There is a well-established story in motoring circles to explain how the Skoda Superb came to have limousine-style rear legroom and the Rolls Royce-style umbrella stored in the door.
In the years before 1999, the transport of VIPs, in what was then Czechoslovakia, was invariably a Tatra limousine. But, although the company continues as a truck manufacturer, Tatra produced its last car in 1999.
So, the story goes, the Czech government were looking for a Czech manufacturer to produce limousines to replace the Tatra. Now it happened they still had a share in the country’s best-known motor car manufacturer, Skoda. According to the story, that is why the Skoda Superb has limousine legroom and those VIP-shielding umbrellas.
Of course it is not just Czech presidents and other dignitaries who like to have plenty of space. Families and corporate buyers want comfortable space too and – by one of those twists of fate, the rapidly expanding Chinese market is particularly keen on acres of space in the back. So the Skoda Superb fits the bill perfectly for a wide market.
Space is still one of the key selling points for the third generation Skoda Superb, which is based on the Volkswagen Group’s MQB platform. Despite being 28mm longer and 47mm wider, the new model is up to 75kg lighter than its predecessors. With its greater dimensions and an 80mm extension to the wheelbase, the latest Superb still offers class-leading space.
The boot is now 30 litres larger. When you lift the tailgate and deposit the week’s shopping it actually looks quite lost sitting in the middle of this vast expanse. So, it goes almost without saying that the new Skoda Superb offers good space for four or five passengers with generous allowance for their luggage. No wonder the Skoda Superb is so popular with limousine and taxi operators. Should you want even more space, there is also an estate version.
Whichever way you look at it, the Skoda Superb is a lot of car for the money, with the 1.4TSi S just scraping in at a shade under £20,000.
Some may miss the second generation Superb’s trick tailgate. It was designed to provide the best of both worlds bridging the world of limousines and family cars. You could open the tailgate like a conventional hatchback, or – to avoid the rush of air onto the necks of your precious rear seat VIPs – you could open just a boot-style hatch, leaving the rear window glass in place. Its disappearance on the third generation may be bemoaned by a few, but it undoubtedly saves weight and reduces complexity.
My test car was the Skoda Superb SE L Executive 2.0 TSI 4x4 DSG at £32,590 on the road. It comes with the equipment that any respected executive would expect. That includes bi-xenon headlights, adaptive cruise control (a real boon for anyone who does long dual-carriageway or motorway journeys), electrically-adjusted heated leather seats, electric tailgate, sat-nav and, of course, those umbrellas – one in each front door.
Notably the test car had four-wheel-drive, which should ensure you can actually make it to the ski slopes for your executive winter sports holiday and also help to keep you glued to the tarmac for the rest of the year as well.
My test car was also equipped with the Volkswagen Group’s DSG gearbox. Enthusiasts may miss this car not having steering wheel paddles for manual gear changes (if you want to change gears manually you must use the selector). In reality the DSG gearbox is so good that there is little to be gained from changing gear manually.
Left to its own devices its changes are generally good and remarkably smooth, but when not in sports mode it will enter corners in a high gear on a trailing throttle.
The work-around for enthusiastic drivers is to flick the selector back when you approach a tight bend. This puts the gearbox into ‘sports’ setting and it will automatically down change – to stabilise the car – as you brake for the corner. Once back on the straight and narrow, you can flick the selector backwards again to switch back from ‘Sport’ to ‘Drive’ – this saves the Superb holding onto low revs and drinking more fuel.
The Superb SE L Executive is set up for comfort rather than sporting ride and handling. But, using this technique it was possible to make remarkably rapid progress even on the twistiest of B-roads.
The steering is not the most communicative, but it is precise and has enough weight to give you the confidence that you can place the car accurately and detect the grip on the tarmac.
The engine choices for the Superb SE L Executive are two petrol units of 1.4 and two-litre and two diesels of 1.6 and two-litre. The test car came with the two-litre petrol power unit, with a power output of 280PS. This gives the Skoda Superb SE L quite lively performance, as indicated by the 0-62 mph time of 5.8 seconds. That actually makes this significantly larger car quicker on this benchmark than a Volkswagen Golf GTI.
For those who rack up thousands of miles pounding motorways, autoroutes and autobahns of Europe, the slower diesel power unity may be the obvious choice.
But, with diesel now facing a clampdown in some cities, many buyers will be giving the diesel v. petrol argument a fresh look. For high-mileage users, the economy of diesel may still make it the sensible purchase, with its 53.3 mpg combined fuel economy. But, for those whose annual mileage is more modest, the petrol models may mean that the more lively option with its more modest 39.2 mpg makes more sense.
My choice would definitely be the petrol power unit. With that the Skoda Superb SE L Executive 2.0 TSI 4x4 DSG ticks so many boxes. It is comfortable, more spacious than many of its rivals, remarkably quick, but easy to drive. The four-wheel-drive is the icing on the cake, making it more surefooted and it will clearly be more capable in difficult conditions.
When you factor in the price, the story becomes even more compelling. Even the higher price of this near the top-of-the-range test car means you get a lot of car for your money. Skoda Superb SE L Executive 2.0 TSI 4x4 DSG
Carbon dioxide emissions: 164 g/km
Combined fuel economy 39.2 mpg
Top speed: 112 mph
0-62: 5.8 secs
Power (engine) 280 bhp
Engine size 1984cc petrol
Boot capacity 625/1760 litres (back seats up/folded)Tatra footnote
These pictures show the Czechoslovakian President’s Tatra limousine at Prague Castle, looking a bit like an overgrown Volkswagen Beetle. Like the Beetle, the engine was in the back.
Below that is the Tatra limousine which was at the Skoda museum when I visited it in 1997, two years before production ceased. Although it looks more modern, it was still rear engined.