SKODA SU­PERB

MOSTLY WELL DONE, BUT DY­NAM­I­CALLY UN­DER-COOKED

Wheels (Australia) - - 2017 Car Of The Year - JOHN CAREY

BIG, HON­EST, good-look­ing and un­pre­ten­tiously ca­pa­ble, the Skoda Su­perb em­bod­ies the same virtues as Aus­tralia’s best. It’s the kind of car happy Fal­con and Com­modore own­ers look­ing for more of the same should con­sider come re­place­ment time.

There are some im­por­tant dif­fer­ences, of course. The Czech brand’s sedan is ac­tu­ally a lift­back, and both it and the wagon ver­sion are built on a plat­form that’s front-drive or all-wheel drive, not rear-drive. And the Skoda’s en­gine line-up is ex­clu­sively four-cylin­der and in­cludes a diesel.

Per­for­mance isn’t a prob­lem. The least ex­pen­sive front-drive Su­perb costs $39,990 and packs a 162kw tur­bocharged 2.0-litre be­neath its bon­net. It’s a $4000 step up from the 162TSI to the front-drive 140TDI, with its 140kw tur­bocharged 2.0-litre diesel. Top­ping the range is the $50,990 206TSI, fea­tur­ing a 206kw turbo 2.0-litre petrol­burner and AWD. Through­out the line-up the wagon adds just $1700. All the en­gines are teamed with a six-speed dual-clutch trans­mis­sion.

The power and torque of the front-drive Su­perbs, es­pe­cially the 162TSI, can some­times prove too much. Judges’ note­books con­tain men­tions of un­couth axle-tramp when ac­cel­er­at­ing from rest, and some even sug­gested the 162TSI would be a bet­ter car with less en­gine.

Once rolling, the most af­ford­able Su­perb feels feisty. The grav­elly but ef­fi­cient 140TDI is al­most as ea­ger, but it’s the 206TSI that is eas­ily the most im­pres­sive drive. Its all-wheel-drive tames the axle tramp and el­e­vates the han­dling to an­other plane, es­pe­cially on dirt, where Skoda’s ESC and ABS ex­per­tise was ev­i­dent. Some judges thought the 206 TSI the dy­namic equal of much more costly cars from VW Group sta­ble­mate Audi.

Su­perb uses the same flex­i­ble MQB ar­chi­tec­ture that un­der­pins a Golf VII, but stretched in ev­ery di­men­sion. It’s a hugely roomy car in­side, with mas­sive cargo ca­pac­ity.

Thanks to MQB, the Su­perb comes equipped stan­dard with an up-to-date suite of sen­sor-based ad­vanced safety and driver-aid sys­tems, in­clud­ing ac­tive cruise con­trol, plus good smart­phone con­nec­tiv­ity. ANCAP rates the Skoda a five-star car for crash safety, too.

But the car also in­cludes plenty of much sim­pler but still sur­pris­ing prac­ti­cal fea­tures. Best of these are the com­pact fold­ing um­brel­las stowed out of sight in­side the front door trims. The brand’s slo­gan is ‘Sim­ply Clever’, and the Czechs re­ally do strive to live up to it.

While well made, the in­te­rior is the place it’s most ob­vi­ous how Skoda makes its cars more af­ford­able. The ma­te­ri­als aren’t as high-grade as those used in a VW, and the over­all ef­fect is sturdy func­tion­al­ity rather than ev­ery­man lux­ury. There are also some flaws to be found in­side the Su­perb. Its front seats are se­ri­ously short of shoul­der sup­port. They don’t hold oc­cu­pants se­curely in place at even mod­er­ate cornering speeds.

Dy­nam­i­cally, the Skoda should be bet­ter. The brand used to con­sis­tently en­gi­neer its cars for a sweeter-than-av­er­age blend of ride com­fort and han­dling. The roads of the Czech Repub­lic are of­ten as aw­ful as Aus­tralia’s, so cars that worked for Skoda at home were fine here. But the new Su­perb has a too-firm ride and the stiff­ness doesn’t ap­pre­cia­bly en­hance han­dling. Adap­tive dampers do im­prove things, but they’re part of a $3400-$4700 Tech Pack op­tion bun­dle.

Still, most judges would en­dorse the sen­ti­ment ex­pressed in the note­book of Alex In­wood. “Don’t buy an SUV, buy this in­stead.”

SPECS BODY Type 4- door lift­back sedan/ 5- door wagon, 5 seats Boot ca­pac­ity 625 – 660 litres Weight 1463 – 1600kg DRIVETRAIN Lay­out front- en­gine ( east-west), FWD/ AWD Engines 1968cc 4cyl turbo- diesel (140kw/400nm); 1984cc 4cyl turbo (162kw/ 350Nm);...

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