By Leon Poultney published
The Skoda Superb has always been the rational choice, but sleek new styling and hot engine offerings means the Czech limo is no longer just a practical purchase.
As hard as Skoda tries to inject some swagger into its model line-up, customers still gravitate towards the badge because it stands for quality craftsmanship, almost unrivalled practicality and great value for money.
Take the marque's massive Superb model for example. Very little on the market can compete with its vast interior roominess and £18,640 asking price.
Punters would have to head towards VW showrooms and check out the more expensive Passat, test drive a pricey Mercedes S-Class or consider purchasing a Ford Transit van if they wanted to match the Czech cruiser's load-lugging abilities.
But a new design direction, improved interior gadgetry and the option of a 276bhp engine mated to a four-wheel-drive system means the Superb can now be bought with the heart as well as the head.
The motto Skoda uses on much of its publicity materials is "simply clever", and as much as we loathe marketing speak, it's difficult to disagree. All new Superbs come loaded with LED lights, digital radio and alloy wheels, while more expensive variants get 8-inch touchscreen infotainment systems, 10-speaker Canton audio units, electrically operated boots, leather interiors and much more.
But it is these less obvious 'clever' touches that customers get excited about, such as the door-mounted umbrellas (don't tell Rolls-Royce), the ice scraper stowed in the fuel filler cap, the seat-back tablet holders and the removable Velcro compartments that stop bags rolling around in the cavernous boot.
Skoda benefits from being part of the Volkswagen Audi Group, which means it is handed down tech from some of the world's most premium manufacturers (Bentley and Audi to name a few) like younger siblings are handed second-hand trousers.
The new Superb gets the group's upgraded Columbus satellite navigation system and touchscreen infotainment unit, which is not only super crisp but also quick to respond. Active safety tech that was once resigned to luxury models like the Audi A8 - including Lane Assist, Blind spot detection and Dynamic Cruise Control - now comes as affordable optional extras on the Superb.
Audi has also handed down its adaptive front lights that automatically dip the high beams when an oncoming car is detected.
The sheer weight of assistance tools and crash-preventing gizmos means the Superb rivals cars twice the price in terms of on-board tech.
There is a pretty extensive range of engines to choose from that vary from 'mind-numbingly practical' to 'quite fun to drive'.
We drove a 1.4-litre TSI petrol and a 1.6-litre TDI diesel, which both return over 40mpg and without a doubt fall into the 'mind-numbingly practical' category, as well as a slightly mad 2.0-litre TSI version that's mated to a grippy four-wheel-drive system.
Skoda will likely sell around 10 of the latter model in the UK but it was by far the most engaging to drive. Not only did the 276bhp engine provide surprising amounts of straight-line speed, the 4x4 system also meant the near 5-metre goliath didn't make a beeline for the nearest field at the sight of the first tight corner.
If hooligan antics aren't on the shopping list, the lower-powered petrol and diesel engines are quiet and refined, while the cossetting suspension set-up means the Superb is a pretty adept long distance cruiser. It certainly feels more expensive than its price tag suggests.
Even the most basic models receive an attractive cloth trim with the odd splash of leather to give it a whiff of luxury. The smaller infotainment systems can appear a bit lost in the mammoth dashboard but Skoda manages to almost rival its VW counterparts in terms of interior quality.
Plus, there's so much space in the rear, you could stack two or three people on top of each other and they'd still be comfortable. Although we're not advising this for legal reasons.
The boot can swallow 625-litres of stuff with the rear seats upright and it practically turns into a van when the seats are folded flat. In fact, if you happened to be in the business of making people 'disappear', the Superb's enormous trunk space and electrically operated boot lid would make for the perfect companion.
Shy of purchasing an actual second-hand limousine, the Superb presents one of the best value pound-to-millimetre-of-metal ratios currently on the market.
It's packed with technology that is typically seen on more premium machines, the boot can swallow bodies and there's little to complain about in the driving department either.
As a non-octogenarian, the next part is difficult to type, but it actually looks pretty good too. The new Superb is no Lamborghini but it's very easy on the eye.
And in terms of engines, the 276bhp 4x4 option is definitely the one to have if you're keen on attacking country roads but it is expensive, costly to run and just a little bit daft. But stick to the lower powered petrol or diesel models and it's very difficult to be disappointed in the new look Skoda Superb.
Skoda Superb release date: September 2015 | Skoda Superb: From £18,640, car on test £30,785