Good: hugely spacious for passengers and luggage, great 4x4 system
Not so good: quite a step up in price for the 4x4 usefulness
I know I've banged on about estate cars before, wondering why Irish buyers seem to steer away from them in their droves. Admittedly it's difficult to recall BC (Before Children) times and my preferences then, but for as long as I can remember I've preferred the look of estates to their four-door saloon counterparts. And of course their extra utility is much appreciated these days with bikes, school bags and Peppa Pig suitcases to carry about.
In other parts of Europe, estate cars are big business, and let's face it; it's for those regions (Germany for example) that the Skoda Superb Combi 4x4 exists. Specifically, it exists for the thousands of motorists that habitually change their tyres over to winter rubber on the same date each year and carry on regardless of the ice and snow sweeping the country. Despite what the Irish winters of a few years ago might have you believe, we don't often have to put up with prolonged periods of sub-zero temperatures and snow covering the roads. So then, is this car pointless?
No, as it turns out. The four-wheel drive system is incredibly well judged and even though I couldn't find a patch of ice to test it on over the Christmas period it still somehow made the car feel more complete. The best thing about it is that you never really notice it doing anything different. Indeed, to prove to myself that it was useful, I went in search of some greasy tight corners to test its mettle. And you know what? I just about sensed the engine's output being shifted to the rear wheels as the front tyres approached the limit of their adhesion. The result was much faster and more satisfying cornering, but of more importance to more buyers is the extra safety.
It's a part-time four-wheel drive system that sends all of the engine's power to the front wheels by default. Only when slip is detected does some of the output get sent, via a Haldex clutch, to the rear axle.
So what does all this trickery cost? Well €3,200 for the 2.0 TDI 140 model, though 4x4 is also available in conjunction with the more satisfying 2.0 TDI 170 engine (or a 260hp 3.6-litre petrol engine if you're one of those very rare people with lots of money and no actual sense whatsoever). The price hike is exaggerated by the fact that the 4x4 car is in a higher tax band due to increased emissions - and hence there is more VRT to pay.
Is it worth that hike? Probably not for the average person, sadly. We do prefer the Superb Combi when fitted with 4x4, but if your job or daily commute will never make use of the system, and our winters return to mild normality, then it's an extravagant luxury.
And let's not forget how fantastic the Skoda Superb Combi is without it in the first place. It's a (very) large estate after all with space, comfort and value on its side. Did I mention I like estates?
BMW 320d xDrive Touring: a highly desirable four-wheel drive estate from BMW, but alas too costly to be seriously considered here.
Subaru Outback: very robust and probably better off-road, but too unrefined and too expensive.
Volvo XC70: classy car that should last forever, but again, way more expensive than the Skoda.