Ford Focus VS Skoda Superb
- Great chassis
- Surprising engine
- Optional advanced safety
- Better tyres would be nice
- Too many optional colours
- Subtle good looks
- Stands apart from the rabble
- Performance and handling to match
- Badge can work against it
- Thirstier than its claimed fuel economy
- Misses out on full engine tune
Ford's small hatch, the Focus, is criminally under-bought in Australia. The latest model is one of the best hatchbacks on the road and when you chuck in the decent price, impressive equipment and absurdly powerful engine for its size, it's a winner.
But you lot? You don't buy it in nearly the kinds of numbers it deserves. Partly because there isn't a bait-and-upsell boggo model to lure you in, partly because it's got a badge that is not exciting Australians any more and partly because it's not a compact SUV.
Or is(n't) it? Because alongside the ST-Line warm hatch is the identically priced and therefore technically a co-entry level model; the Focus Active. Slightly higher, with plastic cladding, drive modes and a conspicuous L on the transmission shifter, it's a little bit SUV, right?
|Engine Type||1.5L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
Tim Robson road tests and reviews the new Skoda Superb SportLine wagon with specs, fuel consumption and verdict at its Australian launch in Sydney.
Explore the 2016-2017 Skoda Superb Range
2016 Skoda Superb review | first Australian drive video
2016 Skoda Superb review | first drive
2016 Skoda Superb review
2016 Skoda Superb 206TSI 4x4 wagon review | quick test
Skoda Superb 162TSI sedan 2016 review | road test
Skoda Superb 140TDI 2016 review | road test
Skoda Superb 140TDI wagon 2016 review | Torquing Heads video
Anything with large wheels and a taller stature is simply muscling other, equally capable cars out of way on the showroom floor, and there seems to be no end in sight.
It's a bit heartbreaking, then, that cars as capable – and as relatively affordable, spec wise – as the Skoda Superb SportLine are in danger of being overlooked because it's not an SUV.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Ten years ago, the idea that the higher-riding version of a hatchback would be a good city car would have been laughable. The Focus Active is pitched as a kind of SUV with its different low-grip driving modes, which you'll never touch if you stick to the city.
The Ford Focus is genuinely a brilliant car, no matter where you take it. The Active takes a terrific chassis, tweaks it for comfort but, ironically, doesn't lose much of the speed.
It's genuinely difficult to fault the Superb in this spec, although the front-wheel drive 162TSI version is on par in practical terms and can be had for almost $12,000 less, albeit with fewer toys.
However, the Superb SportLine wants for almost nothing in terms of specs and appointments, and it differs from the regular 206TSI thanks to its subtle, sporting demeanor.
It's flexible, strong and elegant, and it's as practical as any sports utility vehicle on sale today.
Skoda does well with the Superb in relation to the rest of its line up, but even within its own ranks, a coming challenger in the form of the Kodiaq SUV will make life unnecessarily difficult for this well-priced, well-specced wagon.
If you don't need a high-riding 4x4-esque SUV, and you're not concerned about the badge your car wears – or even if you are – you really need to short-list the Superb for a test drive.
Can you walk past an SUV for a great wagon? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
For a fairly conservative hatchback, the Focus came under fire for what some termed its derivative styling. I quite like it, and not just because the styling work was led by an Australian. The front end is very much family Ford, as long as it's the European arm of the family, fitting in with its smaller sibling, the Fiesta. The Active scores the usual black cladding, higher ride height and smaller diameter wheels, in exchange for more compliant, higher-profile tyres. All of that takes nothing away from a design that I think looks pretty good.
The cabin is well put together, with just that oddly angled touchscreen causing me a bit of a twitch. The design is a fairly steady Ford interior with a lot of switchgear shared with the Fiesta, but it's all quite nice. The materials feel mostly pleasant and the hardwearing fabric on the seats feels right for this kind of car.
There's a feeling that the Skoda brand has supplemented the now defunct Saab as the thinking driver's car of choice. In fact, Skoda defies its origins as a discount sub-brand of Volkswagen, with almost every vehicle sold locally optioned up like, as Skoda's product manager Kieran Merrigan told us, "a Christmas tree."
The Superb has a bold, masculine, yet friendly shape that manages to avoid being slab-sided and dull. The blacked out presentation of the SportLine variant is nicely underplayed, while the distinctive alloys give the Superb a real presence.
