As the trend towards ruggedised, four-wheel-drive versions of family cars plods on, Skoda has joined the fray with its range of ‘Outdoor’ vehicles. Because it doesn’t have the raisedsuspension of many of its competitorssuch as the Audi A6 allroadand Volvo XC70,the SkodaSuperb Outdoor offers a more composed day-to-day driving experience at the expense of being the final word in off-road performance.
With 1,300 miles ahead of us as we load the boot with camping gear and head to the Le Mans 24 Hours endurance race, how will the big Skoda fare?
For the most part, the Superb Estate treads a fine line between handsome and conventional. It’s certainly a better-looking beast than the saloon version, which has an awkward rear end treatment, but there are few really stand-out details that make you stand back and think nice touch. The subtle plunge of the roofline and arched boot opening are probably the two strongest design features.
The Outdoor adds a finishing line of black plastic anda pair of silverskid platesto the lower sides of the car, and it has to be said that these new lines really add something to the shape. It would perhaps be less noticeable on the darker colours those skid plates would stick out like sore thumbs but on this white car it really helps to underscore the design.
White, however,is perhaps not the best colour for a long slog like our test drive. Running at the higher French motorway speed limits in the height of the summer, the front of the car became a pretty obvious insect graveyard and the lingering dust of the Le Mans campsites made the previously virginal white Superb an ideal canvas for puerile dust-drawing antics.
There areseveral excellent and unconventional colour options in the Superb Outdoor’s palette that would better hide dust and bugs;I’d be tempted by Red Rosso or Amethyst Purple Metallic(which is a pleasantshade of brown-grey, and not all that purple), althoughboth are 525 options.
Thedark grey, 18-inch alloys are standard on the Superb Outdoor, and they drew admiring comments. The tyres fitted aren’t thin, low-profile sportyones that would ruin the ride, nor are they chunky off-road numbers. The designers of the Superb Outdoor realise these cars willspend most of their time on the road.The window tints called ‘sunset glass in Skoda-landare also standard and, with the white body, really help keep interior temperatures down when the sun tries its best to melt the occupants.
Continuing the exterior theme, the inside is a lesson in simple elegance. Full leather is standard on Elegance specification and higher and it makes the Superb Outdoor a pretty nice place to be. There’s a simple swish of brushed aluminium effect trim across the centre of the dash and door card uppers which may seem a little incongruous given the lack of brushed aluminium anywhere else, but it’s not particularly noticeable.
Generally, the controls are logical and not hard to work out just about everything is where you expect it to be. The dials for the climate control are perhaps a little strange as you turn themnumbers are illuminatedaround their edges, which makes it very difficult to read the temperature on the move. The heat settings are alsodisplayedon the central screen too, which makes for easier reading. The bland, rectangular rear-view mirror seems like an afterthought too, not so much understyled for effect as not really bothered with at all.
There is an absolutely spectacular amount of space on offer though I am no hobbit, but with the driving seat in my normal position (as above) there’s sufficient legroom even for people with alarmingly long thighs. Even stuffed with five miscreants for one thousand miles of driving, there was little complaint about the room to breathe and civilisation on offer. Naturally the central seat in the rear is not the last word in comfort, but this didn’t prevent its occupants from dropping off as quickly as the rest of the back row.
Cubbyholes abound in the Superb, with pockets, nets, cupholders and drawers springing from all over the cabin. The rear centre armrest doubles as a shallow pocket suitable for portable games consoles and a twin cupholder, and there’s a dedicated rear 12-volt charging point (and another in the boot) and LCD display showing the temperature settings in the rear. Estate versions of the Superb also come with a portable umbrella slotted into a special port in the passenger-side rear door. It’s a neat touch, and harks to another car with stupendous rear legroom a Rolls-Royce Phantom.
Fitted as an option to this car was a panoramic sunroof yours for 1,070 that transforms the inside into a light and airy space. The entire glass expanse is tinted and fitted with a retractable sunshade, and the front half also operates as a conventional tilt-and-slide sunroof. With the amount of living space already on offer, this option makes the Superb Outdoor feel like considerably more car than it actually is, and if you have no need to occupy that fifth seat it’s a very relaxing, roomy place for that grand tour drive.
This doesn’t touch on the Superb’s party piece though the boot. With all the seats in place, there’s 633 litres of load space on offer and that’s not just class-leading, but any class leading. The only way to get more space is to buy a Mercedes E-Class, for a lot more money. Our five-man crew stuffed all of their gear, camera equipment (including a small stepladder), tents, food and drink into the Superb even including extra tents for our colleagues in the other car and we still didn’t manage to break past the sliding loadcover.
With the seats down, this swells to 1,865 litres, which is bordering on an obscene amount of room. That lip between the main boot space and the rear seat backs means you’d need to support longer loads to prevent breakage if you stack anything on top of them. There’d be even more space under the boot floor if the car wasn’t specified with a 100, 16-inch spacesaver spare wheel but there’s also a 90 boot net option so you can keep smaller objects from rolling around in transit.
