(Cybertech) – There was a time when the Skoda name and badge would see people turn up their noses. But the Czech marque, under Volkswagen Group, has fully earned its stripes and turned the tables. Indeed, the company’s modern cars are so proud of the name that it’s spelled out in full across the rear of each vehicle. And so it should be, based on just how successful its first plug-in hybrid – the Superb iV (here in its estate form) – performs.
Too many plug-ins are more about trying to save on tax per year than real, practical efficiency and electric-only range. Not so the Superb iV Estate – it’s got a great all-electric mode with fair range (over 30 miles from its 13kW battery), plus decent efficiency and regeneration when in hybrid mode. We think it’s the Skoda that will help shake off any nose-upturning – because we’re yet to drive a better plug-in hybrid all-rounder.
Being a plug-in means that you will – quite obviously – need to plug the Superb iV Estate into a socket when it’s parked up to get the most from this vehicle. So you may need to consider the additional cost of a charging port at home. If you’re running relatively short journeys, though, we suspect that’ll end up paying for itself in little time. A standard socket will charge the car, too, it’s just slower.
Silently start up the Superb iV Estate and you’ve got a few options for power: an ‘E’ button to the centre tunnel can toggle between all-electric (no petrol consumption at all), or Hybrid (which uses a combination of electric and petrol, recouping charge from regenerative braking). Or you can use the drive select mode to pick, say, Sport mode – meaning you’re going to be less efficient overall, but regenerate battery charge quicker and achieve the most responsive drive.
A number of plug-ins that we’ve driven fail to offer an all-electric option (the Volvo XC40 being one such example). Mild hybrids – those without a plug-in solution and far smaller battery capacity – tend to offer almost zero potential on electric-only travel (take any Lexus, really, or the Honda CR-V).
So it’s refreshing to be able to get behind the Skoda’s wheel and know you can set off on electric without restrictions. Scoot along at 20 miles an hour, pop your foot down and push it to 70mph on a motorway – it’s all possible without the need for combustion to interfere. And while the official 37 miles of all-electric range doesn’t sound a lot – we were easily achieving over 32 miles, but never the full 37 miles – you could easily run two 16 mile commutes at any reasonable speed and not use a drop of fuel.
Where a hybrid makes a lot of sense is for those longer journeys though. With all-electric runabouts – such as the Honda e – simply incapable of running long-haul, there aren’t many electric options to go the distance. The Polestar 2 would be one (brilliant) exception, but even its 290-ish mile all-electric cap won’t get you everywhere in one go.
In the Skoda we managed about 350 miles in Hybrid mode with a third of the fuel tank to go – which would project to around 530 miles in total (only a little shy of Skoda’s 578 miles max claim). That’s some decent efficiency; the battery regeneration is strong too for some self top-up benefit when using fuel.
Now there aren’t many estate cars that’ll give you a track car experience (ok, so there is the Audi RS6 Avant, which is absurdly brilliant and absurdly impractical – and also six-figures to buy!). But that’s a good thing, as there’s not much of a place for it. So the Superb iV Estate never feeling “sporty” isn’t really a criticism – it’s just a reality.
And while it’s not “sporty” – even in its Sport mode – the iV Estate does have enough pep from its 1.4 TSi engine (218ps). No, 7.8 seconds to 62mph isn’t quick, but it’s ample for overtakes, the top speed (138mph – no, we didn’t go anywhere near that, but of course) means you’ll never be cruising on a motorway and feeling as though the car is trying to tear itself apart. It all just feels balanced, refined, not too noisy, boisterous or bothersome.
There is a visual oddity with the rear-view mirror, though, which always feels rather close based on the seat position. A small thing, but we’ve got to nitpick when so little else about this car feels askew.
What the Superb iV is, however, is a very comfortable place to be. Having driven a more-than-500-mile return journey over two days with four adults in the car, not one of us was desperate to get out for a typical leg stretch – there’s just so much room both front and back that comfort concerns are never front of mind.
Skoda does offer a lot of options too, many of which you’ll want to carefully consider. The electronically adjustable driver’s seat, for example, is a nice-to-have – but once you’ve found your position we doubt you’ll ever need to change it up again. We’d add the heated seats though, just to give some extra warmth during the winter months. More important, perhaps, is choosing the leather seats – as they’re super comfy.
Interior tech & drive assist
Those options extend more considerably to the interior technology, infotainment and driver assist features. What you pick should reflect the way in which you will use the car – if it’s just short commutes then some of the assist packages, such as lane keep assist, might not be as useful as for someone who’s going to be up and down motorway stretches time and again.
A nitpick we have about this car is something we’ve sure that Skoda can resolve: the start-up time for getting into the infotainment system – it’s just too slow. And we can’t really see why. When you’re in a rush and want to slap the post code into the satnav, only to have to wait a couple of minutes, those moments feel like particularly long ones. Perhaps an over-the-air fix will come later, as quicker access would be grand.
Once the system is up and running it’s easy to plug your phone in via a cable and fire up Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, meaning most people won’t need to pay extra for satnav and Wi-Fi upgrades that you’re unlikely to need. There’s a nice big screen to the centre of the dash to view everything, the touch response is fine, and there’s even hand gestures if you want to fiddle about playing Harry Potter whilst driving.
The adaptive cruise control is – if you pay for it – an advanced one, able to keep distance, lane keep, and auto-brake to a stop. It proved a bit of a life-saver when in a hour-long traffic jam – weird as it is to have two feet flat on the floor for most of the time. The only nitpick here is just how buried the lane assist feature is – it’s tucked behind too many screens, when it shouldn’t be, as it’s one of those things you’ll want off when pushing through country lanes with poor road markings.
Keep adding options and the price will swell, so keep in check whether you really need those lovely-looking LED headlights. The on-board stereo is rather limited in its abilities too, something that not even an upgrade is going to elevate to epic proportions in this car. But, for the price and everything else positive there is to say, we can live with that.
The Skoda Superb iV Estate is – as its name suggests – a superb car. It’s roomy, it’s comfortable for driver and passengers alike, it’s intelligent if you add various technology packs, it offers genuinely practical electric range. Indeed, it’s the best plug-in all-rounder that we’ve driven to date.
Its faults are few and far between. We’d like yet more battery – as there’s space enough for it across this large-scale vehicle – and the infotainment start-up needs to be faster. Otherwise, it’s hard to fault.
Which you might not expect from a car carrying the Skoda badge. So if you’re in the market for an estate that delivers the benefits of genuinely practical plug-in hybrid technology then look no further. The name really doesn’t lie – and we’d thoroughly recommend a test drive.
Writing by Mike Lowe.