Its front end is not a million miles away from the one that adorns its smaller Octavia sibling, but in its wagon guise, the Superb SportLine is a genuine head-turner.
Inside, the Superb is clearly a high-end VW Group car, but the unique seats and sports trim and interesting Skoda touches - door bins, for example - set it apart.
The Focus is quite roomy compared to other cars in its class. The rear seat has good leg and headroom, with the feeling of space accentuated by large windows. Annoyingly, though, all that work put into making the rear a nice place to be is ruined by a lack of amenities like cupholders, USB ports or an armrest.
Front-seat passengers fare better with two cupholders, a roomy space at the base of the console for a phone and a wireless-charging pad. The front seats are very comfortable, too.
The boot starts at a fairly average 375 litres - clearly sacrificed for rear-seat space - and maxes out at 1320 litres with the seats down. While you have to lift things over the loading lip and down into the boot, it's one of the more sensibly shaped load areas, with straight up and down sides. Ironically, the smaller Puma has a noticeably larger boot.
The Superb wagon is an amazingly versatile car that's easy to live with. Its electric tailgate opens to reveal a cavernous luggage space; there is 660 litres behind the seats, which expands to 1960 litres when the seats are flipped down.
We love the handy seat releases near the rear door, along with shopping bag hooks, cargo cover, load restraint points, nets and a 12-volt socket. The load cover can interfere when larger bags or boxes are stowed, though, and the Skoda also sports an odd pseudo storage hammock that could easily be deleted.
Storage is plentiful, and there are two cupholders up front and another pair in the flip-down rear centre armrest – though the cupholders are frustratingly tiny in their diameter, defying even a regular can of drink.
Another four bottles can be stashed in the front and rear door pockets.
Rear seaters can also control the climate via temperature adjusters if they so desire. The SportLine even has heated rear outside seats, which also have ISOFIX child seat mounts added to them.
Up front is an inductive phone charging slot; simply place a suitable phone flat on the pad, and the car will charge the phone without a cable. Not only that, but the pad can enhance the signal of the phone. It didn't work with every phone we tried, though, and the slot is too small for huge devices like Apple's iPhone 6S.
Seating is generous and supportive in all positions, with loads of room throughout the car for five people. Rear legroom is a particular standout, with our lanky teen enjoying limo-like space in the back seat.
The Alcantara fabric isn't perhaps as soft and as luxurious as the leather you'd find in the 206TSI 4x4, but it's grippy and comfortable, and cleans up just as easily as the leather, despite having perforations. Don't ask how we tested that...
And as usual, Skoda adds its cool little touches, with small umbrella ports in both front doors and garbage bins in the door pockets, as well as sun shades on the rear side windows.
Oh, and if you're worried about ride height, don't be; the Superb cleared our steep drive test front and rear with ease.
Price and features
The Focus Active wears a $30,990 sticker but the several people I know who bought one haven't paid that much, so Ford dealers are obviously keen to do deals. Even at that price, it's got a fair bit of stuff. The Active has 17-inch wheels, a six-speaker stereo, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, auto LED headlights, LED fog lights, sat nav, auto wipers, wireless hotspot, powered and heated folding door mirrors, wireless phone charging, a big safety package and a space-saver spare.
Ford's SYNC3 comes up on the 8.0-inch screen perched on the dashboard, which weirdly feels like it's facing away from you slightly. It has wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, sat nav, DAB+ and also looks after various functions in the car.
The panoramic sunroof is a stiff $2000 and includes an annoying perforated cover rather than a solid one.
The Superb is based on the same Volkswagen Group MQB platform that underpins the Volkswagen Passat. This particular model is known as the SportLine, and supplements the previous range-topper, the 206TSI 4x4, by dint of a handful of extra bits and pieces and an extra thousand dollars on its price ticket.
The sedan costs $51,990, while it's $53,690 for the wagon tested here (plus on-road costs).
On top of the already well specced 206TSI the SportLine picks up a black finish on the mirror caps, rear diffuser, roof rails and front grille, as well as black door trim pieces, unique 19-inch alloys and SportLine badging on the front guards.
A new dashboard instrument cluster is finished in white trim, there are Alcantara-trimmed front and rear seats and door card inserts, a flat-bottomed sports wheel, alloy pedals, black roof lining and a sports monitor that adds boost, power, and engine oil temperature gauges as well as a lap timer.
