The last time I wielded a pen, woah, hold on. The last time I wielded a pen for writing something worthwhile was way back in my college days. It has been two long years since I finished my post-graduation studies. Yet, there seems to be no shortage of excitement in the number of vehicles that I have taken for a spin. Well, poor old keyboard has to bear with my pounding all the time. Don’t we wish there was a car which was as sturdy, as solid, as classy, as envious, as humongous, as recognizable, as appreciated, as superb as a Merc. Well, yes, we always have. And the answer just sits in the question for your realisation. Not many people thought that the Czechoslovakian company would make in-roads into the stake held by Maruti-Suzuki, Honda, Hyundai, Ford, and Mitsubishi when they made their début. Seven years into the magnificent journey, and five flagship models later, the journey just turned smoother for customers with Skoda India. The luxury segment in India and abroad has been widely dominated by Mercedes Benz until Audi and BMW came in. When Skoda India launched a luxury segment car 6 years ago, everyone was laughing at them for thinking of capturing the Mercedes market. No, the aim was simple, to drive people who pay 25 lakh rupees for a Merc C Class to think about the Skoda Superb which was a bigger (an understatement), luxurious, and much more powerful sedan in every way except for the Three Pointed Star badge and the build quality of the Mercedes. They weren’t so successful back then because the car looked sober and boxy for everyone’s liking whilst the Merc C-Class, a sportier, pleasant looking car was sold with THE MERCEDES-BENZ badge. Brand-name is all farce now that people have opened up their minds to accept practical solutions than look at just the brand name. If the people hadn’t been open-minded, neither BMW nor Audi would have made half as much a powerful entry in the Indian Automobile market.

The first day before laying my hands on the Skoda Superb 2.0 TDi, I was sceptical as to what the beast could do. I had driven around in the Laura and the Mercedes Benz C200 CDI for many thousands of kms, and couldn’t fathom a car in this segment being as good as the C200 CDI. The features that adore this beauty are kind of mind-boggling for a non-Mercedes car to be carrying around. Let’s drive along the various features this beauty has to offer.

I was sceptical as to what the beast could do..


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External Styling

Somewhere along the journey to conquer the hearts of millions of vehicle lovers, there has to be a compromise. External styling is the area where the Superb loses out on to the Mercedes E-Class and the BMW 5 Series. The front headlights come with automatic turning adjustment for enhanced visibility going around corners, level adjustment, ambient light sensing for automatic operation, and headlamp washers. The white light that comes out of the eyes of the Superb are truly magnificent, enough to light up the roads for you to drive without any stress. The side profile of the car is where you notice how long the car really is and how spacious it could be inside. The extended wheelbase of the Superb does not make it longer than the Laura by much (longer by around 3-4”). The boot section has been reduced when compared to the Laura which makes the overall length not much different from the Laura. Comparisons go a long way for this car and the Laura TDI L&K. The rear end looks blunt and flat for my liking. The chrome strip on the tail gate is a nice touch, although it would’ve been much more impressive if the boot lid had been designed with more curves and styling cues. The Bonnet as always on a Skoda comes with the customary central contour to look more aggressive, and the latest edition of the Superb carries over the styling cues from the German manufacturers for the front end by a wider front fender section which makes the car look wider than it actually is. Mirror mounted indicators, that come with automatic folding and dimming for enhance visibility at night is a boon for every single driver. The passenger side rear view mirror also has the visibility enhancement unlike the Laura which has it only for the driver side.

Any vehicle is only as good as the tyres and the wheels. The 16”alloy wheels look typically Skoda, and are of top notch quality. The tyres although are a let-down. With lower segment cars like the Honda City having Michelin shod wheels, I expected the Superb to come with Michelin Primacy LC(MPLC) which they aren’t. The company fitted JK Tyres shod car is very noisy at high speeds and the bumps filter into the cabin. Upon changing of the tyres to MPLC, the ride became so comfortable and smooth. Higher speeds seemed much quieter and the car seemed to be floating on the roads. The Front grille design philosophy has been carried over from the second generation Laura, Fabia and Yeti. When you see class on the outside, the next step would be to ensure that it is carried forward inside the car as well which is what the guys at Skoda have done.

Interior Styling and Functionality

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Image from Skoda, for Illustrative Purposes

The amazingly long and spacious cabin is peppered with wood inserts and contrasting golden beige dashboard. The climate control that does work on the Laura has been carried over and there is an addition and luxury of rear air-conditioner vents which do amicable justice to keeping the passengers seated at the other end of the room in utmost comfort. The leather on the steering is of the highest quality and the black leather compliments the otherwise lighter shades of the dashboard beige very well. Also omnipresent are the Digital Computer display that does duty on all Skoda vehicles, the addition of cornering lights and MFD being carried over from the Laura. There is a display for the distance to go before your next service as well which is a nice addition and something I’ve come across on all Mercedes Benz vehicles since 2001. Another addition, albeit, unnecessary for our climate here in Chennai, are the heated seats for the passenger, and driver. They do a good job of heating up your rear-side and keep you comfortable on cold days and in the hills. I wish they had a massager along with the heating option. Keyless entry and button start have been added to the new Superb, the car I had did not have the feature.

