Estate car of 2020
If space is a luxury, the Skoda Superb Estate must be one of the most luxurious cars in the world. And yet, while its interior and boot are huge, its price is anything but. What's more, Skoda offers a wide range of petrol and diesel engines and manual and automatic gearboxes, as well as offering four-wheel drive on selected models, so there's something for everyone to pick from. There's even a plug-in hybrid version, with enough electric range for a fossil-fuel-free frolic across town.
However, there are many other aspects to consider when buying a new estate car. Is it well made? Does it offer a comfortable ride? Is the handling up to par? Can I work the infotainment system without a tech-savvy teen permanently on hand? All valid points and, because the Superb Estate has a multitude of appealing alternatives to pop on to your shopping list, worth thinking about. Those rivals include the ubiquitous Ford Mondeo Estate, the remarkably similar Volkswagen Passat Estate, and the premium offerings, such as the Audi A4 Avant and BMW 3 Series Touring.
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
It's best to avoid the 1.6 TDI 120 because it's too lethargic, and try instead the 148bhp 1.5 TSI 150 petrol; it's far livelier and gutsy enough to cope with a car of this size. However, the 148bhp 2.0 TDI 150 diesel is better still and our pick of the range. You don't have to work it as hard to make brisk progress and it'll also pull big loads or tow a caravan more easily, so it's a perfect fit for a load-lugger of this size. Plus you'll find it’s quicker than equivalent versions of the Ford Mondeo, and so good that you don't need to pay the extra for the even sprightlier Superbs – the 2.0 TSI 190 petrol and 2.0 TDI 190 diesel – unless you really fancy some extra welly.
If diesel is not your thing, but you have an eye on efficiency, then the plug-in hybrid 1.4 TSI iV 218 comes highly recommended, too. This uses an 85kW electric motor paired with a 1.4-litre petrol engine for a total power output of 215bhp. It's one of the quicker versions of the Superb (0-62mph takes 7.7sec), but also has an official electric-only range of 35 miles.
By far the most powerful engine in the lineup is the 276bhp 2.0 TSI 272 petrol. It's available only with the automatic gearbox and four-wheel drive, and will suit those that appreciate a wolf in sheep's clothing – it delivers stonking performance with the 0-62mph dash covered in just 5.7sec, which rivals borderline-performance estates, such as the BMW 340i Touring.
Suspension and ride comfort
With the standard suspension fitted and smaller wheels, the Superb Esate is relatively comfortable, even when compared with the supple Ford Mondeo Estate. It soaks up large speed bumps and expansion joints with ease and settles down nicely on a motorway cruise. Because it's set up to be quite soft, though, the Superb is prone to feeling floaty on undulating country roads, and it can bash over really nasty potholes.
Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) is Skoda's term for adaptive suspension, and it's optional on all models from SE (and standard on Range-topping Laurin & Klement models). It gives you Normal, Sport and Comfort modes, the latter being the softest. To imagine what the Superb is like in this mode, imagine laying on a motorised waterbed and bobbing gently up and down as a series up bumps pass beneath you. Selecting Normal and Sport modes tightens everything up, but leaves passengers exposed to road surface imperfections.
Whichever setup you choose, it’s best to avoid the larger 19in alloy wheels that come as standard on Sportline Plus models. These make the ride more fidgety and prone to thumping over large intrusions and is even more pronounced on four-wheel-drive versions.
The Superb Estate offers safe, secure and predictable handling, but it's geared for comfort not careering around corners. The two-wheel-drive versions have plenty of grip, while four-wheel drive, which is available with the 2.0 TDI 190 and mandatory for the 2.0 TSI 272, provides added traction and better stability on greasy winter roads.
The steering is quite light, especially at low speeds, which helps when manoeuvring in town. It gets a little heavier as you gain speed but offers little of the feedback and connection to the road that comes with sportier executive offerings. Sportline Plus trim has ‘progressive dynamic steering’; this varies the weight according to how much steering lock you apply and is the closest the Superb gets to feeling sporty.
The Volkswagen Passat Estate is a little more inspiring on a twisty road, but all-in-all, enthusiastic drivers will much prefer the premium competition, such as sportier versions of the Audi A4 Avant and BMW 3 Series Touring, all of which are more thrilling to drive.
Nise and vibration
At speed, you’ll hear a flutter of wind noise from around the Superb Estate's windscreen and door mirrors. The larger wheels and tyres also kick up extra road noise, including noticeable tyre slap over motorway expansion joints. There’s some noise from the suspension as well, but these quibbles could be levelled at any of the Superb’s chief price rivals, such as the Mondeo Estate, and don’t prevent the car from being a relaxed cruiser. Without question, though, a BMW 3 Series Touring or Audi A4 Avant is better if you favour superior high-speed isolation.
