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

Country Life Every Week - - In The Driving Seat -

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,

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