Someone once said, ‘Good things in life come in small packages’. He probably proclaimed this after the 20th tequila shot entered his blood stream one night. Who cares, because well, it seems to be true, at least for some things in life. But then there are a whole host of other places where small is frowned upon. Like a large saloon with a small-ish engine. This would be followed by vivid imagery of a car struggling to climb up a hill or to overtake a big rig. So when Skoda announced they’d be bringing in the new Superb flagship with a 1.8-litre turbocharged petrol motor to India, I thought someone at Skoda had been having too much to drink. So what if it made 160 bhp? In a car that weighs nearly 1.6 tonnes, it ought to feel like an old hag bullock cart.
Skoda were kind enough to send us a car for test, and to add some spice to the proceedings, we threw in its old nemesis, and the current best in class, the Honda Accord, for a comparison. After all, the Accord, with its punchy and proven 2.4-litre engine and 177 bhp should make short work of the Superb on the acceleration charts and then it would be a small matter of comparing the other parameters and then a winner would emerge. But then, I compared the acceleration charts, and soon enough my face had started to turn pale. And small. This one was going to be a more interesting comparison story than I’d set out to believe.
STYLE & DESIGN
The distinguishing factor about the last Superb’s design was that it was... er, hardly distinguished. Other than coming across as the older brother of the Octavia, it wasn’t exactly as appealing, and never hid its bulk either. With the new Superb, Skoda has managed to give it some unique identity, but this car is less intimidating than before. Shorter front and rear overhangs reduce the visual bulk and despite being 30 mm longer than before, the wheelbase is shorter by a similar amount. It doesn’t have a well balanced design like the Accord, but it more than makes up for it with some interesting features, like the pair of pinch lines on the bonnet and the strong crease lines that run from the grille to the A-pillar that give this car a feeling of rigidity. There’s no lack of chrome and despite those ‘mercury on a petri-dish’ tail lamps, the rear end stands out from among other Skoda products.
Where the Accord puts its best foot forward is the way it manages to come across as being inoffensive. There are no radical lines like its predecessor, but it doesn’t come across as boring looking either. But it is huge. Not just visually, but even when you are behind the wheel. Where one can feel comfortable with the Superb after just 15 minutes behind the wheel, it can take hours before you get a hang of those edges with the Accord. At nearly five metres, it is also half a foot longer than the Superb. It does have a somewhat athletic stance that is marred by the 16-inch wheels that make the car look slightly under-tyred. Unlike the Superb, you do have a choice of body kits to choose from that give you the option of making the Accord look sportier, but that won’t make the car go any faster than it does. Even then, in standard trim, like the one you see on our test car, it’s got the measure of the Superb in the looks department.
Skoda Superb: ***1/2
Honda Accord: **** If I were to replace the Superb’s badges with say that of a VW or an Audi, how much would you pay for it? Let me re-phrase this one – if I let you get a feel of the interiors on a badgeless Superb, how much would you pay for it? Geddit? Well, Skoda had to make the Superb special – after all it has to ferry the Czech President too, you see! Well, short of bulletproofing it, Skoda have raided the entire VW parts bin for this car, and come back with what they thought best suited it. And if VW didn’t make those parts, they designed it themselves! Take the touch-screen audio system for instance. Scour the entire VW group and you won’t find such a system until you reach the Touareg SUV that retails for upwards of Rs 55 lakh. Unlock the car and you are greeted with puddle lamps under each of the door handles. If you switch on all systems at night, try noticing the spot lamps on the roof that illuminate the central console. Or when you reach for the anti-glare button on the rear-view mirror, even the ORVMs turn anti-glare.Not only is the driver’s seat electrically adjustable, even the front passenger seat boasts of the same. There are so many neat little touches like these that one can discover something new even after owning the car for a couple of months. Quality surfaces, nice use of colours and the overall fit and finish elevate it to best in class. Of course, in typical Skoda fashion, you also get the multi-information display unit and the neatly tucked away umbrella in the rear-passenger door.
In comparison, the Accord feels, er, naked. It doesn’t have even a sunroof, for crying out loud! The materials have a nice feel to them, but don’t feel as solid. Moreover, the huge display on top of the central console does nothing more than display the audio controls and air-con fan speeds. There’s no multi-information display to even tell you how much the i-VTEC is stretching that litre of petrol – heck, you get that even on a City! There are far too many buttons on the central console to figure out what is where, and then the driver’s seat is the only one that’s electrically adjustable, and that too with two-way lumbar support, where the Superb boasts of four. While we had a manual Accord for this shoot, the automatic, like the Superb, features paddle shifters behind the steering wheel. So Honda has a lot to deliver in terms of kit when this Accord goes through a facelift, without a substantial increase in price.
Despite a 40 mm shorter wheelbase than the Accord, it’s the Superb that offers that bit more comfort. Both have very good legroom at the rear, but the Accord feels a touch cramped when the front seat is moved to its rearmost position. Even with the seat moved fully behind, the Superb offers a better cavity for the front passenger to place his or her feet, especially if the person measures in at 6 ft or more. The Accord’s seats also feel a touch softer, while the Superb offers more shoulder support up front. Underthigh support is best in the Accord, though.