The diesel engines produce a bit of vibration through the pedals and steering wheel. They're also slightly gruff under hard acceleration, but settle to a distant hum at cruising speeds. By comparison, all the petrol engines are pretty smooth and quiet – including the plug-in PHEV model, which has the ability to run near-silently on electricity alone.
The manual gearbox has a slick gearchange and a positive clutch action, making it easy to drive smoothly around town. On the other hand, the dual-clutch automatic gearbox
FAMILY CAR 2020
You rarely get something for nothing in this world, so while cars are becoming bigger and more sophisticated, they’re also becoming more expensive. Well, at least most of them are, because the Skoda Scala is a potential exception to this rule.
It's a little longer than the Volkswagen Golf and is available with the VW Group’s latest tech. Yet it's priced to undercut not only the Golf, but also other big-name rivals, such as the Ford Focus, Kia Ceed and Vauxhall Astra.
If you’re a little confused where that leaves Skoda’s Octavia, that’s perfectly understandable. That car's also an attractively priced family car from the fabled Czech manufacturer, but the truth is that not every household needs something as big as the Octavia, so Skoda hopes the Scala will complement, rather than undermine, its bigger brother.
The Scala certainly looks quite different. By ditching the Octavia’s saloon-like profile for a proper hatchback silhouette the Scala has a style of its own. What’s more, Skoda says it hasn’t skimped on choice; the Scala is available with an extensive range of engines and three different trim levels.
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
You can buy the 1.0-litre petrol engine in two states of tune; the TSI 95 has 94bhp, while the TSI 115 pushes the envelope to 113bhp. We're yet to try the former, but the TSI 115 is a cracking engine, not only providing the low-end shove to keep up with the general ebb and flow of traffic with relative ease, but also providing decent overtaking power when you stretch its legs. It certainly has more poke than the 1.0-litre Kia Ceed, and it's our pick of the Scala range.
We'd understand if you stepped up to the 148bhp 1.5 TSI 150 petrol, though. For those looking to carry lots of people and luggage, its added low and mid-range zip will be just the ticket.
The 1.6 TDI 115 is, in many ways, the least recommendable engine. Sure, it's gutsier than the 1.0 TSI 115 but is no quicker flat out (and much slower than the 1.5 TSI 150), and if you read the costs section of our review you'll see that it doesn't always stack up on price, either.
Suspension and ride comfort
On standard suspension, the Scala is one of the better-riding cars in the class. It's far better at isolating you from razor-edged bumps and potholes than the Kia Ceed, Mazda 3 and Ford Focus are; you just have to put up with its wafty nature over gentler undulations.
That's the only reason the more composed VW Golf retains its position at the top of the class for comfort. The Scala's optional adaptive suspension does give you the opportunity to tighten the suspension on demand, but in doing so it gives the ride a noticeably firmer edge.
The Scala delivers more grip, come rain or shine, than the Mazda 3, and that grip is better balanced front to rear than it is in the Kia Ceed. There's a fair amount of body lean with the standard suspension – something you can tame by adding the optional adaptive suspension and switching it to the stiffer Sport mode.
We don't think the benefits of that set-up are worth the added cost, though – especially because you're never going to make the Scala handle as keenly as a Ford Focus, which remains the benchmark for keen drivers. For example, there's a sense of precision to the Scala's steering and it builds weight progressively – giving you the confidence you need when guiding it along a tight and tortuous country lane – but it lacks the Focus's delicate and intricate sense of connection to the road.
Noise and vibration
Under hard acceleration, the three-cylinder 1.0 TSI 115 engine transmits a little vibration through the pedals and steering wheel. It's less thrummy when pulling away than a 1.0-litre Kia Ceed , though, and settles down once you’re up to cruising speeds. The four-cylinder 1.5 TSI 150 petrol is smoother, while the 1.6 TDI 115 diesel is the gruffest in the line-up, producing a noticeable rumble along with some oscillations.
The Scala is easy to drive smoothly in traffic, thanks to its predictable throttle, brake and clutch actions. You'll hear a bit more suspension noise than you will in the quietest family cars, while higher levels of wind and road noise put the Scala even farther behind the best. If you fancy greater peace and quiet on the daily commute, try a Ford Focus, Mazda 3 or VW Golf instead.
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