Skoda Superb TDI 4×4 Combi 2011 Review

For most kiwis looking to buy a comfortable and practical family wagon the name Skoda doesn’t immediately spring to mind. But why not? Is it because buyers are still stuck in the eighties when Skoda wore the brunt of naff jokes about quality? Or perhaps because folks know Skoda is European and worry about durability and value for money? Whatever the reason, for many wagon buyers the Skoda Superb isn’t even on their radar. But it damn well should be. Skoda’s med/large size wagon has many of its competitors beat in some key areas and build quality is certainly one of them. With a frugal diesel engine and a four-wheel-drive system the Superb can travel to remote locations and it won’t cost a lot to get there. So does this fringe player deserve a new place as a major force in the wagon market? Car and SUV thinks so, and after spending a week with the newest addition to the Superb range – the 4×4 Combi, we’re ready to tell you why.

Exterior Design
It may not be the sexiest wagon to ever pick up the groceries, but the Superb has everyman elegance and a sleek low look despite its generous proportions. It’s nicely balanced for a wagon without too much rear overhang and a tightly tapered hatch that gives few hints to the expansive cargo space within. It has a neutral face with chrome trim surrounding the corporate grille and acting as teardrops under its wrap around headlights. Bright fog lamps flank a wide lower air intake and a scalloped bonnet line leads into the raked back windscreen.

Along the flanks, chrome trim surrounds the window line and the roofline gradually flows down into the hatch back. There’s also a subtle high-mounted spoiler on the hatch, integrated silver roof rails and twin exhaust tips. Standard wheel fitment is 17-inch alloys but our test subject was upgraded with the 18-inch ‘Luna’ alloys that were nicely suited. There are thirteen colours available including four blues, but we found the ‘Black Magic’ hue on our tested Superb to be sleek and slimming.

In the Cabin
While it’s not appointed quite as opulently as the VW Group’s more expensive brands there’s a lot to like in the Superb Combi cabin. It has a reassuring bulky feel through a mix of good quality dark plastics, leather trim and silver and gloss black pieces. The soft leather front seats are heated, electronically adjustable and well bolstered for support. The driver’s chair has memory settings and works in with a wide centre armrest/storage bin and advanced control stack to give a cockpit feel. The instrumentation is conservative but easy to read and a small display screen sits between the main dials giving out trip and vehicle info. The switchgear is separated between a touch screen that controls entertainment functions and a more traditional button/dial arrangement for climate controls. Both areas are user-friendly and basic audio controls are repeated within the leather-wrapped steering wheel.

Standard Equipment
There is plenty of kit included as standard in the 4×4 Superb Combi. Highlights include a powerful 10-speaker CD stereo, Bluetooth phone connectivity, front and rear parking sensors, auto bi-xenon lights and rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone climate air-conditioning cruise control, chilled glovebox and tyre pressure monitoring.

Interior Space
There’s ample room up front for driver and shotgun passenger but the back seat is the place to be. The rear seat is wide enough for three to ride in comfort, it’s heated in two sections and has limo-like legroom that puts other cars in this segment to shame. If being a kid riding in the Superb’s back seat is great being a piece of cargo in the Superb’s load area is just as good. It’s huge back there with a 633-litre loading capacity and with the rear seats folded flat this expands to a class-leading 1865-litre cargo bay. But it’s not just expansive space that make this area special, there are all sorts of practicalities like a low loading lip (60cm off the ground), rails with a sliding divider, a cargo blind, hidden compartments and even a removable LED torch. The hatch opening is very tall and wide to help load larger items. It really is one of the best cargo areas in the game and makes the most of the wagon body shape.

Under the Bonnet
The 4×4 Superb Combi is available in either diesel-powered 4-cylinder or petrol-powered V6 forms. Our TDI test vehicle was fitted with the 2.0-litre turbocharged diesel unit that outputs 103kw of power with a solid 320Nm punch of torque. It’s a modern diesel mill that lacks the clatter of older diesel engines and returns a very impressive fuel economy figure of 6.3l/100km combined. That’s a great result for a fairly heavy 4WD wagon and makes the V6 petrol-powered Superb’s figure of 10.2l/100km seem archaic. Linked to the diesel engine is the VW-Group’s 6-speed DSG transmission, which is one of the smoothest operators around.

On the Road
While the 4×4 Superb certainly isn’t slow, it’s no performance machine either. The 0-100km/h sprint is covered in a leisurely 10.8 seconds, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The maximum dose of torque is available from 1,750rpm so there’s strong mid-range urge and it can be hustled along quite quickly if kept in its powerband. The diesel Superb feels most comfortable cruising at open road speeds where it’s torque levels can be best exploited. On suburban missions the Superb wagon is nicely settled and is an easy steer. But it’s the DSG transmission that is the star of the show, it provides seamless shifts and has perfectly spaced ratios for getting the most out of the diesel engine. At times it can feel unsure during parking situations but it’s intuitive and rarely obtrusive. If manual changes are required there are steering wheel paddles and a sequential shift option at the gearstick.

Dynamically the Superb Combi is surprisingly agile while still offering good compliance. When negotiating tight bends there is no more body roll that you’d expect and plenty of grip through the front wheels. If the front treads slip the Haldex 4WD system will send torque to the rear axle and rapidly remedy the situation. It’s a part-time 4×4 set up but a clever one and gives this Superb the ability to tackle more challenging roads than its stable mates. Even in wet conditions or on gravel roads the 4×4 system can prove its worth, so although it commands a price premium it’s worth consideration.

The electro-mechanical steering is light and while it lacks the feedback of the Ford Mondeo or any BMW it’s very direct and accurate. Overall handling limits are higher than you’d expect but the Superb Combi remains a cruiser at heart and this is most evident in its supple ride. Few bumps and dips disturb the cabin and even broken roads struggle to have a jarring influence. Special suspension mounts were built to increase driving comfort and limit tyre noise – this has worked a treat. Sound deadening is also very effective with no wind noise entering the cabin and engine noises only entering under heavy load.

Safety Systems
Being a family-focused vehicle, safety features are all up to scratch and go beyond some competitors. There are a few notable inclusions like a nine-airbag arsenal that includes front, side, four curtain bags and a driver’s knee airbag. Keeping the Combi on road is an electronic stability program with ASR traction control and ABS braking. There’s also hill hold control and a vehicle immobiliser.

Conclusion
The 4×4 Superb Combi is the total all rounder that’s built for the practicalities of modern family life. It performs all its duties with a relaxed ease and high levels of comfort for all occupants. Its biggest strengths come with the economical diesel engine, supple ride quality and amazing levels of spaciousness. Its powertrain is smooth and there is plenty of useful equipment included as standard fare. Safety credentials are all in check and the Superb has a reassuringly solid feel. Priced at $63,000 it’s not exactly dirt cheap, but there are no compromises with this particular model including the four-wheel-drive system. It’s tailor-made for active kiwi lifestyles and deserves a place on test drive list of anyone seeking out a new family hauler.

Price: $63,000

What we like:

  • Comfortable ride
  • Good handler
  • Economical diesel engine
  • Acres of interior space

What we don’t like:

  • Styling won’t appeal to all tastes
  • DSG box occasionally indecisive
  • Price may put off some buyers

Who will buy this car: Families who need the space and want a stylish euro wagon with go anywhere ability.

Cool factor: Moderate. There’s a certain humble coolness to choosing a Skoda over other Euro brands. It shows you know what makes a good car. The Superb wagon may not illicit wolf whistles but its styling is sleek and purposeful. Drive it with pride.

Words and Photos: Adam Mamo

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