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The passenger and driver seats have 6 way electronic adjustments with the driver seat getting seat position memory option which can store up to 3 driver seating preferences along with the rear view mirror positions. Sweet, no longer required keeping my dad from changing the driving positions and mirrors. The outer rear view mirrors on the driver’s side have a night mode where all the glares are minimised thereby reducing the stress on your eyes. The control is on the internal rear view mirror where one can change from day view to night view aka green shades for a Street Hawk Night Vision effect at the touch of a button!!! Bloody brilliant touch. No more tweaking a lever to change from day vision to night vision. The steering mounted controls are a joy to use, the wheel is the change from the Laura L&K, and controls have been carried over from it though. The Entertainment System is touch enabled, with provisions for playing from your iPod through the Aux or from your SD card, and there is a provision to pair your phone through Bluetooth. Although, I did not configure the Bluetooth on my car as it had to be taken to the service centre to get it done. Bad. Otherwise the lumbar support is amazing. I know where you people are going, yes there is a paddle shift cum cruise control; I will get there in the Drive section.

Powertrain – Engine and Transmission

The 2 litre TDI Turbocharged diesel that delivers a whopping 140 hp is mated to the superlative 6 speed automatic DSG gearbox with Tiptronic. Tiptronic was first introduced on the Laura where the driver depending on his mood could either be on Automatic or change when he feels he wants to. The Gear lever is amazing to use with P-N-R-D-S system employed to make you sit back and enjoy the drive. The engine pulls and pulls so well that if you are a person who loves speed thrills and indulge in 0-100 kmph bursts, this is the car to be or rather engine to have. The thrust is amazing, the stability is commendable, and the handling is amazing. It pulls as though you have been hit by a hit-man and get thrown back immediately you floor it.

The paddle shift is a joy to use and the position is just about right for usage. The only concern is that it doesn’t turn along with the wheel so, if you are shifting up/down while steering, it immediately becomes tough to do that. Other than that, once you shift through the paddle, the transmission shifts to Manual mode and you can now shift as and when you please. The Normal Drive Mode makes the shifts to keep you in the peak torque zone that improves the fuel efficiency. The transmission shifts to 2nd at 1800 rpm, 3rd at 1900, 4th at 2000, 5th at 2100 and 6th at 2200 rpm. This way, you drop down to 1500 rpm where the peak torque band starts. Although I found that my manual shifting resulted in better fuel efficiency than the standard Drive mode. For all those souls who want to go to the peak power band and love the engine roaring out, there’s the sports mode which will allow you to rip the engine. The Sports mode is only for those souls who would like to keep hand movements to a minimum while driving through the revs at full tilt. I prefer the manual mode for the rush of blood and speed. Although, I should admit that the now defunct C200 CDI packs a punch, the Superb gives it a good run for money. The roads do not seem to be enough for exploring the complete potential of the engine and the vehicle drive system.

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Ride, Braking and Handling aka Zipping, Zooming and Stopping

For a car that goes on and on and on between the engine bay – passenger cabin insulation and the boot, the overall length of the car is about a feet more than the Laura. It fit inside the same garage as the Laura with a little bonnet protruding outside the garage roof. The wheelbase is measured at 2761 mm, a whopping 100 mm longer than the Laura and micro-minimal 1 mm longer than the current C-Class. For a car similar in wheelbase to the C-class offering space equivalent to a S-Class sounds fictitious and unbelievable. For a car that is as long as this, the handling dynamics are well taken care of both on bad roads as well as the good highway roads by the suspension designed by the Skoda Engineers. The pot-holes do not seem to be a deterrent to being a passenger at the front, or at the rear. The highways are where the car belongs. Open the throttle, sit low, lean back in the driver’s seat, and let the driving do the talking. The corners are where the Mercedes, BMWs, and Audis of this world overtake the other competitors in the passenger car segment.

The Skoda tries at matching the experience of a Mercedes, but falls agonisingly short of the mark set by the driver experience rich C-Class, 3 Series, and A4s of this world. Although I should be comparing the A6 for a Superb, due to cost reasons, I placed the A4 as a direct competition for the Superb instead. The Laura is a far better handler around the corners compared to the Superb. Although the Superb feels well-planted around the corners, I was left a little unsure whether I could push a little bit more. I had done a 3 hour journey from Bangalore to Chennai on my Laura once and in 3.5 hours plus on a Fabia plenty of times. But, I never had the chance to go on one with the Superb, which would have settled the debate about the real world pace and handling of the Superb to rest in my mind. The C-class is a dream on long journeys, able to keep up with a fully depressed throttle pedal for long periods of time, and still having the grunt and ability to demand for more all the time. The Sixth cog on the C is a boon to all those highway petrol-heads or should I call Diesel-heads in this case. Although the C200 CDI that I have driven on these highways had 20 hp lesser than the Superb’s 140 hp 2.0 litre TDI-PD Engine, it had every sign of matching the higher powered engine’s pace at all times.

