Skoda's Superb features a smarter suit, a slicker chassis and better engines in MK3 model guise. This time round, the weird twin-opening hatch is replaced by a more conventional rear aperture but there's still more space inside than in some London starter homes and the pricing remains sensible.
Skoda's been dipping into the almost unlimited largesse of the Volkswagen Group to bring us some mouthwatering engine and gearbox combinations with this latest Superb. There was a time when Skoda was just given the cast-offs, the engines that were in the final years of production, while Audi and VW got the shiny new technology. That's not the case any longer, with the Superb getting petrol engines like the excellent downsized 124bhp 1.4 and even a monster 2.0-litre turbo with 276bhp, four-wheel drive and a dual-clutch DSG gearbox. In between those extremes, petrol folk get to choose between a 148bhp version of the 1.4-litre TSI unit and 218 and 280PS 2.0 TSI variants.
Go diesel and you're looking at 148bhp and 187bhp 2.0-litre TDI engines with six-speed manual or DSG 'boxes. Both of these engines are also available with all-wheel drive options. Dealers will also take orders for a super-frugal 118bhp 1.6-litre GreenLine version emitting just 96g/km of CO2. A plug-in hybrid like the VW Passat GTE is also on the cards. Adaptive dampers are an option and the adaptive drive mode can also adjust the weighting of the electrically-assisted steering. The torsional rigidity of the chassis increases by 12%, yet weight is down by 75kg for a body-in-white, due to the strategic use of high-tensile steels where required. The clever MQB chassis, which underpins the Volkswagen Golf and Passat, is used here in its longest guise to date.
After the bold exterior, the interior feels a bit safe in its aesthetics, but there can be few complaints about either quality or space. At 4,861mm long and 1,864mm wide, the third generation Superb is 28mm longer and 47mm wider than its predecessor, while the 2,841mm wheelbase is 80mm longer, allowing for greater space within the passenger compartment. Rear legroom is frankly ridiculous. It's vast in the back. The boot is 30-litres larger than before, at 625-litres, expanding to a cavernous 1,760-litres with the rear seat backs folded. If this still isn't big enough, you'll need to talk to your dealer about the estate version.
The Skoda Superb looks the part, making it ever easier to convince those whose car views are at least a decade out of date that a Skoda deserves a place on your shortlist if you're in the market for a medium-ranger. Compared to a Mondeo or a Mazda6, a Superb represents a very different take on the theme. The Mazda is a pin-sharp drive, the Mondeo tries to blend size and sprightliness, but the Superb makes no real pretence at sportiness, instead offering a reassuring heft and vault-like build quality.
Above all, the Superb delivers space, and that's a quality you can never really have too much of in this corner of the market. Why? Because it's the one attribute where more mainstream marques can really land a telling blow on the premium badges. A BMW 3 Series or a Jaguar XE is never going to be able to offer as much space inside as a Skoda Superb. It's just not remotely viable, so for those who need something cut from more generous cloth, give the Skoda the once over. It's slick, presentable and, yes, simply clever.Click here to find out more about our Skoda Superb range
Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport
Vauxhall reckons that this Insignia Grand Sport has 'the aura of a car from the premium, upper class'; you decide. It certainly looks a great deal smarter than its predecessor. It comes only in hatch form, but as an alternative, there's the option of a 'Sports Tourer' estate. The prominent grille and slim-line headlamps enhance the wide horizontal design of the front end and provide it with a bold appearance. The grille sits lower than on the outgoing model and further emphasises its solid stance. What Vauxhall calls a 'sweepspear' feature starts in the front door and gives the impression that this model is always ready to pounce, which is a nod to the athletic lightness of the Monza Concept car that inspired it.
More importantly, under the skin, this design has shed up to 175kgs over its predecessor. Its roof is 29mm lower and its track has increased by 11mm. The overhangs have been reduced considerably and the wheelbase enlarged by 92mm. And the exemplary drag factor of 0.26 makes this car one of the most aerodynamic vehicles in its class. The cabin has also taken a step up-market. The driver sits lower and is surrounded by clean lines, pleasant surfaces and impressive build quality, a highlight being the frameless touchscreen of the improved IntelliLink infotainment system. The extended wheelbase gives passengers in the rear more space. There's a roomy 490-litre boot too.
On the move, this Insignia feels like the bigger car it's now become, the suspension floating you over broken surfaces that would have troubled and impeded the previous model. Importantly, this second generation model is 175kg lighter than its predecessor and that really shows when cornering at speed, where there's less body roll than before and generally, a much higher level of agility. As for engines, well most buyers will continue to want a diesel, with the majority of sales likely to go to the 1.6-litre Turbo D unit we tried, offered with either 110 or 136PS. If you trade up to the 170PS 2.0-litre diesel, efficiency drops off markedly, though there's the compensation of 400Nm of pulling power, a figure that will be improved further if you go for the 210PS biturbo variant. Engine-wise, you'll find much more that's really different if you turn your attention to petrol power, with all three units on offer being pretty new. Small capacity turbocharged engines that use unleaded are very much in vogue at present and the 1.5-litre unit supplied here should suit that trend, offered with either 140 or 165PS. There's also a 200PS 1.6-litre Direct Injection turbo petrol unit.
