The Superb Skoda – a Mixed Blessing

The latest Superb is a very nice thing, but I’m concerned that it lacks the essence of Skoda.

2015 Skoda Superb parkers
2015 Skoda Superb: Parkers

The other morning I had the pleasure of parking up at Milton Keynes Central Station car park early, and was struck by the profile and form of the two cars between which I had inserted my C6 (I still can’t drive a manual, which is no significant hardship really, but now I’m threatened once again with immobility as the Citroen’s power steering is definitely on the blink – there always seems to be something …) It was still quite dark, with just the dull glimmer of a January dawn to take the edge off the night sky, together with the drizzling amber tones of artificial lighting, and so it took me a moment to register what they were.

New Passat? No, sleeker than that. New A4? No, these were too long and more sleek than that, too. No, both proved to be new Superbs – one in dark grey, one silver (so far, so dull), one a 4×4 according to the rear badging, both in high-end Laurent & Klement trim. The dark 4×4 had 19” alloys and low profile tyres. I spent a minute or two walking around this one – it was the more striking of the two for some reason – and could not help but sense two feelings.

superb offside
(C) Parkers

First, admiration for some really beautifully executed elements in what is, overall, a very attractive shape. The shut-line of the bonnet to the wing – I think it has been commented upon here before – is, I decided (even viewed in the gloom), one of the best examples I have ever witnessed of this tricky element of a car’s styling.

Then, the front wheel arch, when viewed 45 degrees from behind, is a fabulously executed example of being subtly pumped up over the front wheel, leading the eye quickly up to a very sharp crease. Coupled with the sportingly (over!) sized wheels, I have to say, it really works. Even though I don’t normally approve of such unnecessary and unrealised hints at sporting potential on a car designed for more prosaic purpose, I felt a small surge of excitement at seeing something so perfectly formed.

There are elements I am less keen on. There are too many sharp feature lines breaking up the body panelling along the flanks and, in particular, too many folds in the rear tailgate panel. Both create too much visual noise within an elegantly sleek, albeit traditional, three box profile (having the C6 alongside provided all the relative comparison needed to justify me making this important caveat). Overall, though, it’s a really nice example of a current saloon which conservatively conforms to today’s styling trends – I’d be very tempted.

The second feeling links back to that first reaction of mine; what is it? This Superb would make a very nice Audi A6 (it is big enough, making my C6 seem normal-sized, when normally people perceive the big Citroen to be at least A8 super-sized), or a long wheel-base VW Passat/ CC. Other current Skodas (Fabia, Octavia, Rapid and Yeti – let alone the Roomster (do they still make it?)) – all share a slight oddness in some aspect of their proportions, for what I have always perceived as being linked to packaging practicalities, that marks them as Skodas.

The Superb has none that I could detect, and so its design excellence borders blandness (I am not saying it is bland, but we know that that many call the Golf or Up “bland” when, actually, both just reek of fastidious attention and deliberateness to every line, every form (sigh!)). However, my point is that the Superb, as much as I admire it, could mark the loss of design identity of Skoda, and so the loss of the point of the marque in itself.

And so, I found my two minutes in the viewing of the Superb a bitter-sweet experience and confusing mix of emotions; my heart leaping in appreciation of the styling and yet the pang in the pit of my stomach told me at the same time that here, once more, is a marque that lost something in feeling a need to conform to the norm. I have since noted a number of them ploughing up and down the M1, so it seems that few seem to mind this very much in practice, and so I conclude it matters little to the reality of other people’s lives and so VAG has probably called it right, for the moment at least.

Author: S.V. Robinson

Life long interest in cars and the industry

17 thoughts on “The Superb Skoda – a Mixed Blessing”

  1. Very good analysis – the Superb is a lot more beautiful than the Passat – especially when comparing the Sedan versions. And the superb does not look cheap at all.

    And the Superb goes without those two mortyfying fake exhaust trims of the Passat but it still has a huge tailgate. And Skoda alway tries to create nicely detailed head- and taillights – following the tradition. of bohemian glassworks.
    I would have added a chrome strip between the two taillights and maybe there are solutions for more elegant nose and the Skoda-sign on it. Just to be a bit hypercritical.

    And yes, it is a beautiful car and yes it is not a typical or characteristic Skoda.

  2. this Skoda is a nice Kia. I see lots in common with the Optima and the Cadenza, except for the rear window and the C pillar, similar to the Citroën C4 saloon (don’t know which came first).

    1. Hi Eduardo. Thanks for dropping by. Isn’t the Skoda a lot more angular than the Hyundai/Kias? For me this iteration lost something of the bourgeois softness and classicism that made it redolent of the durable, solid and comfortable-looking car Mercedes made long ago. It still doesn’t look cheap. Don’t VW sales people groan at the thought of trying to find ways to distinguish this from the Passat?

  3. … should have mentioned that you’re right in spotting that Skoda have thrown out some of their identity. The proportions of the last Superb were nicely off-beat and signalled the USP: all that glorious space in the back. On reflection, I have reservations about the treatment of the shapes. There’s a crease that fades under the bonnet to wing junction. It’s a distraction and looks forced.

