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Skoda Superb SE 2.0 TDI PD

Click to view picture galleryWith 25 per cent of the first year
  allocation of Skoda
s new Superb
  model sold in just two weeks, it
  looks like the Superb is more than
  capable of living up to its name...

ALTHOUGH THE UK'S NEW CAR SALES ARE CURRENTLY IN FREE-FALL due to the economic instability predicted to be at least 20 per cent down in September (2008), traditionally the second highest sales month in the year Skoda sales are holding up relatively well, and after just two weeks over one thousand new Superb cars have already been sold.

One reason for Skoda's success is that nine out of ten owners recommend other people to buy a Skoda, and for the last 13 years the brand has remained in the top five of the industry's J D Power Study of Customer Satisfaction.

Another boost to the new model's potential for it to become another Skoda sales success story is the fact that the new Superb has just been voted The Caravan Club Towcar of the Year 2009 overall, as well as winning its class beating the defending champion — the relatively new Ford Mondeo 2.5 diesel estate. The new Skoda Superb is also likely to make the shortlists for many of the annual Car of the Year contests due to take place shortly.

Although the upper-medium sector of the new car market has been in decline since its peak in 2002 (when 560,000 UK sales were recorded) due to customers downsizing because of higher fuel prices and higher taxation, the sector has seen a recent upturn with new models being added. These include the Ford Mondeo, VW Passat, Honda Accord, Citroen C5 and Renault Laguna, and soon to be joined by the Vauxhall Insignia.

Skoda Auto in the UK says the larger, more stylish and better equipped five-seater, four-door new Superb has a clever two-stage boot/hatchback feature (called Twindoor) that will appeal to traditional saloon buyers as well as customers who require the convenience of a rear tailgate and large load area. The new Superb also has one of the roomiest cabins in the sector, with impressive rear passenger legroom, rear headroom to match and one of the biggest boots — 565 to 1,670 litres depending on the configuration of the rear seats.

Customers have the choice of three petrol engines (125bhp 1.4 TSI, 160bhp 1.8 TSI and 260bhp 3.6-litre) and three TDI turbodiesel power sources comprising a 1.9-litre unit with 105bhp and two 2.0-litre units with 140 and 170bhp power outputs. Six- or seven-speed twin-clutch DSG automatic transmissions are available, depending on the model chosen, and 4x4 all-wheel drive is available with the 170bhp 2.0-litre TDI diesel and the 3.6-litre petrol engines. There is also a low-CO2 'Greenline' variant powered by a 105bhp 1.9-litre TDI unit capable of 55.4mpg.

First reactions when my test car turned up were that the new Skoda Superb is undeniably an imposing and striking car, and a worthy flagship for the Czech brand.

Unlike other Skoda models that have made their mark by having a low price, the new Superb doesn't appear to have any price advantage over, say, the Passat saloon on which the architecture is loosely based or indeed the market leading Mondeo hatchback. Superb prices run from 15,490 to 26,675. For comparative purposes, the mainstream Passat saloon model is priced from 15,860 to 27,015; and Mondeo hatchbacks from 15,695 to 25,795.

Where the Superb does score is on its interior space: exceptional room for five adult passengers and a huge boot and load area space to match. The new Twindoor boot/hatch design is sure to be followed by others, not least of all family members Volkswagen and, perhaps, even Audi.

Skoda's designers have re-engineered the VW family floorpan to make the Superb slightly longer than the Passat saloon. This gives improved access and really generous leg and headroom for rear passengers.

The styling looks upmarket and has a polished luxury image. Let us hope the badge snobs don't cut off their noses to spite their face as the saying goes, because if they do they will be missing out on a great opportunity to buy a great car.

My test model — the Superb Skoda expects to be the most popular in the UK — is the Superb SE 2.0 TDI PD 140bhp with the six-speed manual gearbox that costs 19,030 on the road. Add options such as satellite navigation, floor mats (Yes, we did a double-take on that, too), Park Assist and Sunset glass and the final price came to 21,335. In other words, the traditional Skoda price advantage over the competition is not really there any longer, for the Superb anyway.

The Superb's specification is high though, and even includes the limousine trait of having an umbrella stowed in the rear door. The goodies list seems endless, so new owners will get lots of car for their money. I will just pick out the main items as a matter of record. These include: 17-inch alloy wheels, rear parking sensors, subtle chrome trim, electrically-operated door mirrors with integrated indicators, front fog lights and Halogen headlights.

Inside there are heads rests for all five seats, an 8-speaker sound system, air conditioning (incl. glovebox), front, side and curtain airbags, electrically-operated front and rear side windows, electronic stability programme, executive style armrests, trip computer, remote central locking, leather trimmed steering wheel and gear knob/gaiter and split folding rear seats. Whilst the standard fit umbrella is a bonus, some customers will be justifiably irked when asked to pay extra for floor mats in a non-premium brand car.

On the plus side, overall the quality of the Superb is excellent and it no longer looks — or feels — like Volkswagen's 'poor relation'.

As to the performance? Well, the engine is nothing new. It is the older 2.0-litre TDI diesel unit from the VW family, not the new, much quieter and livelier direct injection 2.0-litre unit used in the Audi A4, VW Passat and Tiguan SUV. However, despite the sometimes noisy engine — which is flat at low speeds but nevertheless has good mid-range response (a characteristic of this particular unit) — the Superb gives a hushed drive. Top speed is 128mph and zero to 62mph takes 10.2 seconds. Fuel economy is potentially good: officially it's 47.9mpg. In real life driving conditions, I managed 42.1mpg. Emissions of 155g/km mean a road tax bill of 145 a year.

Ride comfort is first rate and long journeys are effortless. The suspension is compliant although the handling feels lazy, and over some poorer surfaces the ride is fidgety. It is not as sharp, or as nimble, as the latest Mondeo but for most buyers this will be of no concern. Due to the three rear head restraints and shape of the tailgate window, rear visibility is poor so the standard-fit parking sensors are as important as they are welcome. The lack of a rear tailgate wiper does not help, either.

The Skoda Superb might not quite live up to its name but it does score heavily for passenger and load space, stylish good looks, quality, high levels of equipment and the clever and user-friendly Twindoor boot/tailgate. Not such good news is the sometimes noisy engine (as tested in the 140bhp 2.0-litre TDI), poor rear visibility and the fact that you must fork out extra for your floor mats. In a declining market it will have to compete very hard indeed to move customers out of Mondeos or stop them buying the new Insignia. Financially it's a tough time, but the first indication is that the Superb will do very well thank you! — David Miles

Skoda Superb SE 2.0 TDI PD
| 19,030
Maximum speed: 128mph | 0-62mph: 10.2 seconds
Overall test MPG: 42.1mpg | Power: 140bhp | Torque: 236lb ft
CO2 155g/km | VED Band D 145 | Insurance group 9E