A good vintage, but... old wine in new bottle

Sumant Banerji, Hindustan Times
First Published: 13:14 IST(27/1/2014)
Last Updated: 13:30 IST(27/1/2014)
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The Skoda Superb is the market leader in the upper tier of the executive segment. Its leadership was not challenged when competitors such as Honda, Toyota, Nissan and parent firm Volkswagen refreshed their lineups. The problem is that the luxury segment is increasingly creeping downwards, eating into this category. So a refresh to the Superb may indicate an attempt by Skoda to wrest the initiative from the Audis, Mercs and BMWs. Does it have a case?

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LITTLE DIFFERENT OUTSIDE

Taking a cue from their new design language first seen in the Octavia a couple of months ago, the new Superb is sharper and has a more chiselled visage. But the changes are not head turners. The headlamps are broader, and LED daylight running lights have appeared. The redesigned grille has the new Skoda logo, and the front and rear bumpers are new as well. Overall dimensions are the same.

The rear has more striking changes. The tail lamps have become a wraparound inverted cluster that looks similar to the Audi A4. Interestingly, Skoda’s head of design Jozef Kaban was in charge of exterior design for Audi in his previous assignment. Any similarity, therefore, is accidental. Or may be just a force of habit.

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SAME OLD INTERIORS

Barring a new steering wheel that has three spokes for the automatic version instead of the regulation four, there are no changes inside. It has the same European dashboard layout and retains the high quality and ergonomics. Considering the dynamics of the segment there was little scope for a designer here anyway. The seats are comfortable, not too hard nor too soft, good for long drives.

PETROL SMARTER?

The new Superb comes with 1.8-litre petrol and 2-litre diesel engine options. The petrol variant is offered with a 6-speed manual or a 7-speed automatic transmissions, while the diesel has 6-speed automatic. That the manual gearbox is available only in petrol, indicates which is a better car to drive. With petrol engines getting direct injection and turbochargers, the advantage of diesel engines has been negated, for now.

The automatic petrol is the pick as the turbo kicks in much earlier than the diesel, and is also more refined. The manual, with the same output, gives the driver a feeling of being in command. For a heavy car, acceleration is very good and power comes in a linear curve that tops out near 6,000 rpm.

The diesel suffers from pronounced turbo la g. Below 2,000 rpm, there is little on offer. When it does come alive, it is in a rush, as though making up for lost time. Since city driving mostly happens in the 1,500-2,500 rpm band, it makes the diesel engine a little irritating.

The Superb retains its classleading ride and handling, and is happy to be challenged at corners, though not as much as the lighter Octavia.

VERDICT

Compared to its peers, there is no disputing the Superb is a winner. It has more technology than an Accord or a Camry, and is a toss-up with cousin VW Passat. The minor changes do their bit to freshen things up.

The big question is whether there is enough to challenge the luxury segment. And frankly the answer has to be negative. Nobody with money will swap a Merc, BMW or Audi for a Skoda in India. And Skoda’s after sales service remains patchy. Sadly.


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