Luxury cars - Access granted


In these days of runaway inflation, you’d think that everything you want is needlessly expensive. But three luxury cars have actually bucked the trend and suddenly, these cars have become much more accessible than before. BMW was the first to introduce a Corporate Edition of its entry-level sedan, the 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz was quick to follow with the Executive Edition of the C-Class. And now Skoda has made the already value-for-money Superb even more affordable thanks to a manual gearbox option. Let’s look at the Skoda closely, followed by what the two Germans offer in their sedans.

At just under Rs 21 lakh on-road Mumbai, the Superb 1.8 TSI petrol with the new six-speed manual is not exactly cut-price — the feature list is the exact same as the one found on the 1.8 TSI automatic. The powertrain is no different from the one on the Laura petrol, which is regarded by many as the spiritual successor to the Octavia RS. Weighing in at 1,491 kg, the Superb manual is a full 76 kg (or one human being worth) lighter than the automatic and this reflects on the timing sheets. With the traction control switched off and the revs raised to 3000 rpm, just past the turbo lag zone, the car launches itself with nary a hint of torque steer. In the process, it is 0.2 seconds quicker to 60 kph and 0.4 seconds quicker to 100 kph than its automatic brother. At 8.53 seconds to 100 kph it is just 0.07 seconds slower to 100 kph than even the 140 kg lighter Laura 1.8 TSI! Even the passing speeds are quicker than the automatic, thanks to the fact that it is a six-speed gearbox instead of the seven-speeder DSG. So 80-120 kph comes up in just 5.8 seconds,versus the automatic's 6.3 seconds, and if you were to take quarter mile times into consideration, the manual is a full half a second quicker. 

So its performance is pretty much a class benchmark if you ignore the V6 versions, and even then the difference is just a hair's breadth. The six-speed manual is a joy to use, falling into place with a nice 'snick' to it, although it still isn't as slick as a Honda equivalent. The clutch action is light too, but if you release the pedal too soon, you can stall the car quite often, as we realised while driving in Mumbai traffic.   For some, the concept of a manual on a car this size can be a bit daunting, but we found that after a day or two you can get used to it, though the DSG is still the gearbox if your use is primarily urban. The other advantage of a manual gearbox is that it makes the car a bit more efficient and considering that there now is a gear-shift indicator on the instrument binnacle for efficient driving (seen in Volkswagen’s BlueMotion eco-friendly range). In town, it delivered around 6.8 kpl, some 0.7 kpl more than the automatic, while on the highway it delivered nearly 13 kpl, some 0.5 kpl more. It means a slightly better range than the automatic, though this will hardly make any difference on your monthly fuel bills.

As for the rest of the car, you will find it hasn't changed one bit. The steering continues to provide great feedback and is nicely weighted, even though it does feel slightly over-servoed. The car changes direction quickly and doesn't tend to feel its size. Everything still falls to hand very easily, the car is loaded to the gills, the buttons and controls are nicely finished and the touch-screen stereo is not just easy to use but sounds great too. The air-conditioning is excellent and there's more than ample room for five persons and their luggage for a long 1,000-km plus drive. Extremely comfortable on bad roads and with good ride quality, the Superb is as good a chauffeur driven car as it is fun behind the wheel. 

If you are someone who really enjoys driving on weekends when the chauffeur isn't around and want to be in control of what the car is up to, then you can put the Rs 1.95 lakh saved over the automatic version on some blue chip shares and laugh all the way to the stock indices. But if you don't want the hassle of having to exercise your left leg even when the chauffeur has called in sick and still want to have some fun, then the automatic can be worth that extra money. Either way, the Superb 1.8 TSI is a bargain you can hardly ignore!   Executive decision
The Superb's success in the Rs 20 lakh plus segment has meant it has caught the fancy of some of the German brands like Mercedes-Benz and BMW who have launched cut-price versions of their executive saloons. The BMW, 320d Corporate Edition, priced at Rs 29.24 lakh on-road, Mumbai, is some eight lakh rupees cheaper than the regular 320d Highline. For that you get a car without a sunroof, regular halogens instead of bi-xenon headlamps, slightly different looking 16-inch alloys, faux leather instead of premium hides and a single CD player instead of the six-CD changer. The fore and aft movement of the seats is now manual, there is no arm rest at the rear, no blinds for the rear doors and there are fewer speakers on the inside. Yet, mechanically the car hasn't changed – so you get a six-speed automatic for the 2.0-litre common rail diesel engine and the same level of safety kit. It is still quick off the block, putting in 4.5 seconds to 60 kph and just under 9 seconds to 100 kph. While it handles brilliantly, ride quality is a bit stiff and interior room is a bit constrained when compared to the Superb, but the best bit is that behind the wheel you miss none of the features that have been removed. 

In response, Mercedes-Benz have what they call the C220 CDI Executive Edition that has pretty much the same set of features missing as in the Highline 3 Series, except that the seats are now fully manually adjustable. At Rs 31.43 lakh, on-road Mumbai, it is some six lakh rupees cheaper than the regular C220 CDI Avantgarde, but still not as cheap as the BMW. It is a bit more comfortable on the inside and while it isn't as quick as the BMW, it tends to offer better ride characteristics. Neither of these cars is still anywhere close to the Skoda in terms of pricing, but they have closed the gap on cars like the Superb, Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. That gap could reduce even further if both of them contemplate launching petrol versions of their respective de-contented editions. Then the market could well and truly become very interesting!