Skoda’s ethereal hybrid a relaxing drive

Declan Colley is impressed by many aspects of the electric performance of the Skoda Superb
Skoda’s ethereal hybrid a relaxing drive
Refinement seems to be what the designers were aiming for with the Skoda Superb IV, and on that score, they’ve certainly delivered.

I suppose there is some derivative of the Murphy’s Law supposition that ‘if something can go wrong, it will go wrong’ that applies to the current global pandemic.

Not alone did things go wrong, but they got worse and may remain that way for some considerable amount of time.

Every aspect of our lives has been challenged in ways which not alone do we find hard to comprehend by comparison with the lives we led prior to Covid-19, but also on an ongoing, and

day-by-day basis. Even simple motor hackery has become a tricky and unpredictable occupation with none of the normalcy and predictability that was once the core of the gig.

And so, it transpires that the Skoda Superb that which I had tested for a whole 10 weeks (the usual normal is just one week) eventually had to go back from whence it came. The usual presumption is that, with a little careful diary management, one will have something completely different to drive when the time comes.

Presumptions have become a fool’s errand in these troubled times, however, and having crossed off a list of sometimes exciting and sometimes mundane motors during that 10 weeks because there was no physical way of getting our grubby hands on them, we arrived at a point where our next tester was — you guessed it — a Skoda Superb.

Ok, it was a slightly different Superb in that it was the so-called ‘IV’ version which indicates the nomenclature under which all future electrified Skodas will be designated.

In fact, this is the first Skoda to have electrification thrown at it and is thus something of a landmark, given that the brand is promising another then 10 of them in the next two years.

We wrote recently in these columns of the Enyaq, which got its pre-production testing here in Ireland in recent months. It, which will be the first fully electric Skoda and which will be on dealer forecourts next year. The Superb IV, on the other hand, is a plug-in hybrid and is very closely related to the VW Passat GTE.

Innocents abroad might well suspect an element of altruism going on here at Skoda and within the greater compass of the Volkswagen Group, given the growing ‘save the planet’ era in which we now live. To accept this point is to miss the point altogether, however.

The real reason why Skoda is following this path — in the same way as every other carmaker on our little blue planet is doing — is that it is facing a massive financial backlash in terms of fines if it does not meet a series of stringent fleet emission regulations. In other words, if the worldwide Skoda car park does not become considerably more planet-friendly, it is going to cost the company a bunch of cash.

Nevertheless, it is understandably keen to highlight the meritorious aspects of the new electric adventure (rather than any pecuniary damage it might incur) and that’s fair enough. and

I for one will be keen to see how Skoda fares out in this new era.

The whole thing about PHEVs though is that these vehicles represent nothing really new or innovative. The majority will provide pure electric motoring for — generally — no more than 50km or so, and the Skoda is no different in that regard. The effectiveness validity of the ‘green’ characteristics of this Superb are therefore somewhat blunted.

As the PR man handing over the car to me pointed out, the Superb does have one ace up its sleeve in that — like the near sibling Passat GTE — it will actually accumulate electricity while it is driving along, so it is actually possible to get more out of it than might initially seem apparent.

But the bottom line here is that this is a car aimed at those living in the commuter belt who can manage to get to and from work on electric motivation only or, perhaps, those who have charging facilities at work and can, therefore, live further away and still use electricity only to complete the round trip.

The Skoda IV’s operating system incorporates a 1.4 litre turbocharged petrol engine which we have been familiar with from the VW parts bin for many years. This has been complemented by an 85-kW electric motor to provide the hybrid element of the car.

With a combined output of 218 bhp from the two motors, the Skoda IV certainly does not appear to be lacking on the grunt front — and the 0-100m km/h time of 7.7 seconds and the top speed of 224km/h would appear to add credence to this supposition, but the reality is that throttle response can feel a little subdued.

Straight-line acceleration is impressive enough, but it is not the over-riding characteristic on offer here. Rather the Superb IV presents a laid-back and relaxing mode of transport where refinement seems to be what the designers were aiming for. If that was the case, then they have certainly delivered.

Riding on electric power alone, there is that singular absence of any noise and, when the engine is required to kick in, it does so with little or no fuss or any overwhelming soundtrack. Indeed, the whole experience is quite ethereal.

Of course, driving this car driving one of these things is not necessarily a sit-in-and-drive experience. If you want to extract the maximum from the potential of the car, you will have to study hard and adapt your driving techniques. It is possible to get 62km out of it on electric motivation alone — it must be, because Skoda says it is.

The reality, as is ever the case with these things, is a little different, and if you were to squeeze 45-50km out of it, then you could feel pretty smug. That sort of range should certainly suit most determined commuters. If it does not — or you cannot or will not make it do so — then there’s really little point in investing.

One point worth noting — no, two actually. First is that the car will charge itself, if you programme it right, so it is possible to extend the range if you’re diligent and careful. This is good. Not so good is the fact that the electric mode is the default driving mode and the electricity will drain pretty smartly unless you engage hybrid mode.

This seemed to me to be faintly ludicrous to me, and I wondered why they just did not make the operational system a seamless operation between one mode and the other.

But then, that is something that people have to decide upon if they are going to get into the whole PHEV school of thought. There are choices out there, but once people have investigated them, I think they will find this car to be one of the best there is.

Other than all of that, the Superb IV is everything a Superb should be; it is huge (although boot space has been compromised somewhat by the addition of the batteries), comfortable, well-

specified (at least in the third-level Sportline spec we tested, although this did not stretch to having a spare wheel of any sort) and good-looking.

Somewhat limited in its appeal, then, the Skoda does however offer a driving prospect that should be very tax-friendly and generally be as efficient as any petrol or diesel car, provided you use it the way it was designed to be used.

Oddly, and somewhat in contrast to Skoda’s traditional ‘more-for-less’ raison d’etre, this car is now actually more expensive than its close Passat relative, which is something that might cause pause for thought.

Many thanks to Justin Galvin of Galvins, Bandon, for his assistance with this review.

Colley's verdict

The Cost: From €45,850 in Sportline spec, €46,683 as tested.

The Engine: 1.4 petrol turbo allied to an 85-kW electric motor.

The Specification: Plenty on offer.

The Overall Verdict: Appealing to a somewhat limited but growing audience.

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