Skoda Superb

Skoda isn’t a name you associate with restful long-distance travel, but the new Superb comes as quite a surprise. The name might sound unduly boastful, but it’s got a long history. The first Skoda Superb, sold in the 1930s, was a seriously good luxury car popular with the royals of the day, so you can see why Volkswagen – which bought the Czech company in the early 1990s – chose to revive the name when it launched Skoda’s first post-war big car in 2001. That Superb was pretty good, though in truth it was a bit of a toe-in-the-water exercise, and little more than a stretched VW Passat.

The new Superb, which went on sale in September, is a much more adventurous design. It looks like a saloon, and when you open the boot lid that’s what it appears to be, with a big boot sealed off from the cabin (with benefits to security and noise levels). But push another button and the tail lifts, transforming the car into a hatchback.

The other major surprise is how roomy the car is. There’s a good foot of space between the front and rear seats, even when the front seats are right back. As Skoda gleefully points out, the Superb provides more rear legroom than that chairman’s favourite, the Mercedes S-Class (which, in case you’d forgotten, starts at £57,785).

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Click to view larger

If generous space for passengers and luggage are essential requirements for bearable crossing of continents, so too are a good ride, comfy seats, low noise levels, relaxed motorway cruising and good ventilation and air conditioning. The Superb I drove – a 2.0 TDI PD SE, costing £19,030 on the road – ticked all these boxes. With this engine the car has a top speed of 128mph, with acceleration to 62mph in 10.2 seconds, so performance is more than adequate. At normal outside-lane speeds on the M5 it was supremely (or should that be superbly?) smooth and quiet in its long-striding sixth gear.

Makes like Skoda have to work hard to sell big cars, typically offering much more equipment for the money than longer-established rivals. The Superb proves the point, with even the basic S model (starting at £15,490 for the 1.4 TSI) offering alloy wheels, an 8-speaker audio system with MP3 player, air-conditioning, electric windows all round, remote central locking and a full complement of airbags – front, knee, side and curtain. And very usefully if you’re heading overseas, the electronically controlled headlights can be switched to left hand drive at the push of a button.

For a big car the 2.0 TDI is a pretty fuel-efficient machine, with a combined official economy figure of 47.9mpg and CO2 output of 155g/km. The ‘extra-urban’ economy figure is 56.5mpg, so with a bit of restraint it ought to be possible to get 50mpg on that long trek south. But even better economy is promised by the forthcoming Superb GreenLine, powered by a 1.9 TDI PD engine, with revised transmission and a number of design alterations and weight saving measures. The result is a combined cycle figure of 55.4mpg and CO2 output of just 136g/km. This model should go on sale here before Christmas.

With all the current economic gloom and doom the last thing on many people’s minds will be a new car, but if you are the fortunate exception to that rule, the Superb shows every sign of living up to its name if you choose it for long-legged family transport. And if you drive a company car – and pay tax based on the car’s price – it could be worth comparing the Superb’s list prices with, say, a Ford Mondeo or the new Vauxhall Insignia.

Skoda Superb

1.4 TSI S

1.9 TDI PD SE

2.0 TDI PD Elegance

 Price (on the road)

15,490

17,980

21,510

 Power (PS)

125

105

140

 Fuel/transmission

Petrol/6-spd

Diesel/5-spd

Diesel/6-spd

 Max speed (mph)

125

118

128

 0-62mph (secs)

10.5

12.5

10.2

 MPG (Govt combined)

41.5

49.6

47.9

 CO2 emissions (g/km)

157

151

155

 Insurance group

7

6

10

 Road tax 2009/10

150

150

150