I’ve always liked cars which speak softly but carry a big stick. The Škoda Superb Hatch 2.0 TFSI 280PS 4×4 takes this to the extreme, combining subtlety with a savage turn of speed.

From the outside, it looks like any other Superb. Which means an excellent tow car, our recent test delivering a sought-after five-star verdict. But this four-whee-drive variant is no ordinary Superb.

Despite the turbocharged petrol engine’s 280PS (276bhp) power output, Škoda hadn’t dropped the suspension to the floor, fitted huge alloys and rubber-band tyres, or stuck a spoiler on the boot. There are no vRS badges to announce that this is a high-performance model, as you would find on the boot of the fastest Octavia.

In fact, the quickest Superb is all but identical to a mid-range diesel from the outside. It’s a handsome enough car, but restrained and sensible.

It’s sober and mature to drive, too – up to a point. Treat the throttle with respect and this is an easy car to drive smoothly, with the Direct Shift Gearbox unobtrusively swapping ratios for you. My test car was fitted with Dynamic Chassis Control (a £750 option), which in its ‘Normal’ setting gives a more settled ride than the standard set up. At 70mph the cabin is hushed and quiet, save for some road noise from the tyres.

You can take the kids to school, drive the boss to a meeting, or take your mum out for Sunday lunch, and nobody will guess you’ve bought anything other than a regular Škoda Superb.

Unless, that is, you press your right foot all the way to the floor. Do that, and this middle-manager of a car suddenly tears off its grey suit and powers down the road like a 100-metre sprinter.

It really is ridiculously quick. Škoda claims a 0-62mph time of 5.8 seconds, which means this mild-mannered hatchback is within a tenth of a second of the Porsche Cayman. The first time I accelerated flat-out in the Superb I swore, laughed, then slowed down and did it again.

Just as impressive as the pace was the way the big Superb put its power to the road. Even on soaking wet, bumpy Tarmac, the Škoda’s 4×4 system found traction without any sign of wheelspin.

It ought to tow well, too. When I drove a Superb diesel earlier this year I was thoroughly impressed with its stability and performance with a caravan in tow (not to mention the roomy cabin and enormously practical boot). The 280PS car clearly won’t have any trouble pulling a caravan up to speed. With a kerbweight of 1615kg (including 75kg for the driver which isn’t included in Škoda’s published kerbweight), this Superb has an 85% match figure of 1373kg and a legal towing limit of 2200kg. 

It might prove rather thirsty, though. The official combined figure is 39.8mpg, but according to the trip computer it averaged 28mpg during my test drive. I’d guess low 20s at best when towing.

Steep fuel bills are partly offset by the modest price: £31,445 in SE L Executive spec might seem a lot for a Škoda, but it’s really not much for a car with this much pace and space.

You don’t need to go for the full Jekyll-and-Hyde experience to have a four-wheel-drive Superb. There are also 4×4 versions of the 150PS (148bhp) and 190PS (187bhp) diesel, and as much as I enjoyed the turbocharged petrol car, these are far more likely to be bought by caravanners.

I drove the 190PS diesel estate with a DSG transmission. Of course, it’s not as quick as the turbocharged petrol, but it’s certainly quick enough for most tastes: 0-62mph in 7.6 seconds is hardly hanging around. With 295lb ft of torque, it has plenty of mid-range punch for towing.

As with the petrol, the benefit of four-wheel-drive is very clear. Even when I was deliberately brutal with the throttle, the diesel Superb put its power to the wet road surface without any wheelspin. Whether pulling away from an angled junction or towing across damp grass, the 4×4 system will prove a definite plus.

It also increases the Škoda’s weight, which benefits matching ratios. With a DSG transmission, the two-wheel-drive version has a kerbweight of 1575kg. That increases to 1635kg for the 4×4, giving an 85% match figure of 1390kg. The legal towing limit is 2200kg, a 200kg increase over the two-wheel-drive model.

As you’d expect, fuel economy is much better if you choose the sensible diesel over the turbo petrol, with an official combined figure of 55.4mpg. In SE L Executive specification, the price is £31,885. 

I know which of these two Superbs makes the more sensible buy, but it’s not the one I’d most like to see on my driveway.