Arrival time: 7:42pm. Whatever you say about the Skoda Superb, you have to admire its optimism. The sat nav looked at the 640-mile journey from Inverness to Dartmoor and reckoned it could be polished off in ten hours. Needless to say, I didn’t telephone the children to tell them daddy would be home to read them a bedtime story. Instead, I concluded that what will be, will be. And if I reached the Devon border by midnight, I’d be doing pretty well.
I’ll admit that the A9-M74-M6-M5-A30 isn’t the most gruelling of endurance rallies in the world, but I had an overwhelming sense of driving into the abyss as I ventured south. One thing you don’t do on the eve of the school holidays is tackle the M6 and M5. Not through choice anyway. You’d encounter fewer obstacles and nasty surprises on the Baja 1000.
Things started very well indeed. As Ken Bruce spoke of wind, rain and traffic chaos in the south of England, I was enjoying sun-drenched Scottish roads and Skyfall scenery. In the first couple of hours I travelled a mere 80 or so miles, delayed not though traffic, but the constant urge to take the long way to the border. It was all-too easy to slip into holiday mode and follow the ‘tourist route’ signs.
Skoda Superb SE L Executive 2.0 TSI
I was at the wheel of an all-new £27,020 (plus options) Skoda Superb SE L Executive complete with the same 2.0-litre TSI engine you’ll find in the Octavia vRS and Golf GTI. What’s more, the car was fitted with the optional six-speed DSG transmission and Dynamic Chassis Control – a first for Skoda. This really is a new breed of Skoda Superb.
Once out of Inverness and on to the A9, it soon became clear that the warnings I had been given were all too true. The main road through Scotland is both magnificent and frustrating in equal measure, with the view out of the window pockmarked by the endless stream of average speed cameras. To compound the misery, lorries are – in places – restricted to 50mph, making progress slow and miserable. It’s not difficult to appreciate why the 273-mile ‘spine of Scotland’ is known as one of the most dangerous roads north of the border.
No matter. The ultra-clear map on the excellent Columbus sat nav highlighted a number of alternative routes running alongside the A9, so I did the right thing and engaged Sport mode. Blimey, I don’t remember my old MK1 Skoda Superb 1.9 TDI Comfort feeling like this. Skoda told us it won’t be building a Superb vRS, but on this evidence it doesn’t need to.
It sets off like the proverbial scolded cat, making the 0-62mph time of 7.0 seconds seem a tad pessimistic. The tyres screech and the engine delivers a throaty roar, the kind of which you won’t get from the 2.0-litre TDI, which is likely to be the big seller in the UK. It’s no vRS or GTI, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun.
I’ve read reports that the Dynamic Chassis Control isn’t worth the £750 outlay, but on the evidence of my epic drive, it most certainly is. There’s a huge amount of difference between Comfort and Sport, while you can also feel the benefits of Eco and Normal. In Sport, the steering gains more weight, the throttle is more responsive and the suspension is much firmer. Occasionally the DSG gets bogged down, but for the most part it’s the perfect accompaniment to the big Czech.
You’ll want to spend an extra £95 for the 3-spoke leather multifunction steering wheel, which also adds the DSG paddles to the mix. Changes via the DSG shifter aren’t as satisfying, but the paddles seem to provide quicker up and down shifts, while being more in tune with what’s going on under the bonnet. It’s not perfect. Occasionally there’s a delay as the transmission attempts to second guess what you want it to do, which can ultimately ruin a good string of corners. But let’s remember this is a Superb.
Still 522 miles to go…
The steering is nicely weighted, if a little artificial in feel, but body roll is kept in check and the Superb feels much lighter than before. It has shed 75kg compared to the Superb of old and you can feel the effects of the weight-loss diet when you’re behind the wheel. The new Superb has enjoyed fewer working lunches and more time at the office gym.
I could have quite easily played on the Scottish roads all day, but soon realised I was making little progress. By 12:30pm I had reached only as far as Perth, still with 522 miles to go. I’d also lost 30 minutes off my estimated time of arrival. I stopped at a Wild Bean on the outskirts of Perth, but was greeted by a queue for drinks that stretched out of the door. I didn’t want to wait.
