Review and road test of the Skoda Superb (2002-2008)
IS SUPERB STRETCHING IT SLIGHTLY?
BY ANDY ENRIGHT
Skoda's Superb drew a few barely suppressed chuckles of mirth when it was first announced but those cynics were soon left coming to terms with the fact that the Superb was, well, really rather good. Based on a stretched MkV Volkswagen Passat chassis, the Superb offered an enormous amount of car for your money, typically retailing new at around £500 less than its smaller Passat equivalent. Although a big Skoda was never going to be the hottest ticket in town, sales have been respectable, especially amongst the entry-level models and used examples are now filtering onto the market at ridiculously cheap prices.
4dr saloon: 1.8T, 2.0, 2.8 petrol 1.9TDi100, 1.9TDi130, 2.5TDi diesel [Classic, Comfort, Elegance]
The Superb name has a great deal of resonance in Skoda circles, having originally been worn in 1934 by a luxurious, stylish model owned by wealthy entrepreneurs and royalty. Although it's doubtful the Bransons and Beckhams of this world would plump for a Superb these days, there's a good deal to be said for democratising the brand. Launched in the UK in May 2002, the current generation Superb instead offers an intriguing and high value choice for executives and those looking for spacious family transport.
The Superb was offered at launch with four engines, a 115bhp 2.0-litre, a 150bhp turbocharged 1.8 and two powerful V6 units, the 2.8-litre petrol and the 2.5-litre TDi diesel. Summer 2002 saw the addition of two 1.9-litre petrol units in either 100 or 130bhp guise. The Superb was soon collecting a number of plaudits, doing very well in the German Golden Wheel awards and winning Britain's Towcar Of The Year award in 2003. Skoda revised the 2.5-litre V6 engine towards the tail end of 2003 giving it another 5bhp and making it Euro IV emissions compliant.
A series of minor revisions were introduced late in 2006 including a re-profiled grille and indicator lights embedded in the wing mirrors. C-shaped rear light clusters were also installed and the dashboard was redesigned with tasteful white backlighting. The 2.0-litre TDI diesel engine brought 140bhp to replace the old 130bhp 1.9-litre unit and this instantly became the engine to have in the Superb, even if the model was beginning to show its age in comparison to newer medium range and executive rivals.
What You Get
Apparently, it was Czech President Milos Zeman, embarrassed at having to use a German car for his official duties, who prompted Prague to initiate plans for a top saloon to slot in above the Medium Range Octavia. Actually, what he originally wanted was a stretched Octavia, revealing his surprisingly limited knowledge of VW's platform-sharing policy. The Octavia does, after all, share the underpinnings of a VW Golf: expecting to create a limousine out of it was asking a bit much.
What could be provided however, was the basis for a stretched VW Passat. Wolfsburg had already created such a thing for the Chinese market, extending the wheelbase by 95mm to 2803mm. All the Czechs then had to do was to Skoda-ise it. This has been done rather more half-heartedly than with other transition models - but then that's all to the buyer's benefit. What Skoda influence there is has been neatly integrated: the chrome front grille, restyled bonnet and trapezoidal headlamps are all detail changes. The wider cabin and unique small rear side windows represent more fundamental improvements.
Move inside and the first thing that strikes you is the wood trim. I remember laughing the first time I saw wood in a Skoda (an after-market package fitted to a Felicia many years ago) but there's nothing remotely funny about this. Adorning the dashboard and the doors, the dark timber is tasteful and Germanic. Whereas the Octavia's cabin seemed to have been kept deliberately drab to preserve Passat sales, this one seems almost as good as anything from the German marque's stable.
As you might expect, most of that extra 95mm has been donated towards the cause of extra legroom - and it makes lots of difference. Sadly, the boot capacity is no different to an ordinary Passat's (462 litres) but you can at least extend it by using the easily-to-operate split-folding rear seats. It's even possible to fold the front passenger's seat flat for particularly long items.
For the drivers it's all very plush, thanks to a multi-function leather-coated steering wheel that adjusts for both rake and reach. Three trim levels are offered - Classic, Comfort and Elegance - and all include electric windows, air conditioning and a trip computer. Go for the Elegance and you can expect to find xenon headlamps, a premium CD stereo system, rain-sensing wipers, climate-controlled air conditioning, 17" alloy wheels and electric seats with a memory function.
What to Look For
Ask a Skoda dealer what goes wrong with Superbs and you're likely to have a short, if slightly dull, conversation. Certainly, they're every bit as well put together as a Volkswagen Passat - a fact confirmed by VW Group in-house surveys. Still, it's worth looking at front tyres - especially on the diesels - as these can take a bit of a battering and it will also pay dividends to ensure that all of the electrics are working properly as faults here can be difficult and costly to repair later. The air conditioning should give a decent blast within a few seconds of start up and make sure the ESP warning signal isn't permanently illuminated on the dashboard display.
(approx based on a 2002 Superb 1.8T). A clutch assembly retails at around £170, front brake pads are £75 a pair whilst rears are £40 a set. A new alternator is a fairly reasonable £280, and a new headlamp is a hefty £245. A new exhaust system including the front and down pipe is £1100.
On the Road
The Superb V6 2.8 30v offers some major bang for your buck. This 193bhp unit develops an impressive 206 Ib ft of torque and is the largest engine on offer - or at least it will be until someone gets round to sticking the W8's 4.0-litre V8 under the bonnet. But why would you want to when this one makes sixty in 8.0s on the way to 147mph? A bit of a downside is the fuel consumption: you'll struggle to average much more than about 28mpg.
This is one of the reasons why most buyers will go for the more realistic engine options. Petrol-wise, these include the Octavia's familiar 115bhp 2.0-litre and 150bhp 1.8 Turbo units. Diesel buyers meanwhile, get both 100 and 130bhp TDI PD powerplants, plus the 150/1555bhp 2.5-litre V6 TDI (which alone comes with a 6-speed manual gearbox option). There's no four-wheel drive option but you can specify the excellent 5-speed Tiptronic automatic widely used on up-market Audis.
As with the Passat, you shouldn't expect a particularly involving driving experience. Still, most buyers will find the ride to be truly excellent thanks to Skoda's careful tweaking of the four-link strut and torsion beam suspension. It's certainly difficult to imagine anyone getting out of shape in one, particularly as ESP Electronic Stability Control is standard.
As used executive class buys go, the Superb lives up to its name. If you really want to maximise your saving it may be worthwhile waiting a year or so to ensure that the steepest part of the depreciation curve has clobbered somebody else but even at today's prices it's tough not to fall for it. If you've got an eye for quality and want a car for the longer run, here's a great buy.
Skoda Superb (2002-2008) review by ANDY ENRIGHT