David MottonSee other Blog articles filed in ‘Tow cars’ written by David Motton
I can't see many tow car drivers putting an Audi and a Skoda on the same shortlist, when deciding what tow car to buy. The two companies may both be part of the Volkswagen Group, but whereas Audi is upmarket and sporty, Skoda is unpretentious and good value. You're unlikely to see the same drivers in Audi and Skoda showrooms in the same way few people buy a shirt from Hugo Boss then pop into Primark for a pair of trousers.
Put brand perceptions aside, though, and is an Audi really a much better car than a Skoda? I happen to have a Skoda Superb Estate Outdoor on test this week, and a couple of days ago I drove the Superb to an Audi event where I tested the new A6 Avant 2.0 TDI Ultra, so I had the opportunity to drive them back-to-back.
The two cars aren't directly comparable, and they're certainly not rivals. The Skoda Superb Outdoor is four-wheel drive with beefed up styling to make it look more rugged than the standard car. The Ultra is Audi's greenest and most efficient A6 Avant, and sends power to the front wheels. But they're both big estate cars powered by 2.0-litre diesel engines, so they have enough in common to make an interesting pair – not to mention desirable tow cars.
I've always liked the Skoda Superb, and the Outdoor preserves all the qualities I've admired in the standard car. On the drive up to the Audi event in Warwickshire the Skoda was quiet, comfortable and swift. Despite heavy traffic it was an easy and relaxing drive, the 170PS (168bhp) engine delivering plenty of poke whenever the road cleared while the DSG transmission changed gear smoothly. There was some road noise, especially over coarse surfaces, but essentially the Superb proved itself a very capable and relaxing motorway car.
Then it was time to drive the Audi. The 'Ultra' name means this car is packed with every fuel-saving and emissions-cutting measure Audi's engineers could come up with, including a low-friction transmission, a highly efficient engine, and a selective catalytic reduction system to reduce harmful NOx output. The official combined figure is 61.4mpg and the car emits 119g/km of carbon dioxide, putting it in Band C for Vehicle Excise Duty.
Some 'green' cars feel like a compromise behind the wheel, with sluggish acceleration the price to pay for fuel efficiency. Not the Audi A6 Ultra. The revised 2.0-litre engine is more powerful than its predecessor as well as more efficient, with 190PS (187bhp) and 295lb ft of torque. Overtaking in the A6 is punchy and decisive. Pulling a caravan won't be a problem.
If anything, the engine's refinement is even more impressive. It's smooth all the way through the rev range, a definite improvement compared with the Skoda. In isolation the Superb's diesel is quiet enough, but it sounds gruff when worked hard compared with the A6's engine.
The engine is the star, but the rest of the A6 Ultra is also very good indeed. The Audi rides comfortably, and suppresses noise even better than the Skoda. It corners well with plenty of grip, although the steering is light and lifeless. I preferred the Skoda's steering, which has a little more weight without being awkward at parking speeds.
As tow cars, the two aren't that far apart in terms of their weights and limits. The Audi A6 has a kerbweight of 1800kg (including 75kg for the driver not included in Audi's published kerbweight), a legal towing limit of 1800kg and a noseweight of 85kg. The Skoda Superb's kerbweight is 1656kg (including 75kg for the driver), but the legal limit of 2000kg is higher than the Audi's and the 80kg noseweight is only slightly lower.
As estate cars, the advantage lies with the Superb. It has an enormous boot, with a 633-litre capacity with the seats upright and 1865 litres with them folded. The Audi has significantly less luggage space, with 565 litres with the seats up and 1680 litres with them down. The Superb is also better at carrying people: there's much more rear legroom in the Superb.
So, the Audi is better to drive and more refined than the Skoda, although the Czech car is far from disgraced. But as a means of getting four or five people from A to B, especially if they want to bring some luggage with them, the Skoda is the more practical car.
As you'd expect, it's much cheaper, too. The Outdoor model costs £29,240, whereas the A6 Avant Ultra S Line S tronic I drove costs £36,365, a difference of more than £7000. If we were comparing the Audi with the two-wheel-drive Superb Estate the price gap would stretch further.
Is the Audi worth the extra? By most objective measures it's hard to justify. I know which of the two I preferred driving, and which I'd be more likely to buy. But then I've always been quite happy with my Primark trousers.