uses the 1.9-litre diesel engine and includes a diesel particulate filter. It emits 136g/km of CO2 and will return 55mpg.

If you are not feeling 'green' then go for the 138bhp diesel: it emits 155g/km of CO2, putting it in Band D for road tax (Band G from 2009), and returns 47.8mpg. The 158bhp petrol emits 180g/km of CO2, putting it in Band E (Band I from 2009) and returns 37mpg

Comfort and equipment

There are three trim levels to choose from: S, SE and Elegance. A series of touch-screen audio and sat nav systems are on offer in the three trims. This incorporates a dual receiver for improved radio reception and all come with MP3 functionality.

The sat nav is DVD-based and includes a 30GB hard disk (10GB for storage of maps and 20GB for music).

Optional extras include adaptive front lights that move in line with the direction you are travelling and automatic parking assist that will park the car automatically in tight spots.

Other options include tyre pressure monitor, hill-hold assistant, maxi-dot trip computer, multi-function steering wheel, parking sensors, heated seats, Bluetooth connectivity, 17" and 18" alloy wheels and full leather upholstery.

Interior space has been increased. The centre console has been slimmed down so there's 19mm more knee space for the driver width-wise - useful for long-haul trips. The Superb also offers more bootspace: with the rear seats up there's 565 litres and with the seats folded down there's 1,670 litres on offer. This represents an increase of more than 100 litres over the old model and it beats the Ford Mondeo, which offers 540 litres with the rear seats up and 1,460 litres with them folded down.

The Superb also features Skoda's new Twindoor that allows you to open the bootlid only when storing smaller item or to lift the entire tailgate for bulkier items.

Used value

Residual values for previous-generation Skoda Superb models were not exactly inspiring, returning between 34 and 39% of the car's original value after three years/30,000 miles.

The Czech manufacturer thinks there will be more appetite for the new model so you might expect to get up to 40% of the original value when you come to sell it on.

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