Though the drive to Le Mans isn’t exactly a drive around Le Mans, the Superb Outdoor handled everything we threw at it without fluster. Despite glaring quality differences between the French autoroutes and British motorways, there was little between them in terms of the Skoda’s ride and compliance. Even when asked to drive in stop-start traffic through Paris and Rouen, the Superb which is an amazingly large car did not feel particularly out of its element.
Of course, a large part of the Le Mans circuit is public road and open immediately after race sessions, so we took the opportunity to drive a chunk of circuit on the way home and even the saw-tooth rumble strips caused very little disquiet.
The cheap-seats campsite at the circuit provided a good opportunity to test the Outdoor’s four-wheel-driveand it proved equally unflustered in this environment too. It may have been a different story had the weather changed its mind, but on the dry, bumpy expanses of Beausejour it was again a reasonable and not terribly uncomfortable car. If you’re looking to tow a caravan into the middle of a ploughed field, it’s hard to argue with the Superb’s abilities.
If anything could drive a wedge into the driving experience, it would be the cruise control. Unconventionally located on the indicator stalk, it’s a little awkward to use and by splitting functions into two separate controls a toggle switch and a dial much less intuitive than the more familiar four-button cluster on the steering wheel. It’s also seemingly less keen to execute small changes in speed and a particularly determined stab will trigger an indicator one way or the other.
The Outdoor is available with two engines, both versions of the four-cylinder, 2.0-litre TDI Volkswagen Group diesel. The car we had on test was the 138hp version, which is only available with a six-speed manual gearbox.The other option is the 168hpunit, which is only available with a six-speed DSG dual-clutchauto.
Considering the Superb’s size and weight, 138hp doesn’t sound like much and to be wholly fair it pushes the Skoda around with merely acceptable aplomb. It’s not intended to be a sports car and the book figures for 0-60mph (10.4 seconds) and top speed (129mph) seem entirely reasonable for what’s available. Surprisingly, the quoted figures for fuel economy are completely reasonable too, at 42.8mpg combined. Despite the higher French autoroute speed limits, dense traffic in towns and a fully loaded Superb, we still returned just under 43mpg over the course of the trip.
When loaded with five people, the lower power engine did struggle even at higher speeds when faced with motorway hills. Considering the car isso brilliantly suited to motorway cruising, I’d be willing to give up my third pedal and go for the 168hpoption. With more power and the dual-clutch gearboxI’d probably not consider a different car for long, comfortable motorway cruises with lots of luggage.
Value for money
The Skoda Superb Outdoor starts at a nice, round 27,000.The Outdoor Plus, tested here, addsthe Amundsen sat-nav and full leather,and starts at 28,000. Our test car included the 1,070 panoramic sunroof, a 100 spacesaver spare, park assist at 540 and a sat-nav enhancement to rock in at 31,845. If we were to spec our own car, we’d go for the Outdoor Plus, with the panoramic sunroof, the higher output engine (2,240) and the bi-xenon lights (1,000), for an all-in price of 32,310.
You can’t buy a bigger boot at this price and the Superb doesn’t compensate with an tiny interior either. There area few nice little touches like the removable boot light that doubles as an LED torch and the portable umbrella in the door. We didn’t get to try the standard Amundsen satnav, but the optional Columbus version supplied with the car was finicky and, while good at spotting traffic problems, overkeen to recalculate your route to the point of having to switch it off we can’t imagine the standard version would be any more annoying.
Very few major rivals manage the combination of space, price and four-wheel-drivethat Skoda has created here. The Ford Mondeo and Mazda 6 are not quite as big and are two-wheel-drive only, while all-wheel-drive rivals like the Subaru Legacy Outback are notably smaller. The closest competitor actually comes from in-house at Volkswagen the Passat Alltrack is almost exactly as much car, and Skoda’s own Octavia estate is only slightly smaller and offers the 150PS engine in four-wheel-drive specification until the Octavia Scout comes out in late2014. Don’t expect the rear legroom to be quite the same though!
While it doesn’t exactly tarnish the car, the lower output engine takes a little shine off because it labours on hills even at motorway speeds if fully loaded, but the rest of the time it’s an wholly adequate power unit and we can’t mark it down harshly as a result. The four-wheel-drive gives the fuel economy a kicking, but it adds some versatility that you’ll probably be grateful of each February and, as we found out, the paper figures are attainable with no special driving techniques.
Bombastic name aside, the big Skoda makes for a supreme family car and an excellent all-rounder. As comfortable doing the weekly shop as it is doing onethousand miles on a motorsport pilgrimage loaded with tents and overgrown children, you’ll spend hours trying to work out how to fill that cavernous boot and unless you absolutely need seven seats, the Superb will be all the car you need.