Skoda’s image has made a meteoric climb since control was handed to Volkswagen almost 20 years ago.
In that time the manufacturer’s cars have moved from being the butt of many a joke to being a sensible choice to where it is now as a producer of class-leading cars like this Skoda Superb Greenline II.
In estate form the big Skoda has got to be one of the best options for a four-person family. At less than £25,000 it costs about the same as an estate from the class below (cars such as the Volkswagen Passat and Ford Mondeo), but it’s much, much bigger. It’s a handsome looking, too, all the Germanic qualities (courtesy of VW) are there, with deep glossy paint, tight shut lines, flashes of chrome and buckets of reassuring chunk, it looks like it is built to last.
But it’s not until you get inside that you realise quite how big it is, because no matter who’s sitting in the front seats rear legroom is nothing less than impressive and most of the time it’s just plain obscene. The boot’s similarly capacious, which was lucky as – in the absence of a spare test family – we had planned a challenging weekend as a music festival workhorse to gauge the Superb’s mettle.
Things got of to the kind of miserable start that only a mid-afternoon weekday departure in London can guarantee, traffic was heavy and disruption was rife, nonetheless the sat-nav made a good fist of keeping things calm as the system’s logical controls meant there was little need for a trial-and-error style of operation – even for technical nightmares like re-routing around congestion. Meanwhile, the quality sound system did a comprehensive job of lifting spirits as it sucked (through Bluetooth) tunes from our collection of iPhones.
It’s hard to imagine, at this budget anyway, a better cabin to be stuck in. As with the outside, the VW theme is present and correct with nice-to-feel plastics, comfortable electric leather seats and all that space. Not to mention refinement that’s only ever interrupted by suspension noise and a whisper of wind noise.
The only real criticism inside was the lack of USB plugs, which seemed like a glaring omission in a car that was otherwise so well thought out and family friendly.
As we travelled past Birmingham the roads started to clear and the Superb was really given a chance to shine. A scan of the technical spec sheet might leave you thinking the open road would have the big Skoda struggling, after all its 1.6-litre diesel engine only produces 103bhp and as we’ve touched on – the car’s vast, but thanks to 180Ib ft of torque you rarely feel short changed. It’s enough to keep things rolling if you work the gearbox and there’s plenty power for relaxed cruising. Still, with a top speed 119mph and a 0-60mph time of 12.6 seconds it will never be a rocket ship.
But then the Greenline II’s all about economy and that’s something it does very well. It should be able nudge 65mpg, but in its time with us that involved fast cruising, stop-start traffic, A and B roads it never averaged less than 50, which is hugely impressive.
That the ride and handling is almost as good is a real achievement. On its motorway home the Superb’s composed and stable. And, as we neared journey’s end and the twisty roads of the A82 the green wagon showed us it is perfectly happy in the corners. It’s not a sports car, but for a large diesel estate the steering’s feel some and consistent, body roll’s controlled and the ride – though taught and well damped – is never flustered.
So as we setup camp and wired into the first tins of the evening we all agreed - if you’ve got stuff and people to carry and you don’t want to spend a fortune buying and running a huge car, nor feel like you’ve settled for second best - then its hard to think of a vehicle that fills the brief quite like the Greenline II Skoda Superb.
NEW RIO TAKES ON THE ESTABLISHMENT & WINS
Antony Sheriff runs the road-car division of McLaren. When he led the launch of its MP4-12C supercar, he christened it an 'AND' car. Fast AND economical; comfortable AND exciting; stylish AND timeless. The £200,000 MP4-12C may seem quite far removed from the £13,000 Kia Rio but I’d suggest they are built to the same brief.
The Ecodynamics has the same appeal that Kias have always had - 7-year warranty, low on-the-road price, great fuel economy, reliability - and yet combine’s it with some new ones such as good looks and excellent dynamics. And the Korean is a looker – we asked ten people and they all liked it. No surprise then that the company’s head of design is Peter Schreyer – who designed the original Audi TT.
The story continues inside with the driver's seat being quite a pleasant place to be. All the controls are where they should be and in the top end ‘3’ specification of our test car, you get some unexpected niceties like Bluetooth wireless playback via your iPhone. I've never bought into the idea of modern diesels being so good they’re difficult to tell apart from petrols – they're not – but in the Rio 1.4 CRDi's in particular, the engineers have succeeded in accentuating the more endearing characteristics of diesel engines while cloaking the less desirable ones.
It's exempt from London’s congestion charge and costs around 10p per mile in diesel (achieving 88.3mpg), but it has enough torque to escape being labelled slow. Hold onto the gears, though, and the engine won't enjoy it and the racket means you won't either. Suffice to say, you'd buy a Rio for all the same reasons you would have ever bought a Kia because it does these better than ever. What should give Citroen, Peugeot, Renault et al great cause for concern is that it combines these with looks and dynamics of the best in class.
Words by Simba Sagwete