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

Editor’s note: Back in January 2016, DTW author, S V Robinson expressed his concerns over Skoda’s direction of travel, which is worth revisiting anno-2023, as Mladá Boleslav prepares a new generation Superb.

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.

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. 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.

superb offside
Image: Parkers

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

22 thoughts on “The Superb Skoda – A Mixed Blessing”

  1. The same things are said about other mainstream popular cars that are tidily styled. Like all Toyota Camries, (up to but not including the current model, obviously.)

    Of course the Camry is, like the Skoda, one of those increasingly rare things, a non premium large car with wagon version available. IMHO, this may see Skoda Superbs becoming the police car of choice around the world where it’s premium ‘non-premiumness’ is an asset in selling the brand where other choices include expensive looking BMWs that have to have their cost explained to taxpayers.
    The local Holden replacing Skoda Superbs have been very well received here in NZ, those crisp lines and great proportions, (including the large wheels), seen here only in wagon format.

    1. That’s an interesting observation re the police, David. Škoda seem to have taken over Volvo’s role as ‘value-premium’ blue light transportation; I think they have a pretty active department which sells to emergency services. I gather that some BMWs can’t really cope with the treatment they get from the emergency services and are no longer provided to police forces.

    2. You raise a great point about the police, David. After decades of using base Holdens and Falcons in Australia, now they move to BMW, a prestige brand? I’m asking myself whether police use will lower BMW’s image, as we are so accustomed to seeing them in low-end cars. Oh well, not a problem for me. Here in my corner of central Victoria they replaced the late lamented Ford Territory
      with Toyota 4WDs, though just which model I’ve never bothered to look, something in between a wagon and a Land Cruiser – but there are several of those. Skoda would be a great fit for the police sedan/wagon market. I wonder whether VW in Australia tried for it?

  2. Good morning, S.V. For me the one thing that stands out is the bonnet shut line. Overall the design doesn’t quite work for me. The sharp creases are very neatly executed, but there are just too many of them (bonnet, side panels, tailgate).

    I don’t think I have ever seen a Laurent & Klement version. No surprise as these aren’t in the Dutch catalogue. Strange thing is you can’t even order a Superb saloon at the moment, only the estate version. Are there still supply chain issues?

    1. In some markets VAG is restricting the B2C sales of the Golf, Octavia and Superb in order to favour fleet operators (mainly corporate, but also taxis and police), which is why they were removed from configurators and catalogues*. Dealerships occasionally receive a few examples which they then can sell with outstanding markups, but fleet contracts usually come with huge severance pay if not fulfilled on time and VAG may be behind schedule on some of those. I assume the Superb estate uses it’s own assembly line which they cannot flexibly convert to saloon production.

      *I think it happened before to the e-up! big battery refresh, which quickly became a car-sharing favourite and VW sold more than their monthly production capacity.

    2. Thank you, Laszlo. It makes sense. Now that you mention it, the e-up! had indeed something similar. I think the up! GTI disappeared from the sales catalogue and reappeared again too. I just had a quick look at the Volkswagen website and there are only two engine options for the up! in the Netherlands at the moment: standard 65 hp and 115 hp GTI. There is no e-up! available at the moment.

  3. The Superb is aptly named; a great car in my opinion. And one that’s surviving in a market place that’s all but gone; the non premium executive car, a modern day Granada.

    I do see what you mean though about it not quite fitting in with the brand though, when it was sitting beside other cars like the yeti and the roomster. Small, quirky, funky and fun cars sitting beside a grand and sober executive saloon.

    Personally, I always felt like it and its smaller siblings the Octavia and the earlier Rapid, should have all been made as SEATs (probably with different names too). Cheap sporty saloons, with the Mii, Ibiza and Leon filling out the range, and Cupra as the souped up top of the line models. Even if only to give SEAT a raison d’etre lol.

  4. A while ago, Richard H asked which cars could possibly be called elegant and I’ve been asking myself this when I see a (new) car. While I think the Superb isn’t elegant, it’s well done. I’ve come to the conclusion that many Lexuses do seem to be so, however – they lack the ‘heaviness’ that the Škoda has. Some Lexuses manage to look expensive to me via a mixture of their their shape, texture and colour, which I think is quite an achievement. I’ll be interested to see what the next Superb is like.

