Skoda's new Superb is far better looking and more luxurious than before, but refinement issues could hold it back from taking on the truly premium saloons it purports to challenge.
In the Metal:
Do you remember that (morally questionable) American TV series called The Swan? It was where plain and dowdy women got given a crash course in dieting, exercise and (most worryingly) plastic surgery (not to mention a howitzer's worth of makeup and careful studio lighting) in order to turn them into glamorous, gorgeous Hollywood icons. Dubious TV it may have been but it pretty much accurately describes what has happened to the Superb. Lower, wider and a little longer than before, where the old Superb looked blocky and bulky (especially around the rear three quarters, where ungainly metalwork was needed to disguise the hinge for the slightly pointless hatch/saloon boot opening) the new one is sleek, slinky and just a touch sexy. It's not OTT or perhaps quite as finely crafted as an Audi but it's really, really not far off. This is a particularly handsome saloon (technically it's a hatchback, but will be referred to all and sundry as a saloon).
Inside, it's almost entirely predictable and if we said it looks and feels like a scaled-up version of the Skoda Octavia, would you be surprised? Quality seems very good indeed, as you'd expect, although our test car did develop an annoying fizzy rattle in the driver's door at certain engine speeds. Comfort is exceptionally good though, thanks to big, supportive seats and thanks most of all to cavernous space. The new Superb picks up the old model's rear legroom mantle and adds useful extra width to the equation. It's hard to think of a car with more useful interior space that doesn't have a Wedding Hire sticker on the boot.
The 1.6 TDI diesel engine will be the core of the Superb range and at first it's not at all hard to see why. More powerful (by 15hp) than its predecessor, it's smooth and easy-revving and should be very economical. I doubt you'll match Skoda's official 70-odd-mpg figure in daily driving, but 60mpg should be doable with a little care. The standard six-speed gearbox feels as good as it does in other Volkswagen Group products and shifts cleanly. Change up early, so keeping the relatively low-torque engine (250Nm is around 20Nm down on most of the competition) in its sweet spot, and progress never feels too sluggish. Worth trading up to the 2.0 TDI with 150hp? Maybe, maybe not...
There's not much point in going looking for more power if you think it'll make the driving experience more exciting - it won't. The Superb isn't dull to drive, but neither is it especially engaging. What it majors in is comfort (although the ride quality can get a little fidgety around town) and smoothness. The steering reacts linearly, but not sportingly. The suspension works best on long motorway runs where it soothes away those long-wave road imperfections with ease. It should be a very good car in which to while away a long journey.
We'll reserve judgement for a longer test, as we did notice some potential refinement issues including a diesel engine that sounds noisier than it does in the equivalent Volkswagen Passat and quite a lot of tyre and wind noise, the latter especially around the doors. Developed for German Autobahns and not rough-surfaced Irish roads perhaps? More time in the car will tell.
What you get for your Money:
Mid-range Ambition trim seems to have all the toys you could reasonably need. Buyers get a touch-screen infotainment system with Mirror Link and Apple Car Play, Xenon headlights, 16-inch alloys, cruise control, rain sensing wipers, heated seats and, that classic Superb classy touch, umbrellas stashed in the front doors.
However, is anyone else a little disturbed that the ideal Superb now costs north, albeit not very far north, of €30k? That seems like a big psychological barrier through which to punch for a Skoda, even one as impressive as this. That goes double when you think of just what a good car the smaller (but still hugely practical) Octavia is.
We always loved and recommended the old Skoda Superb and not much has changed here - the new car takes all the strengths of the old one and adds to them. The only concerns are over ballooning prices and refinement on longer journeys. However, it's more spacious, more luxurious, prettier and potentially even better built than ever before.