Top speed: 136mph 0-62mph 8.6 seconds
CO2 emissions: 170g/km
Best for: Audi buyers in search of a bargain
Also worth considering? Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Insignia, Volkswagen Passat estates
Do you remember Skoda jokes? I mention the subject reluctantly because it's been a while since these now appealing rather than appalling Czech cars have been a fit subject for humour. What's more, it was hardly the fault of Skoda, which had to labour for years under the limitations of a planned economy, that its products weren't fully competitive with Western models produced under far more favourable conditions. Nevertheless, when I drove this impressive new estate version of the company's big Superb, I couldn't help but be reminded of one of the jokes in particular. "How do you double the value of a Skoda?" it started. The rather predictable answer was: "Fill its tank with fuel." But now, such is the transformation that has been wrought at Skoda, a completely different punchline suggests itself: "Stick an Audi badge on it."
Perhaps I'd better explain. The starting price for the new Superb estate is just £17,715, but over at Audi, the entry point for a not dissimilar agglomeration of Volkswagen-group components wrapped in an equally handsome body in the form of the A6 Avant, is £27,390 – not quite, I agree, twice as much, but certainly a great deal more. In fact, if, at a late stage in its development, the powers-that-be at Volkswagen had decided the Superb estate was just too good to be a Skoda and should instead be sold as an Audi, and priced accordingly, I suspect that they would have got away with it.
But today's Skodas aren't just about providing you with more for your money than the opposition do – although that was certainly the main basis of their appeal five or 10 years ago. Rather, at the same time as keeping its keen pricing, Skoda has been developing some of the attributes of a premium brand. Its products have a growing reputation for quality and reliability, and have also acquired a distinctive family look that embodies precisely what they are all about; the cars' rather upright, square-rigged, conservatively handsome shapes are relieved by just enough intriguing quirky detailing to remind us that they are Czech, for all the German engineering they contain.
The Superb estate is the culmination of two decades of hard but inspired work at Skoda; its rear styling overcomes the slight visual awkwardness of the standard model while its combination of space, comfort, quality, value and performance is almost impossible to beat.