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Skoda Superb - Sound Engineering


Do, a door, two big rear doors
Ray, the light from the xenon
Me, a name I call myself
Far, a long, long way to drive
Sew, it’s the new Sewpurb
La, it’s a la-la-large car
Tea, its motor’s TDI
That will bring us back to Do
– Sung to the tune of Do-Re-Mi from The Sound Of Music, with profound apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein

It was a good thing there were no songs from this famous movie in the CD that Skoda had provided in the new Superb’s 6-CD changer. Else I would have jumped out of the car and run all over the hills singing ‘The hills are alive with the sound of music...’ Though I am not as pretty as Julie Andrews, the surrounding Austrian countryside on the outskirts of Salzburg definitely was. You could make it out in the movie despite the lack of Technicolor, and in real life, it was jaw-droppingly gorgeous. Fine location then, to drive a brand new car. Before we proceed, if you are wondering what’s the connection between Salzburg and The Sound Of Music, I recommend you get yourself a DVD of the movie. Till then, this explanation should suffice: the movie is set in and around Salzburg. 

Though the Superb goes on sale in Europe as you’re reading this, we are getting it in India only early next year. Specifications, trim level and price have of course not been decided yet, but since the car’s global launch was taking place in Austria, SkodaAuto India thought that it would be a good idea to get Indian motoring journos to sample the new car. So I not just got a chance to drive the next Skoda destined for our shores, but saw the locations where this famous movie was shot... and in the process, got some myths about the movie busted. And some of the Superb’s as well. 
Myth: The real Maria, later Mrs Von Trapp, was as pretty as Julie Andrews
Fact: No
Source: Our tour guide, who showed us a press cutting of the real Maria Von Trapp, and I am a fair judge of female beauty   Speaking of looks, the new Superb is definitely better looking than the previous one. The predecessor, which Skoda itself admits was more like a Passat with the Czech badge, wasn’t as nice. Then, it was barge-like and also resembled the Octavia to many people. The new one is as long as the old Superb, but actually looks smaller. In other words, it does not look as imposing, which could be a bit of an issue in our country where you want big size for big money. But the most surprising aspect of the new Superb is that its wheelbase is shorter than the old one, yet there is no compromise in rear legroom – heck, it even gets moveable rear footrests like a Rolls-Royce! 

While the old one was essentially a stretched Passat, the new one, Skoda claims, is an all-new platform which uses modules from the current Golf Mark V/Laura and Passat. Clever engineering means the new Superb actually liberates slightly more room for the rear passenger. Two main reasons: one, by mounting the engines transversely, the firewall could be moved further to ensure more space in the passenger cabin, and two, by making the roofline longer – going beyond rear passengers’ heads – you sit way back within the wheelbase. That, plus slightly thicker C-pillars means you can virtually be hidden – as Skoda says, like in a Bentley. Anyway, the net effect is a car that is quite roomy inside, despite the fact that it looks compact from the outside. 

The new Superb does not lose any of the conservatism of the old one, and that is a deliberate thing. It is a car that evokes middle-aged confidence rather than youthful enthusiasm. It’s not overtly sporty or aggressive, and is meant to appeal to a slightly older audience – essentially a bunch of prospective buyers who could afford a more expensive marque, but find the value in this car more compelling and rational. Still, there are elements in the car that make it stand apart. And most of that can be credited to Jens Manske. 

This man, who designed the gorgeous Passat CC and the brilliant Iroc concept, was briefly head of design at Skoda, but has since been kicked upstairs within the VW group. Manske brought back that raised centre portion of the bonnet that stretches all the way to the windscreen (which we’ve seen right from the Octavia onwards). He also gave the Superb its distinctive grille (a design which is repeated on the steering wheel) and a set of unique headlamps that give the new car a sense of identity like nothing else. But where Manske lost the plot is in the rear-end treatment, which is like a flashback to the 1980s. The reason could be that the number-plate has moved down to the rear bumper; for some reason, company officials were quite proud of the fact that the Superb is the first Skoda with a number-plate which is not mounted on the boot. Hmm. That ‘80s feeling also is caused by the tail-lamps. Manske’s job of exaggerating their C-shape may not work in daylight, but when they light up in the night, they give the Superb its unique look and yet keep Skoda’s family identity of C-shaped tail-lamps intact.
Myth: The whole world loved the movie
Fact: The Austrians didn’t
Source: Our tour guide. The Austrians knew the real story of Maria and the Von Trapps, while the rest of the world got to know the Hollywood version. Besides, the Austrians were unhappy about their country’s Nazi past

Inside, as you would expect, the Superb is typical Skoda. Or Audi. Or Volkswagen. Or Bugatti (joking). Anyway, what I am trying to say is thanks to the massive parts bin sharing exercise that the whole group goes through, good quality is a given. That, and build quality. Now this is something you cannot take out of Skodas; for the price they are asking, the way their cars are put together is exemplary. The instrument console is as usual dominated by two dials – the speedo and the tacho – while the central console is a study in classic positioning of controls. Everything falls into place perfectly and it doesn’t take too long to arrive at your comfort settings.

