Thursday 27 October 2016

Superb idea: now Skoda pitches for BMW buyers

Estate big on space but not on posh

Published 08/05/2016 | 02:30

Impressive roominess: Skoda Superb estate.
Impressive roominess: Skoda Superb estate.

A few weekends ago Skoda tried something a bit unusual. It asked people to come into its Dublin dealers to drive and compare a BMW 5-series against its new Superb. Or maybe it was the other way around. It doesn't matter. The point is they wanted people to compare a Beemer and a Skoda.

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I'm not so sure the exercise made an awful lot of converts. I honestly don't think Skoda expected to.

I think the exercise, far more cleverly, elevated the merits of the Superb in the public mindset - because it put the two in the same ballpark. Clever, cheeky, call it what you will, it helped cast the Superb in a new light and, I think (but may be wrong) foretold of times to come when a more sustained focus on budget and trim comparisons may be made.

And so, even tough I was dogged by a rotten old cold and didn't drive the Superb Combi anything like the distance I normally would (700km+), I still was fascinated to see how I'd react to it with the 5-series ploy still fresh in my mind.

Obviously we are talking different budgets here; not to mention the cachet that comes with a posh-car emblem on bonnet and boot.

And I'm not going to get into the detail of spec-level comparisons because I'd need two more pages. The 5-series starts at €45,200 but realistically you'd add another €5,000 to €7,000 to that for mid-range trim and spec. The Superb starts at €26,995 but the more relevant 2-litre 150bhp diesel kicks in at €32,555 (there is a 1.6-litre diesel from €28,275). Then again, my specced-to-the-gills estate (Combi) costs around €42,000 so really you are into start-up 5-series pricing with that but the equipment levels are off the radar. See what I mean? It would do your head in.

So to be fair let's say there is a strong five-figure gap between the two. Let's also remember that the 5-series Touring remains, despite its length of time on the market, the best of its kind. I have no doubt about that. I've driven several versions. A nicely turned out 520d Touring is a benchmark in itself. I've also driven several new Superbs but this was my first time in the Combi (estate) on Irish roads.

It was impossible not to be impressed by its roominess. Skoda has even added 30 litres to the luggage area. It has greater capacity than the 5-series or Mercedes E-Class. You know when you are under the weather how the slightest thing can annoy or upset you? I have to say sitting in for a drive down to Gorey had the opposite effect on me. The Superb was snug, warm, comfortable and had a great driving position. Excellent cabin now. I won't say it reminded me of the 5-series but there was no doubting it has ascended several rungs with the quality of materials in and around the cabin as well as how the whole interior is designed and laid out. Plush is overstretching it, but more upmarket (sorry for cliché) is not. There's quality throughout.

Room at the back, for a couple of my long-legged travelling companions, was ridiculous. Is there anything on the market to match it? I don't believe there is. My version even had rear-occupant 3-zone climate control. Skoda claims the Superb has twice the 'leg clearance' of the Opel Insignia (which is a decently roomy large-family motor in its own right).

I suppose the biggest surprise was the quality of drive. This managed to smooth out the bumps and road noise. I'd call it accomplished. And like the 5-series, it was simple and straightforward on the road. The difference really is the sporty/handling edge the 5-series brings to a drive. There is no getting away from that; it is something that sets it apart. The Superb leans towards a more pliable, solid comfort.

And then there is the truly obvious. One has a BMW badge; the other doesn't. And people are, understandably, prepared to pay for that 'premium'.

However, if you're a BMW wannabee but cantabee, you'll search long and hard for a better-value alternative than the Superb.

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