Further up the range sits a potent 260PS 2.0-litre petrol Turbo model that showcases both of what are arguably the two most significant engineering developments introduced with this second generation Insignia. One is the super-slick 8-speed auto gearbox that's optional on lesser models. The other is a sophisticated new intelligent all-wheel drive system that uses a state-of-the-art rear torque vectoring system for greater cornering traction and sharper turn-in.
And in summary? Well, can this second generation Insignia really appeal beyond the medium range Mondeo segment? Will business buyers used to signing up for yet another BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 or Mercedes C-Class really be minded to consider it? The Griffin brand hopes so. What we can tell you from this first look is that if this car carried a premium German badge, those customers would buy into it without question. The quality and technology is that good.
But of course, it does bear a Vauxhall badge - which requires in turn a degree of open-mindedness on the part of potential buyers. That's asking a lot but it's difficult to see what else the brand could have done in pursuit of its objectives here. If you're buying in this sector and are amongst the few people untroubled by badge equity, you'll find plenty to like.Click here to find out more about our Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport range
The Ford Mondeo pulls out all the stops in a bid to convince British buyers that the medium-range family hatch isn't a thing of the past. With excellent economy from a range of downsized engines, the sort of cabin tech you thought was the preserve of the premium German marques and a box-fresh chassis with an all-wheel drive option, there looks to be life in the Mondeo yet.
Ford's gone big on engine choices. It had to really or risk falling behind the curve. The headline powerplant is the 210PS twin sequential turbocharged 2.0-litre diesel, but that's backed up by a more affordable revised 2.0-litre TDCi diesel engine with single variable geometry turbocharger technology good for either 150PS or 180PS. All three 2.0-litre TDCi variants feature a revised engine block, cylinder-head and fuel injection designs and Ford's lean NOX trap exhaust after-treatment system for even cleaner emissions.
It doesn't stop there. Not even close. There is a 1.0-litre petrol engine. Yes, really. This one develops 125PS and is much the same as that found in the Fiesta, although specialised engine calibration takes into account the greater weight of the Mondeo. There is also a 160PS 1.5-litre EcoBoost unit, while a 2.0-litre EcoBoost powerplant has been developed in 240PS form. Buyers can even opt for a Mondeo Hybrid. It uses a specially-developed 2.0-litre petrol engine combined with two electric motors - one to drive the wheels and another to supply regenerative charging - and 1.4kWh lithium-ion battery.
The 150PS and 180PS diesels are available with Ford's Intelligent All-Wheel Drive system, which offers a seamless transition between front-wheel drive and all-wheel-drive performance to automatically enhance traction and road-holding when needed. The Mondeo's also the first model for Europe to be built on Ford's global CD-segment platform, which debuts Ford's integral link rear suspension. The all-new platform and body structure combination delivers 10 per cent more torsional stiffness than the outgoing model and the Mondeo also gets electrically-assisted power steering for the first time with variable weighting. More importantly, road noise reductions of around three decibels in the rear and two decibels in the front have been achieved.
If there's one thing that's defined the Mondeo's design, it's that it's become bigger and more expensive-looking with each passing generation. This one doesn't divert from that precedent. The front gets Ford's Aston Martin lookalike grille with laser-cut headlamps and a power dome bonnet, while the fuselage is far more sculptured and sophisticated in its design than its immediate predecessor. Ford calls the roofline 'a sports coupe profile' which might be pushing it a bit, but it's a handsome thing. The estate version incorporates a retractable panoramic glass roof for the wagon bodystyle.
Building one car for a number of markets was the original idea behind the Ford Mondeo and while this has clear cost-saving advantages for its maker, its also tended to mean that the Mondeo lagged behind many of the cars in its class when it came to technology. The development cycles on the car were just too long for it to be cutting edge. That's something that Ford is increasingly aware of and the latest version of this model has been engineered with a certain amount of future-proofing in mind.
That said, it's been fully fifteen years since Honda launched the Insight in the UK, and Ford has only just got on board with the hybrid concept. That's some way behind the eight ball and the Blue Oval needs to rely on other clever engine and cabin tech to sell the Mondeo. Perhaps it's time that UK customers rediscovered the charms of this most honest of family vehicles. Ford's betting the house on it.Click here to find out more about our Ford Mondeo range