Unlike in airlines, Skoda’s version of premium economy travel is well worth shelling out for
CAMERON HIGHLANDS, MALAYSIA
There’s a perennial issue that any of us who’ve had to endure the drudgery of air travel would surely have come face to face with: the struggle that is Economy class.
Premium economy was introduced to bridge the huge gap to Business class, but the price difference to economy (sometimes double or triple the cost) ironically makes it un-economical most of the time.
The new 1.8-litre Skoda Superb is pretty similar to premium economy airfare – enhanced space, more luggage allowance, plusher trimmings, minus the frills of business – except for one key difference: it’s actually worth your money.
That’s especially fitting since it’s in a dwindling segment – the large sedan market once so popular with examples like the Kia Optima, Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Volkswagen Passat – is being picked off by crossovers.
Cars like the Superb remind us why big sedans were so popular to begin with: The CarBuyer team all loved the flagship 2.0-litre Superb Laurin & Klement and its plethora of toys when we drove it last year, but it’s hard to ignore the S$30k price saving if you go for the base 1.8-litre Ambition model (S$124,900 versus S$153,900, both with COE). Most importantly, the 1.8 feels nowhere near a basic car; over a 1,500km road trip to Cameron Highlands and back, it left us in want of nothing in terms of equipment.
True, there are plenty of impressive features that make the Superb L&K a properly desirable motor, but to be honest, none of those special goodies are things you can’t live without: panoramic sunroof (do you really want more sun in your car in our weather?), kick-activated tailgate (it’s still electric), tri-zone climate control (rear A/C vents are plenty strong), 9.2-inch infotainment screen (standard 8.0-inch unit is still bright and crisp), posh sound system (if you were an audiophile you’d probably go aftermarket anyway), park assist (there’s still sensors all round as well as a reverse cam), and adaptive dampers (the Superb is still a cushy car).
And of course, the car still comes with plenty of the Simply Clever features that Skodas are known for, such as a chilled glovebox, deep door bins, hooks and floor separators in the boot, and umbrella pockets in the doors.
Other differences relate to the Superb’s mechanicals. The 1.8’s outputs of 180hp and 250Nm of torque are down 40hp and 100Nm compared to the Golf GTI-derived 2.0 in the L&K model, but still usefully potent for its class, and the wheels are a weeny 215/55 R17 in size instead of 19-inches.
Shorn of the frills of the L&K trim, the Superb 1.8 truly exemplifies premium economy travel for the road. That’s chiefly thanks to the amount of space on board, fit for even a star NBA player. In fact it’s so spacious, you could even pop out your laptop and get some work done, except you don’t need to compromise on the screen’s angle like you might on a plane.
The ride too, gets closer to the sensation of flying than most cars. A long wheelbase, tall tyres and soft suspension setup all combine to give the Superb 1.8 one of the best rides of anything using passive dampers.
That said, not only do the new 17-inch wheels look almost comically weedy on a car as large as this, but it’s also noticeably more wibbly-wobbly through bends, the body and sidewalls shimmying side to side on any form of mid corner bumps. In this regard, a size upgrade to 18-inches and lower profile tyres might not go amiss, as the setup’s already so soft anyway.
But possibly the most striking aspect of this car – given the nature of this drive at least – is its long-leggedness. Cruising at autobahn-worthy speeds? No problems whatsoever; at 150km/h, the engine’s nowhere close to breaking a sweat, ticking away at 3,000rpm. It’s also really tractable, in that you don’t have to wring it out to increase your speed at the far side of the speedometer.
This of course, means the Superb 1.8 is also capable of some quite astounding fuel economy figures. On the run from Ipoh to the Ayer Keroh R&R (ain’t nobody got time to queue for A&W at Jewel Changi), the Superb managed an average of 7.7L/100km – despite covering the entire 320km distance in just 2.5-hours (you do the math)…
So the Skoda Superb L&K is a brilliant cut-price executive car, that much we already knew, but taking away the grander luxuries now also makes the Superb 1.8 a fantastic family car. And at its price point, it also serves up value in a big way.
Singapore’s evergreen favourite, the Toyota Camry, is a good S$24k dearer, and the new Honda Accord another eye-watering S$11k on top of that. The Superb’s corporate cousin, the Volkswagen Passat, is similarly priced and equipped, but apart from the badge kudos and cabin plushness, it doesn’t do anything better.
The Mazda 6 then, is the Superb 1.8’s closest rival, priced and spec’d near-identically in 2.0 Executive trim, and the other large family saloon we’d most quickly recommend. It’s nicer to look at and is more pleasing for keen drivers, but lacks the sheer practicality of the Superb, so pick according to your needs.
As for the Superb 1.8 itself though, there’s hardly anything without a luxury badge on its nose that will match it for comfort or space. Airlines might know how to put the “premium” in premium economy, but it’s Skoda that gives you the premium experience without the premium price.
|Engine||1,798cc, inline 4, turbocharged|
|Power||180hp at 5100rpm|
|Torque||250Nm at 1250-5000rpm|
|VES Band / CO2||B / 140g/km|
|Agent||Skoda Centre Singapore|
|Price||S$124,900 with COE|