ŠKODA's Superb aptly named
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As a car name, Superb might sound a little bit self-indulgent and, frankly, a bit cheesy - but it's not a new moniker, and back before World War II it was a flashy luxury ride that found favour with even flashier German officers.
Then Skoda met communism and its vehicles became dull boxes of no real automotive consequence, and the nameplate disappeared. The Volkswagen group resurrected the badge last decade, and recently it has really started to live up to its promise.
Getting into a large, high-spec Euro wagon has traditionally been a wallet-bruising exercise, but the Superb wagon range offers a couple of well-priced, very practical and well conceived options.
One step back from the powerful V6 version at the top of the range is the TDi 4x4, which offers a town/highway diesel thirst of just 6.3L/100km from its two litre; and a surprisingly spry 1.8 litre petrol-powered TSI 118 front-wheel drive.
The spec and look are about the same, lengthy and low-slung wagon with a curved run of chrome-dress glass and big bi-xenon headlights that give no illusions as to which wider family group it belongs to.
There are not acres of rear overhang, which not only helps it handle more like a sedan, but still manages a Tardis-like luggage capability of 633 litres, that swells to a massive 1865 litres with the rear seats folded down. This isn't achieved at the expense of passenger legroom, either. It's a lot longer than the Octavia, at 4838mm, but doesn't feel much larger to drive.
In both specs, the Superb felt sure-footed and exhibited a large amount of grip, aided by the optional 18-inch alloys fitted to each.
The 103kW diesel, with its 320Nm of torque was a very lazy car to drive and while it didn't offer the most involving experience, it did everything it needed to, and when pushed could still raise a grin. The part-time four-wheel-drive system means that it didn't feel heavy to pedal, although the front-wheel drive TSI 118 was definitely the sharper handling of the two.
Its little 1800cc turbo puts out more power than the diesel, 118kW, but less torque at 250kW. It is surprisingly quick for its size, hitting 100km/h in 8.9 seconds as opposed to the diesel's 10.8 seconds. It also has a seven-speed DSG transmission rather than the six-speed mated to the short-shifting diesel, but could probably do with paddle shifters to make better use of the DSG.
As expected from Skoda, with its focus on safety and build quality, there's airbag overkill with a total of nine, with curtain and side bags in the front, side in the rear and a driver's knee airbag for good measure. If it's intended as a family wagon, there are Isofix points in the rear seats and the front passenger's seat.
Interior spec is high, with tasteful piano black finish around a well laid-out control centre for entertainment functions and the dual-zone air conditioning; plus auxiliary audio inputs, lots of lights, a chilled glove compartment and a built-in Bluetooth handsfree system that doesn't take all day to set up. This includes easy and safe access to your telephone's contact book, displaying names and numbers on the LCD screen in the centre of the dash, using a spinning thumb wheel mounted on the steering wheel for navigation.
Both wagons offer good value for money, with the TSI 118 the standout at $48,500, and the frugal diesel priced at $63,000.
The 4x4 is obviously well-suited to those who like to get off the beaten track, and at another time of year would be a near-perfect ski wagon.
But as an entry-level European wagon with a high specification level, at under 50 grand it's hard to go past the 'little' 1800 front-wheel-drive.