Czech mate: how Skoda became stylish
We’ve finally realised that the smart new Skoda Superb offers the quality and looks of its VW and Audi stablemates at a fraction of the price, says Charles Rangeley-wilson
EVER since I first drove a Skoda Octavia VRS back in the early 2000s, I’ve been extolling the Czech marque to anyone who fancied a new car. I argued a Skoda was basically a VW, which was basically an Audi, and it was cool to get the inexpensive version of a stealthily smart car, with the tech of the high-end incarnations at a fraction of the price. I don’t think anyone followed my advice—i didn’t follow it myself.
When Skoda brought out the second-generation Superb, this resistance to an inexpensive version of a good thing became bewildering. The Superb was a luxurious Tardis: more spacious than anything on the road, well equipped and a lot of car for the money. And yet it sold only about 3,000 to 4,000 cars a month across Europe, inexplicably fewer than its stablemates the VW Passat or the Audi A6.
Now, there’s a new Superb and, if anything could make a case for the impact of styling, it’s this third incarnation. The frumpy, startled bovine looks of its predecessor have been trans- formed into something more edgy and sharp. I first noticed it on the road late last year when someone I knew swept by, shades on and cool at the wheel of a car that would have looked at home parked beside an Audi or BMW.
A month or two later, someone else I knew was at the wheel of a Superb. Soon, they were everywhere. With one sweep of the pen, Skoda had shucked off whatever misgivings people were having and, suddenly, it couldn’t build its cars fast enough. European sales of the new Superb doubled the month it was launched and had almost trebled by this summer.
So what’s all the fuss about? Beyond the now-presentable exterior, the new Superb builds on its established virtues of spaciousness, practicality and specification. You won’t easily find a car that will swallow more luggage or transport all its occupants so roomily. The boot is a cavernous 660 litres, bigger than a Mercedes E-class, and, with a flick of two levers, the rear seats ping flat and stretch the loading space out to wardrobe and proportions. In their upright position, the rear seats offer club-class legroom, even with the front seats pushed back.
Neat design touches abound: a boot light that can be taken out and used as a torch, a boot lid that opens when you sweep your foot under the bumper, an integrated, fold-out towbar, a glovebox that doubles as a chiller and useful luggage nets, shopping-bag hooks, cubby- holes and bottle holders all over the place.
It’s a car designed for growing families by someone with a growing family. You get the feeling the designers have gone shopping with three children, come back to the car laden with stuff and thought of everything to make life that little bit easier.
On the move, the Superb is a pleasant, if unremarkable drive. The handling is neutral, predictable and tidy. Its 4x4 capabilities are powered either by a grunty 190bhp 2-litre diesel engine—whose buzzy soundtrack doesn’t do the justice to the otherwise imperious machine—or a smoother, and more lively,