David Motton

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Read our Škoda Superb Estate review to find out what tow car potential this 2.0-litre diesel-powered wagon has – is it a match for younger rivals?

Overview

Although the current Škoda Superb has been around since 2008, it went through a mid-life update in 2013. As well as subtle changes to the styling, an energy recovering braking system was added to improve economy and reduce emissions. Our test car, a 2.0 TDI 140 Elegance, achieves 61.4mpg on the combined cycle. We’ve been towing with the Superb for a few months, and have now put this estate through our exacting test, to truly reveal and evaluate what tow car ability it has.

We’re expecting a very capable tow car. The Superb finished towards the sharp-end of its weight division when we tested it at the 2014 Tow Car Awards, but is the 140PS engine strong enough for towing duties?

Towing

The Škoda Superb Estate is a big car, measuring 4.83 metres from bumper to bumper. Despite its size, Škoda’s quoted kerbweight is surprisingly low. The car weighs just 1554kg, and that’s including 75kg for the driver not included in Škoda’s published kerbweight. That gives an 85% match figure of 1321kg. The legal towing limit is 1800kg, the maximum noseweight is 80kg.

Judging by our time with the car, experienced tow car drivers should have little trouble pulling caravans weighing more than 85% of the kerbweight (both major caravanning clubs say towing up to 100% of the kerbweight is acceptable if you’ve been towing for a while). For our tests we towed a Swift Expression 586 with a Mass in Running Order of 1389kg.

Whether on the motorway or at the test track, the Škoda felt stable and secure towing a caravan of this weight. At 60mph the Škoda was rock solid, with very little steering input needed from the driver to keep car and caravan on course. 

In the lane-change test the Superb continued to impress. The suspension is on the soft side, which allowed quite a lot of lean when changing direction in a hurry, but the Škoda gripped well and stayed firmly in control of the caravan.

So, stability is a given. Performance when towing is steady and determined rather than quick. The Superb pulled the Swift from 30-60mph, as you might when joining the motorway, in 13.9 seconds. However, it’s the 18.2 seconds 50-60mph time in fifth gear which is more telling. 

The engine’s peak torque figure of 236lb ft is sufficient for towing duties, but the Škoda’s gear ratios prioritise economy over punchy performance. On a motorway incline the Superb feels happier in fifth gear than sixth, and for steep hills or overtaking a lower ratio than you might expect is often needed.

Adapt to the car’s gearing and performance is acceptable, but there’s no doubt the 170PS (168bhp) version, which has 22lb ft more torque as well as extra power, holds speed more readily.

Even so, our 140PS (138bhp) car had no trouble with a hill start, tackling a 1-in-10 slope comfortably in first gear and with only a slight smell of hot clutch in reverse. The handbrake held the outfit with no need to pull it with undue force.

In regular towing, the brakes felt reassuringly strong but easy to apply smoothly. In our tests the Superb took 10.2 metres to stop car and caravan from 30mph. That’s a short stopping distance, and was achieved with very little drama. 

Hitching up to the Škoda isn’t quite as easy as it could be. Access to the towball is good, but the electrics are a long reach under the bumper. 

However, aside from the imperfect position of the towing electrics, the Škoda Superb tows very well. It’s not especially quick, but once the driver has adapted to the gearing it’s fast enough. Most importantly, it feels stable at speed. We’d be more than happy to tow long distances in the Škoda.

Everyday driving

Some cars sacrifice ride quality for the sake of sporty cornering. It’s a pleasure to drive a car that doesn’t pretend to be sporty and puts the emphasis on comfort.

The Škoda smooths the road surface well. It’s not immune to bigger bumps, but at most speeds and over most surfaces the suspension is supple.

It’s a comfortable rather than soggy set-up, so it’s still neat and tidy through the bends and doesn’t heave about when driven at speed on a country road. That said, the car leans noticeably when cornering with enthusiasm and the steering isn’t especially direct, so keen drivers with a country-road commute will prefer the sharper responses of a Ford Mondeo or Mazda 6. But for most drivers most of the time, the Škoda drives very well.

Around town you are aware of the Superb’s size, especially when looking for a parking place. It is a very long car indeed. What’s more, the clutch is relatively sharp, which demands care when manoeuvring or pulling away.

Head out of town onto A-roads and motorways and the Superb’s cabin largely stays quiet. There’s no more than a subdued hum from the engine and there’s little wind noise. However, road noise does make its presence felt, especially when driving over coarse surfaces.

