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Skoda Superb - Superb score!

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I hate to say this. The highlight of the Superb launch drive was not the chartered ATR flight to Dehradun, nor spotting funny looking lifestyle media
people, nor the serpentine roads to Mussoorie and beyond, nor the rejuvenating massage at the Spa where we were staying and not even a crooning Yana Gupta. An army (I am not joking) of PR people worked almost a month to make sure the ‘7 Star’ test drive went through well and I will have to be a total moron to dismiss their efforts completely. So thank you, and next time I will wear fake Guccis during the day and Carreras even at night. 

But the highlight indeed was waking up at the above mentioned Spa, having reached there pretty late the previous evening. I woke up to a thousand birds chirping at the same time and upon moving the curtains to a massive French window, I was presented with the glorious sight of the mighty Ganges flowing through the plains far below. It was the first time that I was seeing The River and the only thing I could utter was ‘Superb’. That moment, the Skoda PR team and their agencies scored a major victory. India is an important market for Skoda and the new Superb is an important car for the Indian market and so all the effort to drive home the ‘7 Star’ experience can be justified. But the point I am driving at is, all that was not required. Instead, Skoda should have organised equal number of Superbs and Honda Accords in Mumbai and asked  journalists to flog them to Pune on the expressway. They would have done that, gone home and written glorious prose that praised the Superb to the hilt. Why? Because this Skoda Superb is more than a match for the D-segment leader in India, the Accord, and all you need is a straight piece of road to find out. 

Being built on a Volkswagen platform, using VW/Audi engines and riding on VW suspension, the Superb just cannot afford to be a bad car. Being a Euro sedan, naturally, it is more solidly put together, is quite efficient and powerful and offers better ride quality on Indian roads than the Honda Accord. And thanks to some very special number crunching and the fact that Skoda is not bringing in the diesel engine to begin with, they have been able to price the new Superb cheaper than the Honda. At roughly Rs 18.5 lakh (ex-showroom New Delhi), the Superb has sent a few of the Honda marketing men to ICUs. The last generation Superb suffered a bit in India owing to its price tag – the Indian built Accord was a smash hit and extreme value for money. But as far as the premium image goes, the Skoda badge does have an edge over the big ‘H’ in India. Time to Czech out the new D-segment challenger in detail then. 

  The first generation Octavia, Fabia and the Superb looked as if they came from the late eighties rather than the nineties, because they were meant to look well-built and reliable rather than fancy. Mind you, just before the Octavia, VW was straddled with cars of questionable reputation and the most important thing was to gain acceptance from the European car buying community. It was all right to be seen as a value for money car maker, but it was even more important for brand Skoda to have such USPs as a no-nonsense (even if that meant no-frills) image. Not any more. The new Octavia (Laura to us Indians), the Fabia, the Roomster and the Yeti look sophisticated and even futuristic. Ditto the new Superb. Gone are rectangular lines, rectangular grilles and the rectangular headlamps. Instead, ladies and gentlemen, you get curves! And a signature headlamp and a stylish grille! Don’t worry, the car is still as robustly built as ever and even carries a sporty profile with a fastback C-pillar, complete with a BMW kink. Clever chrome garnishing gives the car a limousine air too. In short, the result is a car that has not forgotten the virtues that made it popular to begin with, but one that carries the legacy rather stylishly ahead. 

A few weeks back, I was returning from a VW dinner on the eve of the Geneva Motor Show and the car assigned to me was a Superb. And I was immediately impressed by the enormous rear seat and overall ambience. The road that took us from the city centre to our hotel across the French border was smooth as a billiards table and such was the ride quality at the back of the Superb that I could have been chauffeured in a Bentley! Chrome inlays on the door sills, classy wood veneer, dual tone interior with Nappa leather…you name it, the Superb offers what cars three times as expensive do. And unlike other VW family products, the Superb gets its own touch screen on the centre console, which takes a while to get used to, yet is a brilliant touch nevertheless. The white-on-black dials are classy and carry the ‘well-made’ theme to another level. We have not tested the Superb through an Indian summer yet, but the dual zone air-con (with adjustable vents on the B-pillars) should work fine. If the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class features like wood and chrome inserts and the retractable screens don’t impress you, the Rolls-Royce Phantom feature (the umbrella that hides inside the rear door) will! 

To begin with, Skoda is launching the Superb only with the four cylinder, 1798cc petrol engine that is fed by a turbocharger to produce 160 healthy horsepower (a record for specific output for cars in India?) and 25 kgm of torque between 1500-4500 rpm. Properly loaded, this car can touch two tonnes and I have to say that this engine, despite its displacement, does a good job of moving mass. We had some treacherous roads and insane climbs to traverse during the course of the first drive and the TSI motor came out triumphant. The engine features variable valve timing (told you, they are out to get Honda and their i-VTEC engines) and stratified direct fuel injection. The TSI motor delivers its performance through a 7-speed DSG gearbox (another first), which allows you to shift manually thanks to a Tiptronic system and paddles. Not that a six speed box couldn’t have done the job – just that the seventh cog helps extract everything that the four-pot motor has on offer. If you drive carefully, the TSI motor can return 7-10 kpl regularly and with  petrol prices falling, the choice of a petrol engine instead of a diesel motor doesn’t look so silly. Once Skoda grabs the prospective Accord buyer who does not mind petrol engines, they will play their trump card – the diesel engine. The TDI engine that uses Pumpe Duse tech is now giving way to common-rail diesel engines across the VW family, but it’s still a capable powerplant for the Superb, with 140 horses and 32 kgm of torque. So hold on to your money if you want the Superb that drinks the sticky stuff.    But a car like this needs a big heart and the creamy layer of power and torque that comes with it – the turbocharged petrol unit does its job well  and the upcoming diesel will be loved a lot too. But these engines do not necessarily compliment the luxury statement that the Superb tries to make through each nut, rivet and bolt. For those who are similarly demanding, Skoda will offer the 3600cc V6 petrol that can take the Superb to 100 kph in 6.5 seconds flat thanks to 260 bhp and 35 kgm of torque. It will cost more money, but it will stun a few luxury cars that are sold in India when it comes to performance for sure. We are yet to test the car thoroughly, but we returned from the first drive quite impressed. Being a long wheelbase car which can be called a small limousine, its handling in the twisty Himalayan roads was not something to write to Czech land about. More than once, when the going got rough and twistier, the chassis begged for mercy and accepted that it is after-all a Passat under the skin. Increase speeds and the C-Class pretender gets bored of the costume and threatens to make your passengers sick. All was fine when the car was driven in a rather, ahem, stately manner across smooth tarmac. And it will be better when it is dragging a set of Honda Accords on Indian expressways.