2011 Skoda Superb lives up to its name

Road Test Don't let the unfashionable moniker keep you from the able-bodied performance of Skoda's new Superb, which is also a steal at the price.

Many won't buy this car due to the name but it's worth the money. Newspress
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"Forget the name, forget the badge and enjoy it for what it really is: a brilliant car." Those were the closing words of my review of Skoda's Octavia vRS a couple of months ago and I'm tempted to leave it at that for this road test, too. Because the Superb is, ahem, really very good indeed.

Only I can't leave it at that because I'm sat opposite my boss and he quite rightly expects me to earn my keep with rather more than a 17-word summary.

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I know what you're thinking, though. You're thinking that it may very well be a brilliant car that's excellent value for money. But it's a Skoda. So you won't buy one, will you? You'll also be thinking (and I'll concur with this point) that there's something slightly iffy about the way it looks, particularly in its awkward side profile. It's a long car; 4.8m long, and it has more rear legroom than a standard Mercedes-Benz S-Class, which is a lot. But that's still not enough to convince you of this car's worth, is it? Because it's a Skoda.

It's not exciting, granted, but it's beautifully constructed, luxuriously appointed and, particularly in 3.6L version, has the solid feel of a big Mercedes. Put a Merc badge on the steering wheel and you'd be none the wiser.

The Superb has been around in this guise since late 2008 and it's so much more than a big VW in disguise. It's said that 80 per cent of the car is Skoda's own design and execution, with the rest from parent company VW and, where the previous Superb did nothing to hide its humble Passat origins, this is a much better, more distinctive car. And as for the name, what I previously assumed was a bit of an in-joke is actually tied in with the company's long and rich heritage, first being used back in 1934.

The cabin is quite lovely. It's simple, elegant and well laid-out, with a premium feel not far short of the best Audis. The quality of materials is way above what you'd expect to find in cars of this price bracket and UAE models come with a healthy array of kit as standard equipment. And, like I said, there's seemingly acres of space inside.

While the styling could be said to be a bit bland and awkward in places, there's one very clever design touch that goes unnoticed by casual observers. The rear opening is, at the touch of a button, either a normal boot or a full hatchback, which makes it a genuinely practical car for families and sales executives alike.

The 3.6L comes with four-wheel drive, which is pretty irrelevant here in the UAE, but its 260hp V6 is as smooth as they come. Top speed is limited to 250kph and 100 is reached from rest in just 6.5 seconds, so it's no slouch. There's 350Nm of twist to play with, too, giving the Superb impressive mid-range punch. The six-speed DSG transmission is straight from VW and it's one of the world's best. So far, so good.

On the move it's all very composed and refined. Wind noise is practically non-existent and there's a pleasing, discreet rumble from the engine when you pile on the power. Everything feels tight, with no squeaks or rattles anywhere and I quickly find myself forgetting that I'm not piloting a big German autobahn basher. It's a Skoda. And you know what? It's brilliant. But you still won't buy one, will you? But you really should. If practicality, space, luxury and quality are up there on your list of attributes when pondering your next purchase, then the Superb delivers on all fronts. A fully loaded 3.6 (known as the Elegance model) costs just Dh143,800 and I can't think of anything else out there that offers so much for the same price.

But then there's the 1.8T. With a turbocharged four-cylinder up front, I was expecting it to be half the performer the 3.6 is. I was wrong. Because this car is lighter, having both a smaller engine andbeing front-wheel drive, it feels just as rapid as the 3.6. Up to a point, that is. At speeds over 120kph, the 1.8 feels asthmatic compared to its big brother but, in real world driving, there's little in it. And, at Dh99,500 with an unlimited mileage warranty, it makes a solid case for itself. Superb? I'd stick with excellent for now, but the next one probably will be. Forget the name, forget the badge and enjoy it for what it really is: a brilliant car.

The Specs

Base price Dh143,800

Engine 3.6L V6

Gearbox six-speed, dual-clutch DSG

Power 260hp @ 6,000rpm

Torque 350Nm @ 2,500

Fuel economy, combined 10.1L/100km