When a car goes as fast as this, the most important aspects that matter after reaching 200 kmph are two. Firstly, the ability of the car to grip on to the surface, remain sure-footed as she remained until 200 kmph. Secondly, but no less important is the braking abilities, making slowing down from 200 kmph to a halt when necessary a breeze. With a huge car, the effort on the brakes is increased by two-folds if you compare at 80 kmph and 110 kmph. Imagine the effort required to come to a halt from 200 kmph. It is something similar to an effort taken to stop a Formula-1 car with the help of a trap filled with polished marble spheres. The brakes on the Superb do justice to the claimed stopping power, paired with ABS and ESP makes it a potential winner. The internally cooled Front Disc Brakes add braking performance levels to the car’s braking capabilities. The Hill Climb assist helps in navigating uphill slopes from a standstill by preventing the car from rolling backwards on a slope.
The suspension which is amazing on city roads for the ability to absorb every bump and undulation on the road in its stride makes the car feel too supple on the highway runs. If only the Superb also had an adaptable suspension system that could turn into a harder set-up upon demand from the Driver. The BMWs have received it, some of the Mercs and BMWs have it, I believe it is only some time before the Superb receives these add-ons. The turning circle for such a big car is admirable, and reversing the car into parking spaces is easier than it seems to hold thanks to the parking sensors at both front and rear. The Parking Assist system does a good job of denoting how close the objects are to the car’s bumpers above, on par and below the eye level, but the thing that irritates the most is that I couldn’t park it as close as I wanted to. In India, there is never room left for the other person to climb out of the car through the doors, something that the Superb parking system needs to learn. I had the ignominy of having the security guard asking me to park it still closer to the walls and adjacent cars, something I have never received without the PA system’s guidance.

Fuel Efficiency

Another aspect I never covered on the review was fuel efficiency, something I am never good at achieving when trying to explore the capabilities of a vehicle to the fullest. Although, the company claims a figure of 17.2 kmpl according to ARAI, it returned a decent figure of 13-14kmpl consistently on city runs. The Highway runs, when done with caution returned 18kmpl, absolutely remarkable figures for such a big car. When pressed harder than can be imagined, the superlative figure of 18kmpl on the highway remained still admirable at 13kmpl, but the city figures dropped down to the 10kmpl mark which was still respectable for a car of this size.


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Verdict

Although all you souls reading through this review would have been cursing me for not including the conjoined cousin Volkswagen Passat in the compare, I prefer not to include it because I’ve never driven one. Although from my experiences with the Polo/Fabia, Vento/Rapid, and Jetta/Laura/Octavia, I prefer to leave it at a similar experience levels to the Superb. The newly done up exteriors on the Passat are a thing of beauty with the rear tail lights borrowed from the costlier Audi cousins, and the led strips on the headlights also resembling the A4. The Superb definitely needs a makeover on the exterior to keep up with competition let alone go ahead of it. On account of interior styling and features, the Superb scores high on functionality of features, quality levels, mixture of in-your-face and suavity in the interior colour themes, brilliant leather wrapped steering wheel, seats, door pads, and the central arm rest. The entertainment system could do with a provision to plug in a USB drive and play directly. Something the guys at Skoda have been reluctant to do with their models so far. The power-train is an area the Superb scores heavily and manages to beat the competition in terms of thrills offered, refinement, ability to adapt to the driver’s needs and necessities, and fuel efficiency. The suspension needs some tweaking of course, and the brakes do their duty with great efficiency every single time they are called into action, either in panic or at ease. The car was surefooted under braking into corners, with a little more pitch and sideways body roll, not too unsettling, but unsettling nevertheless. I believe that the issue will be sorted out in the forthcoming versions of the Superb which are long overdue. Overall, as a package, is it worth the buck you pay? But for the costly maintenance the Skoda brand is famous for, at least in India, the Skoda have a Superb vehicle that satisfies the nouveau rich, pleases the owners moving from a Entry Level Premium Segment Sedan to a Premium Luxury Sedan, and exciting the owners who like to drive their own cars alike. If you are looking for a non German, non-Mercedes, non-Audi, non-BMW, or a vehicle that can match the Audis/BMWs/Mercedes of this world in almost all aspects, then look no further than the Skoda Superb. If you are looking for a car with a little more aggressive looks with similar space, power, comfort, and practicality as the Superb, the new Volkswagen Passat is the right choice. For the many souls that have never had the pleasure of having owned a Skoda or Luxury segment car before, the Superb could be the right choice to invigorate your senses, to soothe your delicate backs, make a suave style statement, and assert your presence. For all the other souls who have owned a Skoda at some point of their life before, the Superb comes with a little more robustness, practicality, comfort levels, space, and elegance than all the other flagship models you could have owned. Unless you have already driven a Mercedes, there is no way in hell that the Superb will fall short on the comfort levels you have experienced up to this point in your lives. If you have not driven a Beemer up to this point, the Superb will give a good run for the money spent on a Merc. And, if you have not owned one of the costlier cousins of the Skodas, you are bound to be in seventh heaven.

A sedan in the Luxury segment that is invigorating, suave, eye-pleasing, feature-filled, exciting, prominent looking, luxurious, as spacious as a bungalow ought to be called the Superb.

- Sanjeev Bhushan