It’s the perfect start to the day. The early morning air feels crisp and cool as the soft summer sun pops out and bathes the road ahead in a warm glow. The best part is, I seem to have beaten the morning traffic; there’s practically no one out on the road. What’s even better is, yesterday’s doom and gloom seems well behind us – there are no showers expected today.
The roads out of London can sometimes be confusing. In the past, I remember sitting with the good old A-Z map book in my lap, doing my best to look up at the road and down at the map at the same time. Thankfully, I don’t have that problem today. The nice lady from Skoda’s Navigation department is calling out the turns, and since we seem to be well in sync, I relax and try and pay attention to the new Skoda.
It’s not that this is the first time I’m driving the new SK461. No, I’ve been behind the wheel all of yesterday. That, however, was spent running from one photo-shoot location to the other and dodging the rain in between. So I’m really looking forward to this undisturbed one-on-one time with the car.
Problem is, I don’t know where I’m going. Yes, the GPS is programmed and I’m following dutifully, but all I know is that I’m headed towards roads somewhere on the outskirts of town, where I can give the new Superb a good workout. There’s plenty of stuff I want to confirm about the car, and there’s a lot to discover too.
What I’m paying rapt attention to right now, however, is just how easy this behemoth is to thread through a city scape. The direct steering makes placing this car accurately super easy and the new Superb feels so light on its feet and ready to change direction, most of the effort is subconscious. It feels as agile as a Swift, and that’s saying a lot. Remember, this car is almost 5 metres long, after all.
Surprisingly, it doesn’t feel as big from behind the wheel.
The other thing that gets my attention right away is the ride of this car. Set in Comfort via the 8-inch touchscreen, the Superb rides well over bumps. You do feel a few of the bumps, but it is also reasonably absorbent. Body control in Comfort, however, is loose at times – there’s a bit of float and the nose bobs a bit when you encounter some bumpy bits.
As I hit more open roads and freeways, or motorways as they are known here, I allow the Superb to use more of the engine’s power. This version of the diesel makes a not-too-shoddy 187bhp (we’ll only get the 180bhp version initially) and though I’ve been surfing the huge wave of torque you normally get after 2200rpm, I now allow the engine to wind further up the powerband. VW Group’s diesels have always been impressive, but this new generation truly takes the game ahead. It no longer feels like it has massive reciprocating mass, it no longer feel traditional and ‘heavy’ to drive and what suits the car particularly well is the fact that power builds nicely till around 4500rpm. Power delivery is linear and smooth, and with no sudden hit of boost or sudden shove in the back, you don’t get to ‘feel’ all those diesel horses.
As traffic thins out, I come upon quieter sections of country road where I can keep my foot down for longer periods in the higher gears. And then I get a taste of the true performance potential. There’s plenty of zing from around 3000rpm onwards and the Superb keeps on accelerating, express train-like, in a continuous and seemingly unstoppable manner.
It feels decently quick too, enough to do 100 in under 8 seconds and, as I found out the previous day at the track, it easily crests 200kph. That, for a big diesel barge like this, is pretty good. Wish it was slightly more refined though; the engine note is gravelly at times. A bit more insulation wouldn’t really have gone amiss, and then there’s the fact that the lighter build of this new MQB platform makes a car of this size feel a bit less solid than the earlier version.
I stop near a meadow to take some pictures, but am soon back in the car as a drizzle returns – so much for the weather report. After a bit, I see another sunny, dry patch ahead, but this time, it’s the GPS that stops me. We’ve reached a waypoint I’ve noted as ‘nice driving road’. And, as I discover a bit later, a very nice road it is indeed. Broad enough to let three cars pass easily, it is well paved and follows the natural lay of the land over a set of low-lying hills. And because the corners are open and visibility is good, you can drive without having to worry about being surprised by oncoming traffic.
