Skoda Superb

Test venue: Avon and Devon

Skoda boldly named its flagship saloon car, the Superb. Neil Perkins spent a week with the 1.8T version and was impressed with its all-round build quality and performance.

Skodas are no longer the butt of after-dinner jokes. Volkswagen's influence over the Czech marque in the nineties converted the once ailing Eastern European motor manufacturer into one of the better value-for-money brands on the road. Later Felicia models were a marked improvement on the older Estelles and 130s and the excellent Octavia took Skoda to an even higher level in the credibility stakes. Then came the award-winning Fabia and now the flagship Superb.

Built at the Kvasiny factory in the Czech Republic, the Superb is fitted with one of six engine options: a 1.8-litre, turbocharged petrol unit in my particular test car, a pair of diesel engines, a 2.0-litre petrol or two range-topping V6 power plants. V6 models are also available with an optional Tiptronic transmission, although Skoda insists that diesel models constitute around 70% of sales

Superb models come in three equipment levels. You can opt for the Classic, Comfort or Elegance specification.

I spent Easter weekend driving the torquey Comfort 1.8T version around the lanes of Devon and Somerset and was impressed by a car which can be yours for an on-the-road price of 17,500. At 14,200, the Classic 2.0 is the cheapest offering in the range, with prices rising to 24,500 for the Elegance 2.5 V6 TDi. Optional extras include an electric sunroof, curtain air bags and upgraded alloy wheels.

The Superb's performance was spirited enough to make overtaking a leisurely pastime. The ride was comfortable and refined, although I did find the suspension a little soft and sloppy for my personal preference.

The five-speed manual gear change was slick and precise and there were no niggling flat spots from the 150 bhp engine, which offers an impressive 210 Nm of torque - in layman's terms that's more power than you would get from an old Rover SDi V8 engine.

Climate control kept the interior at a comfortable temperature, even in a freak Good Friday heatwave in a Bath traffic jam, and easy-to-hand instruments and cruise control made a journey down the M5 that much more pleasurable.

The on-board computer signalled average fuel consumption of 34 mpg for a week with the 1.8T. Skoda claims the 193 bhp V6 options will deliver around 28 mpg, reach illegal speeds in eight seconds and a maximum speed of 147 mph. Those performance figures would have been unheard of from a Skoda 10 years ago.

The interior of the car is well protected from outside noise and tyre boom, but I did feel that the car was a little sloppy in the handling stakes on sinuous country roads. The steering was precise and inspired confidence and there was enough grunt from the turbocharged engine to make swift progress, although the front wheels suffered a little from torque steer in damp conditions on hard acceleration.

Superb diesel derivatives are fitted with an Anti-Slip System and Engine Drag Control and the new ESP system is standard with the V6 engine and optional with other models.

Skoda claims the Superb incorporates several technological advancements, including bi-xenon headlights, aerowipe windscreen wipers, electronically-controlled brake assistance, the latest ESP stabilisation system as an option and the useful acoustic rear parking sensor.

While the Superb could easily give the Audi A4 a run for its money in terms of build quality, refinement and value-for-money, Skoda has targeted the Ford Mondeo, Citroen C5 and Vauxhall Vectra as potential rivals. Milton Keynes management expects to sell around 3000 units in 2003, with the cut-throat company car and fleet sales market atop the target list.

The Superb offers excellent leg room in both the front and the rear, a comfortable driving position with an optional arm rest and an easily-adjustable seating and steering wheel position. There is ventilation and climate control for rear seat passengers and a folding footrest on Elegance models for rear seat passengers.

It is an excellent, well-priced all-round package and a fitting flagship for a brand which has undergone the most radical transformation in the recent history of the global car industry.

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