£33,460 - £37,120 Price range
In a world where fast cars usually come sporting a body kit that shouts ‘performance’, the Skoda Superb 280 makes for a refreshing change – only its pair of shiny tipped exhaust pipes give the game away that it’s the fastest model in the range.
Obvious rivals are hard to come by – hot hatches such as the VW Golf R and SEAT Leon Cupra 290 (both of which use a version of the Skoda’s engine) are overtly sporty and quite a lot smaller, on the other hand it’s hard to imagine many mid-range BMW 5 Series buyers choosing a fast Skoda however misguided their mindset may be.
It’s their loss because the Superb 280’s 2.0-litre turbocharged engine gives it the legs to fly past long streams of traffic with ease (and in complete safety) – for significantly less outlay than even a basic 5 Series.
Aside from the engine, technical changes are limited to more powerful brakes – the soft suspension of the standard car remains, so the 280 leans (pardon the pun) heavily towards comfort rather than exemplary body control. All 280s come with four-wheel drive, so performance is consistent whatever the weather.
It has to be one of the best family cars currently on sale with acres of rear legroom and a huge boot – whether you choose the hatchback or the estate. And, while the interior might lack the flashy touches of a premium brand – the quality of its construction is hard to quibble with and there’s honesty to the car that we rather like. There are also plenty of clever touches that show a lot of thought has gone into the design.
The 280 engine can be had in combination with SE L Executive or L&K trim levels (with the same kit as a regular Superb) – all models have 18-inch alloys, xenon headlights, sat-nav and leather seats.
If you’re hoping for body-hugging sports seats, red seat belts and fake carbon fibre, then it’s safe to say the Superb 280 isn’t the car for you. In fact nothing inside gives the game away that this is in fact the fastest car in the range.
To most families that wont matter, however – they’ll be more than happy to see rock-solid build quality present and correct – it feels like it will stand up to years of abuse, and we have no reason to doubt it will.
The infotainment system is also a thing of beautiful logic – you could tune in to your preferred radio station, set the sat-nav and be miles down the road in the time it’ll take a Mercedes E-Class owner to find their gear selector.
Then there are the nice touches that you’ll come to really appreciate over time – such as the umbrellas hidden in the front doors, an ice scraper on the back of the fuel-filler cover and the velcro luggage dividers that stick to the boot floor.
And what a boot it is! Even the hatchback boasts a 565 litre capacity and the estate swells that to 626 litres or a mighty 1,760 litres with the back seats down. Rear legroom is even more impressive, even with tall people in the front there’s what looks like a foot and a half of space to accommodate your knees.
In the 280 Skoda hasn’t bothered changing the way the Superb feels to drive and, to our minds, it’s all the better for it.
Sure it won’t devour corners quite like a Golf R or even BMW 5 Series can – there’s too much lean in corners for that, and the car wallows over undulations and floats over crests in a way that doesn’t encourage you to push it to its limits.
A sportier drive can be had by opting for Skoda’s Dynamic Chassis control – standard on L&K models and a £750 option on the rest of the range – it lets the driver choose from Normal, Comfort and Sport modes, but even so the 280 is no hot hatch.
In truth the comfort you get from the standard suspension more than makes up for its dynamic failings and the 280 can devour huge distances before depositing its occupants at their destination daisy fresh.
That comfort bias is echoed by the rest of the car. In its other applications from across the VW range the Skoda’s 2.0-litre turbocharged engine has a sporty engine roar, but in the Superb its hushed – it only really becomes audible when worked hard. All other noise is well suppressed, with road roar from the tyres being noticeable over wind noise, the latter is close to non-existent at legal motorway speeds.
The final layer of comfort comes in the form of a six-speed DSG gearbox that, once underway, offers extremely smooth gear changes and the option to select manually if you so desire. It doesn’t work best at lower speeds – manoeuvring out of spaces requires pressing the throttle with a little more force than feels comfortable and you don’t get the ‘crawl’ function of a conventional auto.
The Superb 280 proves to be in its element on the kind of long single-track A-roads, where slow-moving HGVs and the resulting queue of following traffic can add hours to your journey.
An annoyance in other cars, in the Skoda it’s simply a matter of waiting for a break in oncoming traffic, whereon a liberal press of the accelerator pedal has you bounding past other road users at an impressive rate of knots. In raw numbers, the Superb 280 dispatches 0-62mph in just 5.8 seconds and is electronically limited to 155mph, but because of the four-wheel-drive system it always feels controlled.
There’s no such thing as a free lunch, of course, and the payoff for having that performance to call on is relatively high running costs. Skoda says it’s capable of returning fuel economy of close to 40mpg, but you can knock 10mpg off that if you drive quickly, given the size and speed on offer this is by no means an unreasonable figure, though. CO2 emissions of 160g/km translate into a road tax bill of £185 a year.
If you’re looking for a big, comfortable and quick family car with restrained looks, the Skoda Superb 280 is a superb piece of kit – to get the same attributes elsewhere you’ll have to splurge a lot more cash on a premium model from the likes of BMW or Mercedes.
Really, though, the 280’s biggest competition comes from within its own ranks in the form of the 190 2.0-litre diesel model, which combines comparable real-world performance with far improved fuel economy. Perhaps that’s why Skoda expects the 280 to be a relatively slow seller with annual sales forecast to be in the hundreds rather than the thousands – a shame, really, because it’s a brilliant car.