The car comes pretty loaded, and it also features adaptive front lighting, rain sensors, tyre pressure monitor and even a parking steering aid that helps you parallel park. And not to forget, the umbrella that comes with its own slot in the rear left passenger door. The Superb comes with a complement of safety equipment, including knee airbags; in fact, the Superb recently won five stars in the Euro NCAP tests.   But the biggest talking point about the Superb is not anything I er, talked about earlier. It is the Twindoor system. And it has nothing to do with the doors. You see, the marketing guys at Skoda wanted the Superb to offer the Octavia’s versatility because of its notchback design, but at the same time, didn’t want a notchback, because in this category of cars, people prefer conventional three-box sedans. So the engineers at Skoda invented (and patented) the Twindoor, a system where you can open it like a standard bootlid, and at the press of another button, the whole decklid and the rear windscreen lifts up. Hey presto, the best of both worlds! Besides this, the rear seats also fold down, which means you get a large three-box saloon with the luggage capacity of a large estate. 

The Superb is offered with six engines (three petrols and three diesels) and four gearbox combinations (5- and 6-speed manual and 6- and 7-speed DSG automatics). The top-of-the-line of the lot is the new 3.6-litre 260 bhp V6 petrol with four-wheel drive, and you would expect that since the old Superb was offered in India with V6 motors, this is a sureshot. Um, actually not. The most likely drivetrain combination that’s coming to India is the 168 bhp 2.0 TDI with a six-speed DSG. And that’s what I drove.
Myth: The Von Trapps crossed over the Alps and escaped to Switzerland
Fact: The Von Trapps did cross the Alps... into Italy
Source: Our tour guide. Who also mentioned that you don’t have to exactly cross the Alps to go to Switzerland from Austria

Turn the key in the ignition and the speedo and tacho needles rapidly move northwards and come back to the starting positions. Why do they do that? I don’t know, but it feels good. The diesel engine can be barely be heard through all the fat insulation and the thicker-than-normal glass. There’s one more reason why this diesel motor is not that noisy. You see, it uses common-rail injection and not VW’s famous Pumpe-Duese technology. The Superb comes with P-D engines, but VW has realised that common-rail makes more sense in terms of refinement, costs, etc. And they are steadily moving in that direction.

The 1968cc four-cylinder motor develops 168 bhp at 4200 revs and over 35 kgm of torque between 1800 and 2500 revs and a six-speed DSG automatic gearbox transfers all that the turbodiesel makes to the front wheels. Setting out of the Skoda pavilion from Salzburg airport, I point the nose of the car towards where the navigation system tells me to go. Instantly, I am lost. Never mind, as long as I am driving I am happy. The Superb passes through some suburbs which the satnav never thought existed. Moving along these built-up areas where speeds are limited to 50 kph, the Superb feels a little uncomfortable. I have the DSG shifter in Sport mode, just so that I get quicker shifts, but the engine does not play along. The engine response is muted at low revs and you need to keep the revs slightly higher to keep at that crawling pace. The Superb feels like it would rather be somewhere else.
Somehow I end up on a dual-lane carriageway, where the laws are a little more liberal when it comes to speeds. Ahh, now that feels better. Press the throttle pedal and the DSG instinctively realises your needs. It quickly shifts a notch down and the motor is now singing. 100 kph is achieved in no time and the engine wants more help from you, but alas, I cannot oblige as the max permissible speed here is 100 kph. Wait till I briefly cross over to Germany, and sample the car on the autobahn...

Given the chance, the Superb 2.0 TDI can attain a top speed of 205 kph and attain 100 kph from standstill in 10.2 seconds, but sadly, I didn’t give it the chance. Instead I was enjoying cruising at about 160 kph with the German countryside zipping past me (or was it Austrian?). Brilliant. Here’s where the Superb is at its blissful best. The engine has forgotten all the irritation of the suburbs and is finally in its element. The superb(!) stereo is belting out some random music interspersed with voiceovers talking about the Superb’s features and there is barely a hint of any noise or vibrations in the cabin. At these moments, the car feels expensive and German, and that’s what prospective owners are going to appreciate back home.   Leaving the autobahn behind, the satnav guided me back to Austria, where there are curvy mountain roads on the menu. Though speeds are restricted here, you can finally enjoy the engine. Here’s when it feels all flexible and malleable and matches your mood for powering through corners. The DSG in turn shifts at a manic pace and ensures that the delivery of power never wavers. The gearbox is such a marvel that it understands your throttle inputs precisely, so it knows when to relax and cruise and when to get all aggro. 

The new Superb is a much better handler than its predecessor. It feels much more taut and responsive and actually handles like it’s a much smaller car. It tackles corners with much more confidence and allows you to carry higher speeds through them. Where the previous car used to wallow, this one is completely at home around corners and body roll is barely apparent. The electro-mechanical steering wheel is also very good in terms of feedback, both at slow as well as high speeds. 

The front suspension features McPherson struts with lower triangular links, while the rear is a multi-link setup. Skoda engineers have ensured that the suspension setup does a good job of not only keeping the car well-planted but of making it ride well. Of course, on these roads, there’s nothing really to comment about; even a Wagon R will feel like a sports car here. We will have to see how the Superb behaves on our roads, and I guess Skoda will give it a rough road package which might compromise its brilliant handling a little bit. But the way I see this car after driving it on European roads, it almost feels like a rear-wheel drive sedan... and that’s a massive compliment!
Myth: Maria was a governess to all the children
Fact: She was hired as a tutor to only one of them
Source: Um, Wikipedia

As mentioned before, though SkodaAuto India haven’t arrived at the final specifications for India, this diesel motor could definitely be one option, while the petrol version will in all probability be the 158 bhp 1.8-litre with a six-speed manual. The challenge for them however will be to see how it fits in with the VW group’s models in India, specifically the Passat. The Passat retails for about Rs 25 lakh in Mumbai, so the Superb will be about a lakh more than that. 

That is not exactly cheap, but if Skoda manages to give better value with the new Superb, expect people to sing ‘...these are a few of my favourite things.’