THE Volkswagen Group stands as arguably the greatest exponent of platform-sharing in the automotive business. In an era when the development costs of a new vehicle platform or drivetrain can run to hundreds of millions, the notion of sharing drivetrains and platforms across multiple models makes obvious business sense.
While it might be common knowledge to the learned Wheels reader, not every consumer would know, or care, that the Audi beside them at the lights carries the same beating mechanical heart and underpinnings as the VW they’re driving, or the Skoda they’re eyeing in their mirror. We could add Seat to that list, too, if they were sold here.
The latest addition to our fleet, the Skoda Superb Wagon, is one example of the plentiful fruit that springs from this highly evolved strategy, built as it is on VW’s Modular Transverse Matrix (MQB) platform.
Like most modern automotive platforms, the MQB is designed for ultimate flexibility, meaning it can be delivered with stretched or shortened wheelbases, with tracks that can be widened or narrowed, and of course with myriad versions of what the designers call ‘top hats’, or bodystyles. In the case of the Superb, this equates to a liftback sedan and a generously proportioned wagon, both of which sit on a wheelbase that’s been stretched to a sizeable 2841mm.
This places the Superb at the larger end of the medium-to-large sedan/wagon category, meaning it could be considered an alternative to a Mazda 6 or a Holden Commodore, and you could just as easily include the Peugeot 508, Kia Optima, Ford Mondeo and Hyundai Sonata to the list.
And let’s not forget the Volkswagen Passat, even if the parent company is understandably keen to play down that comparison. The Skoda certainly has more space and sufficiently different powertrain options to be a genuinely differentiated product offering, but there’s no denying the two cars are close first cousins.
The B8-series Passat launched here in October 2015 to critical acclaim for both its dynamic and its packaging, and the Superb builds impressively on these traits. In particular, it’s bigger in practically every dimension than the Passat wagon, which is obviously of interest to families like mine who value boot and interior space.
Here the Superb ticks plenty of boxes, its generous wheelbase ensuring a voluminous boot and terrific legroom in the rear, where in the first weeks of ownership we’ve become accustomed to seeing the long-limbed teenage elder of the Bulmer sisters sprawled out in the limousine-like pews.
But there’s more to the Superb than just generous proportions and handsome styling. Under its bonnet lurks the same 206kW/350Nm turbo-petrol four that motivates the Golf R hot hatch. In combination with this range-topping version’s Haldex all-wheel-drive system, 19-inch wheels and quick-shifting six-speed dual-clutch transmission, the Superb is a real traffic-light sleeper.
The 4x4 wagon’s 1600kg mass makes it the heaviest model in the Superb range, adding 110kg over the front-drive 162TSI wagon, which in turn means that even the potent Volkswagen Golf R powerplant feels, initially, a little soft. But pull back on the transmission lever to select Sport and the engine instantly bristles with enthusiasm, the sweet-revving boosted four-pot delivering a deliciously fruity exhaust note and the odd pop and crackle on the over-run. It might seem decidedly out of place in what is otherwise an utterly sensible family wagon, but it’s deliciously good fun.
Add to this the vast cabin and boot space and the Superb shapes as a legitimate rival for not only SUVs but more dynamically adept wagons like the Commodore.
We’re looking forward to learning more about life with this decidedly different 4x4 wagon offering in the coming months.
Despite being back in the market in Australia since 2007 and now selling almost 5000 cars a year, Skoda remains something of a curiosity to many Australians. But the brand’s roots run right back to 1905 in its native Czechoslovakia while the Superb nameplate first adorned the flanks of the 5.5m-long Skoda 640 Superb way back in 1934. The current Superb traces its lineage back to 2001 when Skoda reintroduced the model to sit above its compact Octavia and small Fabia.
Our Metal Grey wagon is in the guise favoured by most car-buying punters, according to VW-Skoda PR man Paul Pottinger. This means we have metallic paint ($700), Tech Pack ($3400), Comfort Pack ($1500) and a panoramic sunroof ($1900), taking the price from $52,690 to a still tidy $60,190. Pottinger says the Tech and Comfort packs are the two most preferred options, the former bringing the undoubted benefits of adaptive dampers, which instantly switch the Superb’s ride comfort and dynamics from pillowy comfort to sporting firmness.
Skoda Superb 206TSI 4X4 wagon
Price as tested: $60,190
Part 1: 1395km @ 9.2L/100km
Overall: 1395km @ 9.2L/100km
Date acquired: September 2016
IT MAY come about just once per year, but the Bulmer family’s annual camping trip is a thing to behold, if only for the sheer audacity of the amount of gear we manage to cram into the luggage bay of the poor chariot at our mercy.
