Since the death of the Fabia vRS, Skoda has only built one performance-oriented car: the Octavia vRS. We ran a couple as longtermers last year, and we liked them very much. But since then, Skoda has snuck something under the radar that - on paper at least - sounds like it can blow the hottest Octavia into the weeds.
Sure, the car you see here might look exactly the same as a humble 148bhp diesel Skoda Superb, but it isn’t. It’s the Superb 280 It’s been given a Haldex four-wheel drive system, and feeding that four-wheel drive system is the very same 2.0-litre, twin-scroll turbocharged TSI engine you’ll find in the old Seat Leon Cupra 280. So, that’s 276bhp, four-wheel drive, and a 0-62mph time of 5.8 seconds - the same as a Renaultsport Megane Cup-S, only here there are five doors and a massive boot. Or an even more massive boot if you get the estate, which has the same fruity 0-62.
Feels quick, too - it has that familiar linear delivery we’re used to with VW’s snappily named EA888 engine, and with the same curiously revvy nature it has in the Leon Cupra. It’s a big car this, but once the six-speed DSG twin-clutch gearbox has knocked down a few cogs (no manual, I’m afraid) it picks up pace at an astonishing rate. Modern day sleeper? You betcha.
Don’t be fooled though: this isn’t some sports saloon in a subtle suit: take it round a corner with the slightest dash of enthusiasm - hell, take a roundabout at a normal speed - and you’ll find lean. Lots of lean. And once the four-wheel drive system runs out of grip (admittedly a point that takes a lot of that aforementioned ‘enthusiasm’ to get to), lots of understeer. There’s almost no feedback from the slow steering, and only if you put the Superb in the ambitiously titled ‘sport’ mode is the response anywhere near agreeable.
The upshot is it’s incredibly comfortable. The ride is preposterously smooth, and there’s so much space inside, if CT video chief Alex Kersten sat inside I genuinely fear you’d lose him. In fact, I took four fully grown human passengers to the far end of Belgium and back, and no one complained once. That’s not just because I’m a moody bastard: the Superb is ultra roomy. Leg room in the back is Superb (sorry, had to do that at least once), and it generally feels cavernous inside. The only thing I’m not a fan of is the driving position: wherever you sit you feel like you’re on top of the steering wheel rather than behind it.
The trouble is, I’m just not sure who this car is for. It’s bloody quick, but doesn’t look like it is, nor does handle anywhere near as well as you expect a car this fast to. Are there people out there who want a fast car that’s not a performance car? Not many, it seems - Skoda says the 280 accounts for just two per cent of all Superb sales in the UK, a figure that’s likely to be similar (if not even less) in most other markets.
So why bother building it at all? Because Skoda can, is the answer, and it can because the Superb now sits on VW Group’s MQB architecture.
This modular architecture makes pinching the engine from a hot Seat and sticking in four-wheel drive something that doesn’t cost the company a whole lot. So why not?
For me though, the £31,445 280 is just an odd proposition. Dare I say it, the sensible and much cheaper diesel options - one of which Alex took on a 2000 mile European road trip - make a lot more sense in a car like this. But, this isn’t where weirdly fast Superbs end: there’s a Sport Line 280 on the way with 15mm lower suspension and sportified styling, and even talk of a Superb vRS. A 300bhp+ Superb with a few bits pinched from the Golf R? Sign me up…