The Superb has been around in India for over five years now. Not that I could point it out to you, because I could never tell it apart from the other Skodas. But with the new Superb, there is no mistaking it for anything else. We parked it next to a previous generation Superb to play ‘spot the difference’ but there was really no point. Skoda has done away with the drab sheet metal wrapped around the old Superb and have given the new one a smart new set of clothes to hide the completely new underpinnings. The lines on the hood and the face are all the same, but they are more angular and aggressive. The first impression it makes is that of a sporty car but not an imposing one, which might be a bit of a problem for our ‘bigger is better’ car buyers. Make no mistake, the Superb is a large car, but a walk-around is required for its size to register in your brain. Or maybe it was just me. Anyway, I loved the Rosso Brunello colour that our Superb featured, helped by the fact that it sounds Italian.
The interiors are what surprised me the most. How Skoda has managed to shorten the wheelbase and yet increase the space on the inside is beyond me. Those of you who have read Dr Who will remember his extra-dimensional phone booth. It looked small on the outside, but was actually a high-tech vehicle with huge space inside. That is the impression that the Superb gave me. Rear seat space is unmatched by any other car in its class and is big enough for you to live in. The flagship Skoda also comes loaded with all the creature comforts that will keep you entertained for a long time. The centre console is a nice touchscreen unit that shows you everything, from tyre pressure to your music playlist. The front seats have more adjustments than I care to bother myself with, while the rear seats swallow you as you stretch your legs and kick back. Everything on the inside feels good to touch and you will have no option but to let the Superb pamper you. It even has airconditioning vents on the B pillar for the rear passengers. Bringing up the rear is that absolutely gigantic boot. It has a smart system by which it can either open as a conventional boot or raise the entire rear section to become a notchback, in which guise it will appeal to the Italian mafia more than any other car. There is that Italian connection again.
Engine-wise, we Indians have to make do with the Pumpe Duse engine in the Superb, because mothership Volkswagen has reserved the more popular common rail system for the Passat. There has to be some distinction between the two marques, right? Besides, there is no issue with PD, other than it is not as refined as common-rail and is slightly harsh on the ears too. But PD tech has some more life left in the VW stable, especially because VW find it suitable for developing countries in terms of cost of production, plus it is pretty fuel efficient too. And it makes the Superb go! The Superb’s Pumpe Duse engine develops 140 bhp at 4000 rpm, and twists out 32.6 kgm of torque at 1750 rpm which hustles it around with admirable urgency. It is no hot rod tyre shredder, but neither is it a slouch. It pulls cleanly throughout the rev range and there is a distinct step up in acceleration after about 2500 rpm and the Superb takes off. Acceleration is strong and the Superb gathers speed in a pleasing manner and you are never left wanting for more. Well, 10.9 seconds for the century mark in a diesel-powered luxury barge is pretty decent, no? The engine, though it exhibits some amount of lag, is pretty responsive and leaves the DSG gearbox playing catch up. Some more lag is felt as the gearbox figures out what exactly it is that you want. But it does shift seamlessly and in Sport mode, it will hang on to each gear to extract every bit of performance from the engine. It also comes with Tiptronic shift and steering mounted paddles in case your chauffeur thinks he does not need to be told by the gearbox which gear is appropriate.
What impresses more than the engine performance is the ride and handling package. Feel through the steering wheel is equally good at low as well as high speeds, which gives you confidence at the wheel. The Superb now features excellent ride quality that absorbs all that that our beloved municipal corporation can dish out as they go on with their never ending quest for buried treasure all over the city. Even over prolonged patches of bad roads, you are sitting comfortably instead of being flung around from one end of the cabin to another. You might think that handling might suffer because of the cosseting ride, but that is not the case. The Superb goes around corners in a stable fashion and though it is no corner carver, it will not embarrass you either. Other than the looks, this is perhaps the biggest improvement of the new Superb over the previous one. The older Superb was barge-like, while the new one is much tauter. At expressway speeds, the Superb remains planted and the steering setup allows you to effect lane changes with minimum effort. Braking too is strong and sure like the rest of the dynamic package and never induces any heart-fluttering moments. But I cannot help missing the Italian factor in this department.
But there is one issue. As I mentioned before, the engine is rather noisy once you floor it and this is not becoming of a car in this category. I do not really mind it, but prospective customers who are switching from petrol cars to this one might. Other than this, I really cannot think of anything else that is wrong with this Superb, indicating that Skoda has got it very right. It is a well-engineered and good-looking car that is also economical to run. And at Rs 21.50 lakh (ex-showroom, Mumbai), it is not bad value either. And if you are not too ambitious, it can even be fun to drive. Few would disagree when I say that the Superb diesel will be the more popular version in the lineup. As for me, I am waiting for the 260 bhp Superb V6 already. Italian Job, anyone?