Looking back, I really should have known, but it’s only now, as I sit in the Skoda’s capacious cabin and try to drown out the insistent bonging of its warning chime, that I realise I’ve been duped.
With an interstate trip looming and the need to lug a bunch of gear, and the family dog, from Melbourne to Mudgee, I’d asked to borrow Bulmer’s long-term Superb.
This will be the Skoda’s final adventure in our care before it disappears back to company HQ, and it suits my needs perfectly.
Big enough to swallow our load with ease and luxurious enough to ride in comfortably for 13 hours, it’s also exciting enough to keep a keen driver interested, thanks to its 206kW/350Nm turbo four and Haldex all-wheel-drive system – both of which are lifted from the VW Golf R hot hatch.
What I didn’t know, and what Bulmer neglected to mention as he dropped off the keys, was that a collision with a wheelie bin the month prior had sent the Superb’s keyless entry system loopy. It still opens and locks just fine, but an annoying alarm sounds on start-up, and then again and again every time you slow below 60km/h.
Still, annoying bongs aside, I’ll admit I have a soft spot for this big, luxo Czech. To me it screams ‘smart money’ – you’re getting a lot of car for $60K – and I’m also rather taken with how it looks. Don’t be fooled by its conservative design and restrained appearance in photos: in the metal, this is a handsome brute with sharp creases and exquisite detailing.
It’s an impressive long-distance hauler, too. At three-figure speeds on the Hume, the Superb eats up the miles effortlessly.
The cabin is hushed, the leather front pews are supportive, comfortable and offer a good amount of (electric) adjustment, and with the adaptive dampers set to Comfort (one of three modes, along with Normal and Sport) the ride is long-legged and supple, though the large wagon body does struggle to settle over big undulations.
What really makes the Superb such a, ahem, superb cruiser, though, is the attention to detail.
The glovebox and large centre console are cooled, there are window shades for rear passengers (something the dog appreciated), and we quickly filled the garbage bins in the front door pockets with chocolate and chip wrappers.
Our Skoda is also fitted with the optional Tech Pack which, for $3400, adds the VW Group’s suite of driver-assist systems, headlined by Lane Keep Assist.
It’s a convincing system that does a commendable job of lightening the load on the driver by providing decisive steering inputs to stay in the centre of the lane, even on the Hume’s long, sweeping bends.
Breaking free of the urban jungle also saw the Superb’s consumption tumble from the mid-to-high 13s Bulmer was getting on his daily commute to a more respectable 8.2L/100km.
It’s not all positive, though. Turning off the freeway for a backroads blast from Gundagai to Cowra reveals that while the suspension’s Comfort and Normal settings are fine on the freeway, their slacker body control means the big Superb can feel ponderous and floaty when the road gets twisty. Switching to Sport improves things, but the trade-off is a tauter ride that, while preferable on smooth tarmac, can feel brittle on poorly surfaced rural roads.
And despite its muscular Golf R heart, the Superb’s 1600kg heft and boosted dimensions means it feels swift rather than fast. Skoda claims a 0-100km/h dash of 5.8 seconds, but that seems optimistic to me. It’s certainly no firecracker off the line, and the combination of soft throttle-tip and occasional hesitation from the six-speed DSG (even in Sport mode) can make it feel tardy to engage.
But these are minor niggles. While the Superb is no cut-price Audi RS4 quattro or a performance rival for the sold-out Golf R wagon, it trumps both for space, comfort, value and interstate haul-ability. It’s a car you buy more with your head than with your heart, but even so, there’s enough character and performance lurking beneath that handsome skin to convince any dyed-in-the-wool petrolhead that the move to a more practical family car needn’t mean an SUV snooze fest.
Read part three of Whichcar's long-term review of the Skoda Superb wagon here!
This article was originally published in Wheels magazine February 2017