    1. I´d call Lexi striking at times. In Dublin you see the 400-series cars roaming around and they are eyecatching. All the features add up to a bit more noise than elegance allows. If I was to pick an elegant car it´d be the Volvo S90. I run out of names for cars you can still buy new.

  5. Good morning S.V. I think your observations on the Superb support the hypothesis in my last piece that VW Group marques are less than optimally differentiated from each other. As you say, the Superb could easily be a Passat or even an A6. The latter might seem like a stretch but, according to Christopher Butt in a comment on my piece, the quality of Audi’s interiors is no longer the USP it once was for the marque.

    1. As the owner of a current generation Audi I can confirm that the quality of neither materials nor execution is any recommendation for Audi and that’s before you look at the infuriationg non-functionality of the different user interfaces and the ugly exterior styling.
      The things that made Skodas visibly inferior are no longer important like the lack of fabric inserts in the door cards when the ones in the Audis are as naff as they are.

      Just for interest I looked up a Superb in the configurator. What would put me off is the fully digital dashboard and the lack of a manual gearbox in combination with engines of more than moped size and power. I was shocked by the price of more than 55 kEUR for an L&K with the minimum of options like sat-nav.

    2. Purely from the outside, the Superb looks more Audi than most current Audis, something that seems to be confirmed by Christopher and Dave to also hold true for the inside. It does indeed point at a less than ideal marque differentiation at VAG. For every segment there’s probably a convincing VAG model, but not from the marque you’d expect it to be from.

      The Superb’s design does indeed seem reminiscent of the Golf 7 and Up(!)(?) in that it’s a very careful design that could pass for bland to the uninterested. I haven’t seen anything from the upcoming model, but I wonder how that’ll turn out given VAG’s design chops recently.

  6. Enigmatically put, SVR, thank you. When looking into purchasing my Volvo S90, i did consider the Superb, admittedly only online but felt that something was missing from the Czech flagship. Around me, there’s certainly more Superb’s than Octavia’s, usually estates but not all taxis.

    Hopefully you get your double chevron steering like it should soon.

    1. Hi Andrew, thanks for the thought about the steering – I wrote this many moons ago and so the power steering was fixed and then went again about a year ago (different pipe corroded that time). The C6 has been working OK since then (he writes, touching wood, crossing fingers and reaching for his lucky rabbit’s foot). I think you chose well going for the S90 over the Superb, although both are nice cars.

  7. With a Skoda looking as nice as this, I would be asking myself what it the point of paying more for a Volkswagen or an Audi that do not look as nice? And if Skoda has become the thinking man’s (and woman’s) Audi, then where does that leave Volkswagen? Redundant brands, anyone? And Seat…..
    The waters are indeed getting murky.

  8. Of course, the original Skoda Superb, produced in the former Laurin & Klement factory, was probably a higher-end car than contemporary Audi and Horsch models…

  9. Having had a B6 Passat estate for seven years from 2008, and a B8 Superb estate since 2020 I can confirm that the Superb lacks nothing in terms of comfort or quality in comparison, and to my eyes at least still looks a fresh design.

    1. And I should have mentioned that I always get more than 800 miles range from a petrol 1.5TSi.

    2. I’d have been more than happy to have had a L&K, but it’s literally above my pay grade!

  10. I never liked the bonet shut lines on the latest Superb and Octavia. When looking at the car at an angle from behind I feel like the bonnet has slid sideways and is misaligned with the rest of the car, even though it is manufactured in the best possible way. Also it feels that in the area of the headlamp the bonet is a thin sheet of metal placed on top of the car – for me it spoils the illusion of the car being a solid object. When moving towards the front these impressions fade away.

    I guess it has been very tempting to hide the shut line as a continuation of the crease edge, it is the same on the Kodiak, but there it works better due to the bonet having an extra edge and looking like a solid piece. In general I don’t like the concept of transforming the solid outer edge of a crease into the void of a shut line, I think it is better to do it with the inner edge, like on an 2016 Audi A4.

    I now own a Fabia Mk3 combi and all the shut lines are handled like they do not exist – similar to the Superb and the Octavia, the difference being that on the Fabia they are placed in random locations. The Mk3 replaced a Mk1 facelift (the only sane facelift Skoda ever did) and I really miss the delight that the Mk1 design provided.

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