(Pocket-lint) - Let's face it, if you're going to give your car a name like Superb then you've either got a good sense of humour or have great faith in the product. But given that the Superb comes from a brand like Skoda, there's a reasonable possibility that both are true.
The Skoda brand has followed quite an offbeat, likeable, and (in the UK where it was once the butt of jokes) a clever, tongue-in-cheek vibe over the years. But the joke's been on the doubters, as Skoda's sales have soared, the products have gone from strength to strength and, for savvy consumers the brand offers Volkswagen platforms, technology and design qualities at several price rungs below the typical VW level.
Skoda Superb 2.0 TDi SE Business review: Playing its own game
Superb buyers have come to value a level of space and equipment that you'd only expect in cars from the sector above, at prices from the sector below. Or to put it simply: for the £22k that our Skoda Superb SE Business costs in 2.0 TDi format, you'd not normally expect to find adaptive cruise control, electric seats, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, and a boot capacity that's nearly 600 litres large all as standard.
The front chairs feel heavyweight spec (puny frames could get lost in their luxurious padding), the rear chairs provide enough leg room for the Superb to double as a limo, and the boot of this hatch is only bested by the cavernous (but possibly better looking) Estate version.
Skoda Superb 2.0 TDi SE Business review: Sharp suited
And it's in the looks department where the Superb has taken the greatest step forward when stood against the car it replaces. The space and equipment values have been plain to see throughout the Superb model's history.
But the looks have always been slightly of the "is that an Octavia? Oh no it's the bigger one" quality. Now the Superb is arguably the best looking car in the Skoda range. What particularly impressed us was the sharp, crisp panel creases – the kind of thing that shows Skoda has invested in its metal stamping technology to a point where, if you cover up the badge, you could easily mistake it for an Audi.
What's more the front lights (£1,295 optional super-white, bright Xenons with automatic high beam on our test car) are bejewelled, angular units that give the Superb an intense stare. As we found out on our many miles up and down the M1, it turns the Superb into a, er, superb fast lane clearing device.
Skoda Superb 2.0 TDi SE Business review: Simply clever
Inside, the charcoal plastics, black lacquer finishes and grey alcantara seats of our test car make this an inoffensive, but character-free interior. What you're served up is Volkswagen levels of easy-to-use switchgear, clear displays and slush-moulded plastics that give a perception of quality that's hard to tell apart from a VW.
The Skoda lacks the tech flourishes of the latest Audi models, but it gets the job done just fine without any of the frustrating ergonomics of, say, a French car, or needy safety reminders and blue screen 80s-ness of Japanese products.
What we particularly enjoy is the range of practical features (branded "simply clever"): there are two umbrellas hidden (one in each front door); the nets and cubby holes are exactly where you'd want them; the plastic dividers which snap out of the boot side panels; the Velcro onto the carpet, which means if you've anything small like a bag of shopping or single bottle of wine then you can easily trap it in and stop it rolling around.
Skoda Superb 2.0 TDi SE Business review: In-house system?
Up front, the Superb is well off in the tech stakes too. This SE Business spec nets you a 6.5-inch touchscreen with Skoda's own navigation software, plus DAB radio, a media interface that will allow music streaming through Bluetooth, and just about everything else you'd expect in a modern car.
Those familiar with the VW group's touchscreens and navigation software will be unsurprised to hear this system is basically the same as the one found in Seat and VW products. It's fairly quick-reacting, features a proximity sensor which pops-up the secondary menu whenever your hand approaches the screen, and you can replicate just about any function. In addition adjustments for things like the radio can happen via steering wheel controls, and there's a very clear, intuitive display in-between the speedo and rev counter.
As touchscreens go, we find it easy to use. It's mounted a little low in the overall dashboard, but its menus aren't too deep and the hard shortcut buttons flanking the screen make it easy to jump between nav, media, radio, and phone.
The bad points are that it sometimes doesn't deal very well with postcode entry, the map graphic's colours aren't always clear – particularly in terms of the route you're following – and, these days, a 6.5-inch screen frankly feels a bit small. That last issue's avoided by upgrading to a bigger 8-inch "Columbus" Screen/Nav system, which you get as standard from the next level SE L model and above in the Superb range.
Skoda Superb 2.0 TDi SE Business review: Or CarPlay?
What the Skoda system adds on top is the ability to use your phone to do all the stuff you're normally leaving to the car – because you can run Android Auto or Apple CarPlay with the standard App Connect system. For this review we've focused on using CarPlay, the Apple system which we'll bring a fuller review of in the future – once we've sampled it in a few more vehicles
You can't use CarPlay via Bluetooth, as it only works when the phone is plugged in via USB. All the menus are easy to use because they're instantly recognisable from your phone, just in a paired back user interface with bigger icons.
Of the non-standard apps, Spotify struggled, often needing a hard restart via the phone if it was interrupted by a call or you flicked to the radio. This is a known and ongoing issue across many manufacturers (we've experienced it in Audi setups too). Apple Maps is still fallible, leaving us preferring Skoda's. Meanwhile Siri still can't understand our northern accent at 60mph on the M1 – and voice is the primary (or only in the case of text) interface you can use to call when moving.
Perhaps the biggest issue, however, is the way CarPlay (and Android Auto has the same issues) integrate into the car's wider systems. You begin to see clues as to why Apple is supposedly developing its own car: because right now the system feels hobbled. In the Superb, you can't control any of CarPlay's functions via the steering wheel and gauge pack display (like skipping a song).
And if you come out of CarPlay to do something like change the radio station, then to get back into CarPlay you're one hard button press and a couple of screen prods away from where you were – because you need to find it again in the Skoda's home screen menu. Which becomes tedious in little time. A physical CarPlay shortcut button would be ideal, but it's not going to happen in any car soon.
Even so, if CarPlay was an option in any vehicle – and brands like Volkswagen are asking for £100 for the functionality – then we'd still take it for the positives it adds, such as Siri voice integration.
Skoda Superb 2.0 TDi SE Business review: Turning the wheel
As a large saloon car aimed at those doing lots of miles, we never expected our 2.0TDi Superb to set the world on fire with its driving dynamics. And while the Superb's driving experience errs towards the "appliance" side of things, it is refined.
Having spent 500-miles of our time was on motorways, we've been achieving around 55mpg (emissions of 108g/km CO2, so is company car tax friendly), and the drive feels very good for its 150 horsepower. The ride, on the small-ish wheels of our SE Business spec car, is relatively soft and comforting, but when you pick up the pace it doesn't fall apart.
While the 6-speed manual box is inoffensive and slick to use, were we doing lots of miles we'd be tempted to go with the DSG auto. The higher-powered 190bhp TDi would be high on our priority list too, but to get it you need to step-up to SE L Executive spec, and with the DSG box that car starts at £28,720. Which some will say is a lot of money for a Skoda. Given it nets you the bigger sat nav screen and a host of other equipment, though, we'd say it's still a lot of car for the money.
It's very hard not to like the Skoda Superb. It's an honest car that gives a lot of bang for your buck, delivering masses of room and far more equipment as standard than cars at an equivalent price point.
It's certainly enough to make you think twice about picking one of its group stablemates from VW – if it were a choice between the two, we certainly struggle to see why you'd choose a Passat over a Superb. The attitude of the brands is, ironically, summed up by the CarPlay thing. In the Skoda you get it standard, for free. VW makes you pay £100 extra for "AppConnect" in order for it to be enabled.
The Superb shows just how far Skoda has moved on. Its image appeals, the design is great, the quality is high and the car is – in this Business format – good value. It might not quite live up to its name in every single department, but the Superb is a very good car indeed.