  4. I saw a few of those in Paris over Christmas (mostly taxis, both private and metered) and was well impressed by the proportions and the stance. It does indeed look like a more expensive car (way more so than the previous iteration which I never really warmed up to). Closer inspection revealed some slightly OTT detailing, like the creases already mentioned, but I still would happily drive one – or better still, be driven in it.

    Speaking of taxis, I also saw a new Espace with a taxi sign on the roof, which looked weird.

    1. The Espace is a car that exists only in Renault dealer compounds. Are there any plans to release it onto public roads? Despite its peculiarity it doesn’t deserve zero sales. The car market is so binary. Failure tends to be total.

  5. The Espace is not even made in RHD, so the UK and Ireland don’t get it. I had a good look over them at the Paris Mondial in 2014. Some interesting engineering – passive rear wheel steer, and downsized forced induction engines (the 200PS petrol 1.6 appears to be of Datsun origin). However there’s a utilitarian, over-protective feel inside, even in the upmarket Initiale Paris versions. Externally too it was a disappointment – it might look like an Espace, in its proportions and angles, but the styling flair of previous generations has been all but lost.

    I found myself wondering if Renault had some kind of Universal Service Obligation, to continue to build Espaces in the image of the original, even when competitors were making cheaper and more appealing things which did the same job.better.

    1. These cars don´t figure much in the Anglophone press. I used to rely on certain print magazines to keep me informed and that seems not be happening any more. The passive rear steer is something I didn´t know about. Either I forgot or whatever glancing acknowledgement the Espace got in the UK press failed to mention it. Having sat in the car myself I did not sense cossetting luxury or even snugness. I noticed an idiotic self-powered glove box and that the rear seats had the same compromised shape you find any MPV. Designed to fold flat they are not nice to look at or sit on. If Renault imagine anyone is going to waft about in this car they are badly wrong. The top line version needed its own seats and didn´t get it.

  6. The styling of this Superb signals that Skoda has entered the big leagues. It is, simply, Superb. But I wonder what this means for the company’s positioning within VAG and indeed the market as a whole. Skoda’s USP as a quirky alternative with VW quality and Czech prices has gone. What are they now? There are already a number of middle market manufacturers who are asking, and being asked, exactly that.

    1. They’re still keenly priced, aren’t they? Prices for the Superb start just under £19k in the UK, and the bigger sellers will more likely still cost well under £30k. It’s a lot of car for the money.

    2. A quick twiddle on the Skoda and Vauxhall online configurators reveals relative price parity between the Superb and Insignia. It would be interesting how the finance stacks up on both, given that the Skoda might have better residuals and the flexibility of Vauxhall’s showroom floor pricing.

  7. I am sure Winterkorn and Piëch were aware that such a Skoda is attractive for owners of a Passat and an A4 (or even A6) too. And they agree or exactly want to have such a Skoda in the VAG-range.
    I think the Passat is a business car for business fleets. And the Audi is an Audi – expensive and with a teutonic image. And the new Superb wants to seduce private customers that wants a real Volkswagen-quality car (and they should think they are really clever not to pay some money for the VW- or Audi-sign).

    Remember – the first two versions of the Superb were ambivalent too. Discount cars with one luxury aspect – sumptuously space for legs in the second row. The first Superb was not available as an estate car – that was a big fault in my eyes.

  8. In response to some of the comments above … to Richard’s point, I had a bit of a soft-spot for the previous generation Superb, especially in original format, even if the proportions around the rear 3/4 were a little abstract to accommodate the trick rear tailgate design. To reiterate, much as I admire the overall profile and a number of the details of the new car, it has lost something Skoda-esque in this new iteration.

    I have read that the new Roomster will “just” be a mildly revised re-badging of the Caddy van-based MPV, which will be another step eroding the design identity of this marque; the Roomster having been a welcome attempt to exemplify the role of that model with respect of the rear passenger – there being two definite zones, a “cab” for the driver and front passenger and “lounging-room” for those in the rear. The Yeti seems destined to become more MPV-like in its next iteration and in so doing losing something quite distinctive and also following the down-hill path of the Subaru Forester.

    Overall, it seems that Skoda is destined to become more generally acceptable at the price of a distinct identity and purpose. Should VW Group come under financial strain in the longer term, logic states that management might perceive that the lower margin Skoda replicas are attracting buyers who would otherwise go for the more profitable VW equivalents. In this scenario, it’s a short step in logic to divestment.

  9. I strongly believe that Skoda has lost its way since Thomas Ingenlath’s departure. As stated above, Skoda’s used to possess a slightly left field quality, best exemplified by the Roomster – a car of which friends of mine have been happy and satisfied owners, and which I, through their experience, would dare to describe as the perfect small family car.

    Previous Skodas also fell through the cracks at VAG thanks to their relatively soft surfacing and whimsical proportions. In contrast, the ‘sharp’ look of Jozef Kaban’s Skodas is very much in keeping with VAG’s technocratic corporate style – and hence less playful and more serious.

    Just as Volvo’s products appear to be rediscovering much of the brand’s inherent charms – in part (and somewhat ironically) courtesy of Thomas Ingenlath – Skoda abandons its post as Volvo’s heir apparent.

    1. Before someone else starts pointing fingers, I’ll admit that I once employed genitive where I was supposed to use plural in my reply. Apologies for that.

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