The first coffee was consumed at Kinross, by which time the heavens had opened. It would continue to rain for the entire length of the journey. All of a sudden the joys of Sport model and circling the numerous lochs of Scotland felt like a distant memory. Now it was all about getting home. Fortunately I could call upon the Skoda Superb’s trump card: an ability to waft.
Few cars offer such brilliant long-distance comfort as the Skoda Superb. From Glasgow to Staffordshire, the journey should have been absolute torture, lifted only by the delightful surrounding and food at Tebay services. The Superb’s live traffic information warned of dozens of delays on the M6 and M5, with Radio 5 stopping just short of telling people not to bother driving anywhere at all.
But it’s a mark of a true wafter that you don’t mind being delayed in the Skoda Superb. Heated seat set to the max, adaptive cruise control set to motorway speeds and climate control set to ‘just so’, the Superb is as comfortable as it is easy to drive. Special mention must go to the driving position, which I didn’t have to alter once on the entire journey. I could have quite easily driven all night…
Come to think of it, I nearly did. The M6 was as horrid as I had expected. Worse, in fact. By the time I reached the north west of England, the commuters had joined the holidaymakers, presenting the perfect storm of nastiness. All washed down with the very worst of the British weather.
But no matter, because the Skoda Superb keeps you safely cocooned and sheltered from the outside world. The delays also gave me a chance to suss out other people’s reactions to the new car. I suspect in part it’s because it’s so new, but the Superb is a proper head-turner. It received a thumbs up from a van driver and a nod of appreciation from a chap in a Passat.
The Skoda Superb is now a good looking car
Some could argue, with some justification, that Skoda’s new design language is getting dangerously close to Volkswagen and Audi, but there’s no denying this is a sharp looking car. Gone is the frumpiness of the old TwinDoor hatchback, replaced by a confident, almost elegant profile. Now you don’t have to opt for the estate simply to avoid giving fellow motorists nightmares.
And it’s not as though you’ll need the estate for its luggage capacity. The huge tailgate (electrically operated on SE L Executive and above) opens to reveal 620 litres of space, which extends to 1,760 litres with the rear seats folded down. Fit the optional Virtual Pedal and you can open the tailgate by waving your foot under the tailgate. Clever.
It’s at this point that I should hold my hands up and admit that I did send and receive texts at the wheel of the Skoda Superb. But before you go running off to the authorities, let me point out that it’s all thanks to the quite brilliant Apple CarPlay system. This is, without question, the simplest and most effective smartphone link I’ve ever used.
Simply plug your iPhone into the USB port and that’s it. The system will immediately recognise your phone, presenting a familiar home display on the Superb’s infotainment screen. All the phone’s primary functions are accessible and there’s no need to bother with Bluetooth settings or passwords. A couple of scrolls and two buttons later, I was listening to my Spotify playlists. Brilliant.
And speech texting works, to a point. Occasionally I had to change the text message prior to sending, but such is the quietness of the Superb’s cabin, there’s little chance of being misheard. Only once did the system replace Superb with Sceptical. “I’m at the wheel of a new Skoda Sceptical”, I told my mum. I let that one go for the amusement factor.
Suffice to say, I would now like Apple CarPlay on my own car.
M6 TOLL CLEAR
In Staffordshire, three words I longed to read appeared on the overhead gantries: “M6 TOLL CLEAR”. This was to be my one shining light in the middle section of the journey, a chance to break free of the relentless traffic. £5.50 well spent.
Sadly, everybody else had the same idea and I encountered most of them in the service area. Yes, I know it kind of defeats the object to stop on a motorway where you’ve paid to avoid congestion, thus cutting your journey time, but I really did fancy an injection of caffeine. And I figured it would be quieter than the common or garden service areas and their lengthy queues for refreshment. I was wrong. It was bedlam in there. I grabbed a drink and got on with the journey. It was still raining. Hard.
By now it was 7:30pm, so I had a little over ten minutes to get home before the sat nav’s original estimated time of arrival arrival. Needless to say I wasn’t going to make it and midnight was now the most optimistic forecast.