It may not be sporty, but the Superb is comfortable and very easy to live with when driving day-to-day.

Space

This is where the Škoda really scores over most of its rivals. It’s huge inside.

Even drivers and passengers of well over six-feet tall have more than enough room, and the driving position is comfortable over long distances, with a wide range of adjustment.

It’s in the second row of seats that the Škoda really impresses, though, with limousine-like rear legroom. Few other family estate cars even come close. As well as plenty of head and legroom, there are air vents to blow air at rear-seat passengers, something we’re always pleased to see and a feature that is missing from a surprising number of family cars.

The only black mark against the second row is the bulky transmission tunnel, necessary for the four-wheel-drive versions. When travelling with three rear-seat passengers it does make foot space tight.

The Superb also puts most rivals in the shade with its vast boot. There’s no including underfloor space to achieve a headline-grabbing figure. Instead, the Superb’s 633-litre capacity refers to one, huge space. The luggage area is long, deep, wide and free from wheelarch intrusion. The boot lip is low, so there’s no need to strain your back to load your bags.

If you succeed in filling the boot with the seats up, folding them down increases the total capacity to an enormous 1865 litres. Again, that’s far more space than just about any rival.

So, why nine out of 10 and not full marks? Well, unlike many modern estate cars there are no catches on either side of the tailgate to lower the back seats, and you have to tip the seat bases forward first if you want the seat backs to lie flat. Even then there’s a slight step in the floor.

However, we could live with those minor niggles for the sake of the Škoda’s immense space for passengers and their luggage.

Running costs

Our high-spec Elegance model has a list price of £26,120. However, with a little haggling you should be able to buy the Superb for a lot less. According to What Car?’s Target Price researchers, discounts of around £3500 are within reach.

Elegance trim includes lots of equipment as standard, including leather upholstery and satellite navigation. Running costs should be manageable, with an official combined figure of 61.4mpg. In our own economy test while towing, the Superb achieved a respectable 25.8mpg.

Reliability shouldn’t be an issue: the Superb finished 15th of 109 cars in the 2014 JD Power Customer Satisfaction Survey.

After three years and 36,000 miles on the road, What Car?’s used car experts predict the Superb will be worth 44% of the original asking price. That’s a lower percentage than the equivalent Volkswagen Passat, but then the Superb will cost considerably less to buy initially.

All told, the Superb makes a very good buy indeed, especially if you can secure a healthy discount on the asking price.

Technical specs

Engine size1968 cc
Kerbweight1554 kg
85% KW1321 kg
Towball limit80 kg
Maximum towing limit1800 kg
Power138.0 bhp
Torque236.0 lb ft
Official MPG61.4 mpg
CO2119 g/km
30-60mph13.9 seconds
30-0mph10.2 m

Verdict

There are newer family estates than the Škoda Superb, and some of them are more fun to drive. However, the Superb holds its own against newcomers such as the latest Ford Mondeo and VW Passat.

The sheer space on offer is what makes the Superb stand out. Rear-seat passengers have luxury-car levels of legroom and luggage space is exceptional.

In terms of what tow car ability it has, the Škoda is very impressive. In 2.0 TDI 140 form it’s not especially quick, but so long as you work the six-speed manual gearbox the Superb keeps up with the ebb and flow of traffic. If you do want a little more poke for pulling a mid-sized tourer, there’s always the more powerful 170PS engine.

Stability is far more important than speed when towing, and the Superb is a very secure and confidence-inspiring tow car. Even when pulling a caravan weighing more than 85% of the Superb’s kerbweight we had no nervous moments, and would happily have driven from one end of the country to the other.

As a solo drive, the Škoda trades sharp responses and agility for a comfortable ride. It handles neatly enough, but covering long distances in comfort is more the Superb’s forte.

The financial argument is pretty compelling, too. Twist the dealer’s arm and you can pick up a Superb at a bargain price, while a string of strong performances in customer satisfaction surveys suggests that running the Superb should be hassle-free.

Conclusion

Pros

  • It's a solid, secure tow car
  • It is a comfortable daily drive
  • There's excellent space inside
  • Boot space is impressive

Cons

  • Performance when towing is steady, rather than rapid
  • There's no lever to help flip the back seats forward
  • The towing electrics are hard to get at
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