This year the hapless victim was the Skoda Superb wagon, and what better way to put its all-wheel-drive system and cavernous cargo bay to the test than take it bush for a long weekend?
The trigger for this sojourn into the wild was a mate’s annual clarion call to join with him in an orgy of tree-felling, dubbed the ‘Merrijig Chainsaw Massacre’, nominally to restock his cabin’s dwindling wood supply.
Displaying the sort of cavity-filling ability to shame a dentist, I packed the Superb’s generous boot – all 625 litres of it – at a density no Skoda engineer ever thought possible.
Suitably laden, we set off on the three-hour drive over Aussie backroads, complete with potholes, yumps, blind crests and roadkill, with an honour guard of stout-looking red gums a constant reminder of the need to stay to alert.
The variable road quality, including a 10km stretch of corrugated dirt, was a great opportunity to sample the adaptive dampers. These are part of the optional Tech Pack, which lists for $3400 and offers three modes accessed via the touchscreen.
Perhaps not surprisingly, given the combined weight of four passengers and a boot-load of camping gear, the firmer Sport setting proved the best option. What was a little surprising, especially given the Superb’s handsome 19-inch wheels, was the fact that Sport mode manages to avoid the teeth-rattling firmness of some such systems, providing a sweet blend of ride comfort and body control.
The latter was particularly appreciated, given those imposing river red gums. In fact, the Superb maintained truly impressive handling precision and roadholding, despite the weight gain, something sorely appreciated when carving such ducking and diving backroads with a car-load of kids.
The punchy 206kW turbocharged four-pot also proved utterly unfazed by the hefty weight penalty. Like us, it seemed to relish the fresh country air, delivering brisk overtaking performance and effortless cruising.
Remarkably, when the weekend was over, I somehow managed to cram all that gear back in, plus the mandatory clumps of mud and dirt, much to the amazement of my camping neighbour, who confided that he thought I must have had a trailer stashed in the bushes nearby.
THE GARBO is one of the great unsung heroes of local council. These humble blokes and blokettes earn their packet by rising early to patrol our darkened streets on the wrong side of a whiffy, diesel-belching dumpster to ensure our towns remain litter- and rat-free.
If you ever doubted the importance of garbologists in our urban eco-systems then consider the good folk of Napoli, who endured eight months without waste collection back in 2007-2008, leading to mountains of stinking rubbish and a multi-million-dollar bill to send the stuff north to Hamburg for incineration.
So, yes, our Garbos are champions of the first order but, as you’ve no doubt discovered, they can be a tad devil-may-care with the placement of bins once empty.
The Good Wife found this out to her detriment recently while threading a back-road short-cut to collect the kids from school. The route avoids some traffic lights but ducks and dives, jinks and jigs to get there, mixing ragged road edges with blind crests and mid-speed chicanes, among other amusements.
These, when taken at pace, provide an exhilarating appreciation of the Superb’s steering precision and handling. Normally. But this time, our friendly garbologist had casually dropped emptied bins right on the edge of the thin ribbon of tarmac; as the Superb sailed up and over a blind crest, sticking well left to avert a nasty coming-together with unseen approaching traffic, the passenger door and its protruding handle clipped a bin just hard enough to leave a smear halfway along the door.
It looked innocuous enough and, after the Superb had pitted and race control were advised of the incident, I thought we’d escaped with just a mark that would buff out.
Sadly, it wasn’t quite that simple: the whack had taken out the Skoda’s keyless entry function, which the amber alert on the dash and its accompanying chime has been eager to remind us of ever since.
Acknowledging the warning via the rotary dial on the steering wheel shuts it up for a bit, but the moment speed drops below 60km/h it comes back. And despite trawling the Skoda’s touch-screen menu, I can’t find a way to shut it up more permanently.
If it weren’t for the pre-Christmas rush I’d have had it in for a good seeing-to by a Skoda technician … but in lieu of that I handed the keys to acting editor Inwood for his annual festive-season road trip to the family home in Bathurst.
The bloke reckoned the Skoda’s air-sprung cruising road manners, its commodious 625-litre boot, all-wheel drive and gutsy 206kW turbo-petrol engine would be an ideal combination for hauling better-half Bek, their border collie Riley and a swag of Chrissie gifts on the 1000km inland run.
I couldn’t agree more, but may have failed to mention that damn warning chime during the handover...
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.