Now the Superb isn’t exactly a car you buy to get your dose of driving thrills. Still, it’s remarkably stable and allows me to carry a fair bit of speed into corners, which makes it nice to drive. This is especially true in Sport mode, where the dampers are stiffened, the throttle and gearbox responses are sharpened and the steering gets a bit more weight. Yes, I often have to coax it into corners and it doesn’t respond well to quick steering movements, but it is fun if you’re smooth, deliberate and slow with your driving inputs. Stay disciplined with your driving style and you can keep going progressively quicker with plenty of confidence. VW’s MQB platform, on which it is built, certainly helps it get its dynamics right. And the brakes do a fair job of giving you confidence before you enter a corner. Where the Superb driving experience does feel like a bit of a letdown is in the gearbox department. Our car was fitted with Skoda’s six-speed, twin-clutch automatic which, though great for upshifts, often hesitates when you call for a quick downshift.
Six-speed DSG similar to that on the current Superb.
Finally I stop – another nice patch in which to take pictures, and not a threatening cloud in sight. Time to take a walk around this massive sculpture of cuts and creases. Done by Skoda’s chief designer Joseph Kaban and his team, this Superb is so much better-looking than its predecessor that comparing the two is unfair. Several times more mature in both outlook and detail, it blends near-perfect proportions with bold details. And the best bit is that it all works fabulously. The wider new-age Skoda grille, the crystal-like diamond cut headlamps, the sculpted fenders and sides and the especially attractive rear. The challenge, of course, was keeping the design simple, in line with other Skodas, and the designers have managed that too. What really stands out, however, is the all-new level of sophistication – a level not seen on a Skoda yet.
There are few cars that can deliver this kind of space and the rear seat is super too.
Indian car buyers are also likely to fall head over heels for the S-class-sized interiors. Unbelievably spacious and roomy on the inside, forget six-footers, this car can seat four seven-footers in comfort. If ever there was a car designed for NBA stars, this is it. The long rear doors open wide and dropping into the rear seat comes so naturally, you just don’t want to get out. The rear seat is even better than on the current Superb sold in India. To begin with, it’s considerably wider, and the inclination of the backrest is perfect as it supports your back in all the right places. Thigh support and seat height is also good, despite the fact that you do sit a wee bit lower. The seats, however, except for the squab, seem to be the same size as those on the Octavia, so Skoda seems to have lost an opportunity to make it even nicer.
The design of the dashboard isn’t all that special either, especially if you’re familiar with that of the Octavia, which at first glance seems near-identical. On the other hand, there clearly is more bling here and better materials have been used in several places as well, so it does look and feel more upmarket. And functionality is first-rate, as you would expect of a VW Group car. The touchscreen operates in a slick manner, the buttons on the centre console have a quality feel to them and stowage and storage options are also available aplenty. Indian buyers will also get the choice of a more upmarket L&K version that could come with even nicer detailing.
Indian cars will get a more upmarket looking dash with a tan and beige wood and leather combination. There’s less chrome here than on the earlier Superb though.
The new Superb also has a lot of clever touches. There are umbrellas hidden in both front doors, there’s an LED torch in the back and the hatch unlocks if you wave your foot under the bumper, as long as you have the car’s keys in your pocket. And then, of course, there’s the 620-litre boot.
Skoda’s current Superb blew our collective socks off when it was launched in India in 2009 at a killer price of around Rs 21 lakh. It was incredibly comfortable, very refined and looked upmarket enough from the inside to pass muster as a luxury car. Indian buyers were attracted to it like a moth to a flame. And then, a few months later, Skoda introduced an even more affordable version. If there was a luxury car bargain of the decade, this would be it. The new car takes the game ahead in many areas. It looks several times better, it’s more spacious and comfortable on the inside and it’s likely to come with more powerful kit too. Ride and handling is par for the course and it is likely to be well-equipped when it comes to India in the second quarter of 2016. The design of the interiors may not get customers terribly excited and the new Superb is unlikely to be cheap, with top-of-the-line versions crossing Rs 26 lakh ex-showroom. Still, none of that is likely to diminish the enthusiasm Indian luxury car buyers are likely to have for this new car. Yes, it’s that good.