New line in the sand

The Courier-Mail - Cars Guide - - First Drive - RICHARD BLACK­BURN CARS­GUIDE ED­I­TOR

BUY a car from emerg­ing Czech brand Skoda and you’re or­der­ing the au­to­mo­tive equiv­a­lent of the works burger.

The car maker, part of the Volk­swa­gen Group, says the vast ma­jor­ity of its buy­ers tick at least one op­tion box when or­der­ing their new car.

Skoda manag­ing di­rec­tor Michael Irmer says 90 per cent of cus­tomers pay ex­tra for its “Tech” or “Com­fort” pack­ages.

That’s the think­ing be­hind the new Sport­line edi­tion of the Su­perb large car.

For an ex­tra $1000, buy­ers can or­der a visual makeover that in­cludes big 19-inch “an­thracite” al­loy rims, sports seats, flat-bot­tomed steer­ing wheel and other styling cues to lift the ap­pear­ance of the car.

On the out­side, the Sport­line is dif­fer­en­ti­ated by a black grille, black side mir­rors and a rear end treat­ment that in­cludes chrome twin ex­hausts.

In­side, there are suede-look fin­ishes on the seats and doors, white stitch­ing on the per­fo­rated leather steer­ing wheel, black roof lin­ing, dis­tinc­tive in­stru­ment clus­ter and a faux car­bon-fi­bre strip across the dash. Th­ese small touches add up to a cabin that has loads more char­ac­ter than your av­er­age fam­ily sedan or wagon.

The Su­perb Sport­line isn’t cheap. A sedan costs $51,990 and a wagon $53,690, while the Tech Pack adds $3400 and the Com­fort Pack costs $700. If sun­roofs are your thing, that’ll cost $1700 for the sedan or $1900 for the wagon.

Fully loaded, the Skoda costs as much as a BMW 3 Se­ries or an A4 from VW stable­mate Audi.

Irmer has some ad­vice for the brand snobs: “If you set aside per­cep­tion and deal in re­al­ity, the Su­perb in all its forms is sub­stan­tially the best big car buy on the mar­ket.

“We’re see­ing that here and in Europe our still young, chal­lenger model is be­ing com­pared with pres­tige brands such as Mercedes-Benz.”

Skoda doesn’t have the brand ca­chet of a MercedesBenz but Irmer is right when he claims you get a lot of car for your money with a Skoda.

The sim­i­larly priced A4s and BMWs are smaller in­side and have less pow­er­ful en­gines — the A4 has a 1.4-litre turbo four and the 3 Se­ries a 1.5-litre triple.

The Su­perb’s 2.0-litre turbo puts out 206kW, more than dou­ble the power of BMW’s 318.

It’s a sim­i­lar value propo­si­tion to that of the Holden Com­modore and Ford Fal­con for so many years. Buy­ers lament­ing the loss of the Calais and G6E would do well to have a look at the Su­perb. ON THE ROAD We drove the wagon ver­sion of the Sport­line, which roughly costs the same as a mid-range seven-seater SUV such as the Hyundai Santa Fe. Apart from the ob­vi­ous lack of a third row, the Su­perb stacks up pretty well as a fam­ily wagon, with a heap of space in the lug­gage area.

The ex­act fig­ures are 660L and 1950L with the rear seats folded (more than a Santa Fe).

The Su­perb’s big­gest strength is the way it drives. With a lower cen­tre of grav­ity than your av­er­age SUV, the Su­perb feels supremely planted through the cor­ners.

Steer­ing feel is a lit­tle light but there’s plenty of grip from the all-wheel-drive set up and it deals well with mid-cor­ner bumps and cor­ru­ga­tions. Its rip­per driv­e­line de­liv­ers plenty of shove off the mark and the gear shifts are swift and smooth.

There’s even a sporty pop when it changes gear. It’s the kind of car that’s equally happy cruising the sub­urbs or carv­ing through cor­ners.

The num­bers are im­pres­sive, too — Skoda claims the Su­perb will do 0-100km/h in 5.8 sec­onds but still re­turn just 7.3L/100km. Around town, though you are more likely to see mid-teens in heavy traf­fic.

The seats give good sup­port and the cabin ma­te­ri­als and fin­ishes are top-notch qual­ity. VERDICT Fam­ily sedans and wag­ons may not be fash­ion­able — Skoda sold only 733 Su­perbs last year — but they pro­vide a mix of prac­ti­cal­ity and com­fort that’s hard to beat. The Su­perb is one of the best of the breed and the Sport­line ver­sions are great value ad­di­tions to the line-up.

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