Skoda Superb 2.0 TDI PD SE

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Price: £19,030
Top speed: 128 mph 0-60mph 10.2 seconds
Consumption: 47.9 mpg
CO2 emissions: 155g/km
Best for: New Mondeo men
Also worth considering? Audi A6, Saab 9-5, Volvo S80

The story of Skoda's turnaround following its acquisition by Volkswagen in 1991 has assumed the status of a legend. After years of being starved of investment, the Czechs were able to draw heavily on their new German parent company's designs – and they made the most of it. In fact, the best argument for buying the first-generation versions of the Octavia, Fabia and Superb, was that they were disguised versions of the VW Golf, Polo and Passat respectively, although with much keener pricing.

But straightforward platform-sharing, as it's called in the industry, can only take a brand so far, so now the Skoda recovery story has quietly entered a second, more interesting phase. Recent models such as the Roomster and the second-generation Superb tested here aren't based directly on a single VW donor model but borrow parts and sub-assemblies from all over the Volkswagen empire. VW also seems to have decided to let Skoda be Skoda when it comes to exterior styling, with the result that these new cars are visually much more adventurous than their predecessors. I think this means that the cars are also becoming more distinctively Czech, in which case, they can probably be expected to get a lot wackier yet. I suspect that the new approach will pay off in the long term, giving Skoda a more sharply defined identity, perhaps as the car industry's first "budget premium" brand.

And the big new Superb is a case in point. It's a beautifully built product with clever features such as a luggage compartment opening that can be operated either as a normal bootlid or a hatchback-style tailgate, but its prices start at just £15,490, about a thousand pounds less than Ford asks for its lowliest Mondeo saloon.

Our mid-range test model, a powerful two-litre diesel with a very long list of standard equipment and an interior trimmed in the classy suede substitute, Alcantara, came in at about £19,000, but it's difficult to think of a single area in which it gave much away to the the cheapest versions of the Audi A6, BMW 5-Series or Mercedes E-Class, cars that cost up to £10,000 more. The Skoda, with its excellent ride comfort and vast rear legroom, is a better bet for passengers, while the German prestige models focus more on the driver experience – although that's a difference in emphasis, not ability.

But the Superb's biggest achievement is that it's a Skoda that's deeply desirable in its own right – not because it's a Volkswagen something-or-other under the skin.

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