Saturday 24 February 2018

A 'luxury' Skoda – real deal or just a gimmick?

Just say, you had the money to buy a posh motor. Could this make you change your mind?

Stylish and roomy: the special edition of the Superb
Stylish and roomy: the special edition of the Superb
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

I never thought I'd drive, or write about, a 'luxury Skoda'. A contradiction in terms surely? Yet they are the only words I can find to describe this special edition of the Superb (which has itself recently been revised).

It is called the L&K (after Laurin & Klement who founded the marque) and has the trappings of a plush Merc or Beemer.

So here is a poser for you.

Just say, you had the money to buy a posh motor. Could this make you change your mind?

It is an example of how quickly the world of motoring is changing. Big-car manufacturers are making small models and bargain-basement names are nudging into luxury territory.

So what are we talking about with this L&K? Is it part of the change or just a gimmick?

Well, it has more useable passenger room than any Merc saloon I've driven. It certainly has more rear-seat space than the new S-Class (which starts at just under €100,000). So you can't call that a gimmick.

I won't say it has anything like the latest wave of super technology in the Mercs, Audis or Beemers at that level.

Nor even in the mid-size Mercedes E-Class, BMW 5-series or Audi A6 models.

And those things count for a lot, I agree. But they also cost.

That's where the challenge comes in. Would I buy a Merc/Beemer/Audi or consider buying a Skoda that has more room than the lot and is immersed in as much comfort – for up to €20,000 less? It was fascinating to see how people reacted. Initially, most thought it was one of the luxury makes. They'd cast a quick glance at the front seeking clues of identity; then a momentary look of puzzlement would register and then they would peer inside to see what-in-the-name-of-God it was.

I enjoyed garnering the opinions of so many. Among several family friends roped into the experiment were one brother and three cousins – the latter in the most unlikely of places (down a battered, lonely, dusty and narrow bog road).

Initially they, like so many others, didn't really know what to make of it because the badging is discreet and even from a short distance it looked so much like one of the up-market German marques.

A couple of them sat in, respectfully fearful they might dirty the rear carpet, and sampled the extent of the legroom. They patted the cream leather and looked around them as I droned on about heated front seats, heated rear seats (now that's luxury), dual climate control, 10-speaker surround sound (excellent), sat nav, 18ins Sirius alloys with a rather nice silver and black design, Park Assist (I'll come to that), and a DSG automatic gearbox.

The 2-litre diesel (170bhp) had plenty of pull and poke, was quiet, smooth and swept us along motorways; while it barely ticked over as we tip-toed down narrow lanes. My version had a 6spd DSG automatic and cruise control so I had little to do behind the wheel really. Just like a luxury sedan.

Not everything was such plain sailing, however. I thought the view out the rear window was particularly poor. I thought the parking aid wasn't great and never felt assured by it – I'd have loved a camera like they have on the Nissan Qashqai. The touch screen was excellent at displaying but wasn't tactile enough – I found myself pressing the same radio station slot, for example, a couple of times due to lack of response.

And then there is the startling fact that this does cost the guts of €40,000 (my DSG version costs more than €39,000). I can hear an inner voice saying it is an awful lot of money for a Skoda, no matter how luxurious. I mean, add another €5,000, €10,000, €15,000 or €20,000 depending on how hi-tech and cosseted you want to be and you have the real thing.

And I have a sneaky feeling that most of those who were full of surprise and praise at the Skoda's price would slink away and buy a 'real' luxury car.

That's just me. Maybe I should trust people more. In fairness, I believed one or two who said they would buy the Skoda.

For all that, I see this as a car you could run for a decade without thinking about changing. It is well built, well decked out and, regardless of name, well priced.

And it is worth remembering this. The two people this version is called after (Laurin and Klement) made their name in the early 1900s supplying large, luxurious limousines to royalty all over the world.

History repeating itself?

Skoda Superb L&K large

saloon/hatch, 2.0TDI (170bhp, 4.6l/100km, road tax €200; 5.3l/100km for automatic DSG — €280 road tax).

Price starts at €36,415; DSG version on test €39,415. Remember delivery and related charges are extra.

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