Skoda Superb: ****1/2
Honda Accord: ***1/2
DRIVETRAIN & PERFORMANCE
Two very different ideologies govern the two powerplants. The Volkswagen group believes small turbocharged petrols with a specific output nearing 100 bhp/litre and healthy torque outputs, mated to twin-clutch gearboxes, is the way forward as emission legislations tighten the noose around auto companies all over the world. Honda, however. think that variable valve tech still has some life in it and so the Accord features a new generation i-VTEC system mated to an engine that is a full Tata Nano up on the Superb. Where the 1798cc turbo four-potter on the Superb produces 160 bhp at 4200 rpm, the Accord produces 177.5 bhp at a rather high 6500 rpm. The Superb evens things out by producing 3 kgm additional torque some 2800 rpm lower and then terms like ‘might is right’ start to fall by the wayside.
Now, the Accord is a car I’m extremely familiar with. From filing the test report for the manual to driving the long term automatic around Mumbai to driving to Goa and back and then going on an epic journey across southern and eastern India, this car has seen a lot of me. So I’m aware of the car’s slightly slow shifting gearbox on the downshifts and that peaky power delivery and yet, somewhere, I believed that the Superb wouldn’t be much quicker than the Accord. Then the acceleration sheets rolled out and my jaw dropped quicker than a stone in water. The Superb hit the tonne in 8.8 seconds – the Accord automatic takes 11.4 seconds and the manual too could fire all cylinders to deliver in 10 seconds. Way below what the Superb manages. Gear for gear, the 7-speed DSG was spewing out quicker numbers. Passing speeds, top speeds, braking speeds, the Superb had the Accord completely licked! Despite decent upshift times, the Accord can’t hold a candle to the Superb’s twin clutches that already engage the next higher gear.
Pin the throttle on the Superb, leave the DSG to do all its magic and it moves with an alarming pace. So quick in fact that even the 2.8 V6 on the erstwhile Superb is no match for this small capacity forced induction unit. From 60 to 160 kph especially, the car keeps pulling its 1,575 kg kerb weight closer and closer to the 200 kph mark. The Accord, despite its lower kerb weight, remains a mute spectator to the proceedings, until you cross 5500 rpm and the i-VTEC lady sings. With a fantastic exhaust note to keep you company, the Accord delivers one fitting blow to the Superb with its power coming in a rush as the needle approaches the redline. But it’s too little, too late. Even in urban conditions, the Superb delivers better bottom end torque as low as 1500 rpm, albeit with some turbo lag for company. The Accord waits until 3000-4000 rpm, where the power and torque curves start to get closer.
Skoda Superb: ****1/2
Honda Accord: ***1/2 RIDE AND HANDLING
This is probably the one factor that influences one’s buying decision the most in this segment. And for good reason too. The Accord offers a very plush ride. It feels the more supple of the two thanks to better compression characteristics. Coupled to a really well designed rear seat, the Accord can provide the most pleasurable ride in a straight line on decent roads.
Despite a slightly firmer ride, the Superb’s low speed ride isn’t in line with the Accord. But as speeds increase, the Superb feels more planted and doesn’t tend to yo-yo like its Japanese rival. The Accord’s double wishbone setup up front does its job fine, but the soft setup for the multi-link unit at the rear gives it a tendency to go all over the place. The Superb, on the other hand, uses its multi-link setup at the rear better. Throw in a couple of switchbacks and the Superb will tilt the scales in its favour. The more rigid Superb, with its well-weighted steering and better body control, likes to be thrown around corners. It isn’t an RS, mind you, but the better turn-in and the way it distributes weight front to back even under braking puts it a good two steps ahead of the Accord. The Accord isn’t too bad either, with a more ‘feelsome’ steering. Just as that happens, the rear starts to sing once again. It’s like the car has two different ends detached from each other – like a vestibule bus. The rear tyres can’t develop enough grip and the nose heavy front-end can’t fathom that. So it scrambles for grip, understeering heavily in the bargain. All this while the Superb pulls a clear lead and disappears on the other side of the hill.
Skoda Superb: ****
Honda Accord: ***
This has to be the upset of the year. The Superb that was long considered as a sedate barge is no longer just that. Skoda have comprehensively changed the Superb to not only stamp itself as different from the rest of the range, it’s a complete inside-out job with great interiors, comfort, a stonking engine and much better on-road behaviour. The Accord feels completely outclassed and outdone by this new kid on the block, proving that the current Accord is too much of an evolution of the last gen. And that a facelift alone might not make the job easy for Honda, in fact as they begin work on the next gen Accord, they should factor in the Superb as a benchmark and work to beat it. Then again, Skoda have a long way to go as far as sales and after sales service is concerned in India, so the Superb should be a good platform to turn things around from. But for now, the Skoda is the new best in class. And small can be beautiful. Hic!