Let's deal with the name first: yes Skoda has called the car Superb, but it isn't an arrogant misnomer - there is a historical reason for it. Back in the 1920s, Skoda was one of the leaders in automotive design. Its product was the choice of many a royal family around Europe, and one of its models was the Superb, built from 1934 to 1949. Obviously the world order has re-aligned somewhat since those heady days but Skoda is back on the up. Lead by the success of the Fabia
, the range's quality has continued to improve. The Superb is the latest addition to the line-up.
First impressions are of a big, sleek, and particularly in the deep blue metallic of our test car, handsome machine that looks very much like a re-badged VW Passat. You would not be far wrong. The Superb is indeed based on a stretched Passat platform, but it's only when you stand and stare that you realise where the length is. The wheelbase is significantly longer and the roofline is stretched as a result. The thing is that the majority of these extra inches are in the rear portion. Look at the length of the rear door for evidence. It doesn't look huge until you zero in on it, or sit in the car for yourself.
This long wheelbase gives the Superb rear accommodation that very few cars can rival at any price. Six-foot adults can sit one behind the other in complete comfort. The roominess is aided by the huge glasshouse that creates an airiness not found in a lot of cars on the road today. It is genuinely limousine-like, with the impression of quality being added to by things such as the back lit door handles, the lights on the door mirrors that illuminate the pavement and the umbrella in the kerbside rear door's armrest. The standard equipment list is as long as your arm, with an excellent climate control system adding to the comfort of the marvellous leather seats (heated front and rear). The faux wood trim is a little disappointing, as is the quality of the material of the body of the main dash, but the overall package and quality is impressive for this price. The instrumentation in particular is notable and in terms of appearance is as good as most cars at much higher prices.
It would be a crying shame if all of this was superficial and the case fell apart once you turned the key, but fear not; it doesn't. The 2.8-litre V6 30 valve unit (which we're guessing is an Audi refugee) is smooth and refined and serves up its 193bhp and 206lb.ft in a smooth and linear fashion. Not lacking for outright urge, it feels significantly quicker than the 9.4 seconds to 60mph suggests; a fairer reflection is the 147mph maximum. The long legged gearing that sees second run out to over 70mph and third to over 100 probably hamper the sprinting ability, but are very much in tune with the Superb's intended use. Very quiet in ordinary driving, the V6 only becomes vocal above 4000rpm and even then it isn't a rude noise. It's a nice V6 snarl.
In just about every scenario the gearshift is seamless in full automatic mode; the only clue that you've changed gear is a deeper hum from the engine. On part throttle openings the 'box shifts nice and early to milk the muscularity from the torquey V6. Mash the throttle and it holds on right to the red line and shifts up smoothly at that point. It's a terrific box not matched elsewhere on the market at this price. A real boon is the Tiptronic function that allows manual shifting. It shifts almost instantaneously and is one of the best we've tried.
Outright handling isn't what this car is about, but you can hustle it along quite nicely. Only at extremes does it get untidy and understeer. The steering itself is well weighted and reasonably communicative. The payoff for the relative lack of sporting prowess is a high calibre ride quality. Low speed ride is befitting of the luxury car intent with all but the most severe of surfaces being damped out very effectively. High speed cruising is a relaxing affair as well, with the usual ruts and expansion gaps being absorbed with aplomb. Road noise is reduced to a minimum and wind noise isn't a factor below 80mph. It is a hugely refined car given the measly £21,540 asking price.
All in all, this package adds up to a compelling argument against purchasing a more expensive rival. Indeed to get a BMW 5-series of similar performance and equipment levels will cost in the region of £8k more; ditto for an E-class Mercedes. However, in this sector more than any other badge snobbery will come into play. But bear in mind that for the price of a two year old, second hand prestige marque, you could buy a brand new Superb. The question is how many people will be able to get over that mental badge barrier? The Superb deserves to find many homes; it really is a quality offering, unrivalled at the price. It may well end up being the choice of private hire firms and chauffeuring services which, whilst no disaster, would be a crying shame for those who overlook it. I think the image situation is best summed up by a Skoda owner from Sheffield who said; "So the guy next door doesn't like my Skoda? Well I don't like his hedge. Who cares?" Well said that man!