Yet despite being on the road for close to 11 hours, I wasn’t feeling the slightest bit jaded or desperate to get home. In fact, when the sat nav warned of yet more delays on the M5, I made a snap decision to leave the M42 and head down to the M4 via Redditch, Evesham, Cheltenham and Cirencester.
All of a sudden I had the roads to myself. Sure, the sat nav was now telling me I wouldn’t be home before 1:30am, but I had kind of given up hope of getting back at sensible o’clock. Once again, the Superb proved itself to be an unlikely B-road companion. It’s whippet-like off-the-line pace will be alien to drivers of Superbs of old, but it’s a truly fabulous thing to drive quickly.
Proper ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ car
There’s a composure and sense of calmness about the way it goes about its business. It’s a proper ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ car. It’s just a shame that most people will opt for the diesel versions, because there’s a hint of a Q-car about the Superb 2.0-litre TSI. Goodness knows what the 280PS version will feel like.
The Smart Light Assist means you can have main beam on all the time, as demonstrated by the fact that I didn’t receive any flashes from irate drivers. And the Lane Assist is rarely obtrusive and does come into its own in contraflows and slow moving traffic.
From the M4 to when I eventually peeled off the A30 for home, the journey was uneventful and supremely comfortable. I walked in the door, 13 hours and 18 minutes after leaving Inverness, having completed the 693-mile journey at an average speed of 52mph and an average economy of 35.5mpg.
Given I spent the first couple of hours playing in Scotland, during which time the economy dropped to 22mpg, these are pretty good figures. Even at 1:21am, I could have easily driven on to Land’s End and beyond. Sadly, the Skoda Superb offers many toys, but the ability to float isn’t one of them. Though given the conditions I encountered in the Midlands, it did a pretty good impression of a boat.
I emerged from my 13-hour drive filled with respect for the Skoda Superb. There’s so much to admire about the new car and it’s almost laughable that Skoda sees it as a rival to the Vauxhall Insignia and Ford Mondeo. Spend some quality time with this car and you’ll realise it is much, much more than that. This is no built-to-a-budget sales rep special. In SE L Executive trim at least, the Skoda Superb is more than a match for its illustrious German rivals. Seriously, it really is that good.
Crucially, Skoda has added even more space to the Superb (boot capacity is up by 60 litres, rear legroom remains unchanged), yet it somehow feels smaller on the road. It retains a formidable presence, but when you’re at the wheel it feels more engaging. More willing to entertain. And I never thought I’d write that about a Skoda Superb.
Is the Skoda Superb a true game changer?
I’ll readily admit that I’m a bit of a Skoda Superb fanboy, having owned a nearly new MK1 and emerging deeply impressed with the MK2 1.8 TSI 4×4 I drove a few years back. Skoda is calling the new Superb “a game changer”, a tired phrase we hear all too often in press conferences and in media packs. But in the Superb, Skoda does have a car to take the brand to uncharted heights. Only the blinkered and the ignorant would view this car with anything other than admiration and respect.
As I write this, the Skoda Superb is sat outside the office, waiting to be returned to Skoda HQ. It’s taking all my willpower not to jump behind the wheel and head off for another 600-mile drive. It’s not flawless, but it comes close. The ride quality doesn’t feel quite as sumptuous as before and there’s a noticeable amount of road noise, not helped by the 18-inch alloys and 235/45 tyres. I’d also like the driving mode selection button to be accessible via the steering wheel controls, but given most Superbs will spend their entire lives on motorways, I’m probably alone with this request.
I fully expected the Skoda Superb to be comfortable, spacious and well-equipped. But I didn’t expect to be tapping its dashboard in appreciation of its dynamic qualities. Yes, I did indeed let the car know how much I enjoyed driving it. Hey, it was late and I was probably feeling a tad delirious by that stage. To paraphrase the late Roy Orbison, I could have driven all night. Part of me hopes the 2.0 TSI remains an undiscovered gem of the Superb range. Let the masses have the diesel versions.
We’ll keep this as our little secret, OK?
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