The SportLine also gains all the standard inclusions of the 206TSI, including auto lights and wipers, LED headlights and tail-lights, heated front and rear seats and an inductive phone charging bay.
The only options on the SportLine are metallic/pearlescent paint ($700) and a sunroof ($1900).
Engine & trans
Ford does an excellent range of small turbo engines. The "normal" Focus range (such as it is, now the wagon has disappeared from the market) comes with a 1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine. Bucking the SUV-this-size trend (yes, I know it's not really an SUV), this punchy little unit delivers an impressive 134kW and 240Nm. They're both very decent numbers for such a small engine.
The big numbers continue with the transmission boasting eight gears, a number you don't often find in a hatchback. It's a traditional torque-converter auto, too, so those of you who have bad memories of Ford's old PowerShift twin clutches should worry no more.
Power goes to the front wheels only and you'll get from 0 to 100km/h in 8.7 seconds.
Torque is rated at a hefty 350Nm from a low of 1700rpm, and it hurls the SportLine wagon to 100km/h from rest in a claimed 5.8sec.
It's backed by a six-speed dual clutch transmission and runs a Haldex all-wheel drive (AWD) layout that biases traction to the front wheels. The Superb also has a drive mode select switch that modifies the behaviour of the throttle, gearbox and steering. It also runs adaptive dampers.
Ford's official testing for the big window sticker delivered a 6.4L/100km result on the combined cycle. In my time with the Focus, I got 7.2L/100km indicated on the dashboard, which is a pretty solid result given the Focus spent a good deal of the time on suburban or urban roads.
With its 52-litre tank, you'll cover around 800km if you manage the official figure, or just over 700km on my figures.
Skoda rates the Superb SportLine at 7.3L/100km on the combined fuel economy cycle, and it needs 95RON fuel as a minimum. Its 70-litre tank should yield 958km of range.
Over 380km of testing, the Superb returned 12.2L/100km according to the dash, which is a surprisingly high figure when compared to the claimed average. The majority of the test was conducted with the car in Sport mode, but this has only a marginal effect on consumption.
Despite the very mild off-road pretensions, if it's a comfortable city ride you're after, the Active is the Focus to have. While the ST-Line isn't uncomfortable - not by a long way - the Active's more compliant tyres and higher ride height (30mm at the front and 34mm at the rear) iron out the bigger bumps without sacrificing much of the sportier car's impressive dynamic prowess, even with the low-rolling-resistance tyres.
The cracking 1.5-litre turbo is responsive and well-matched to the eight-speed auto. The big torque number pushes you along the road and makes overtaking much less dramatic than a 1.5-litre three-cylinder has any right to.
Ford's trademark Euro-tuned quick steering is also along for the ride, making darting in and out of gaps a quick roll of the wrist, which has the added benefit of meaning you rarely have to take your hands off the wheel for twirling. That darting is aided and abetted by the engine and gearbox, with the turbo seemingly keeping the boost flowing with little lag. It's almost like they planned it that way.
You have good vision in all directions, which almost renders the fact that the blind-spot monitoring is optional acceptable. Almost. It's very easy to get around in, easy to park and, just as importantly, easy to get in and out of. Compared to, say, a Toyota Corolla, the rear doors are very accommodating.
The Golf-R engined Superb belies its size with mid-range urge that would shame a lot of larger capacity engines. It's not as vocal – it's not an RS model, after all – and it's missing a bit of the oomph that Skoda Australia's hot weather tuning takes out of the European spec engine (about 16kW and 30Nm), but it's still a marvel to think this big car has such a relatively small engine under the bonnet.
Its chassis balance is spot on, too, with the 19-inch wheels and 235/40 R19 tyres still offering a decent ride compliance, as well as sharper handling when the dampers are turned up to Sport.
The AWD system, too, is a great addition, providing a more stable, connected feel that ties both ends of the car better than the FWD-only versions. Be warned, though – AWD cars need to have all four tyres replaced at the same time, even if you've only worn the fronts or damaged a single tyre.
Steering feel is good, if a little isolated, but overall, the Superb shrinks around the driver, behaving for the most part like a smaller, more agile car.
The Active has six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, forward AEB (low speed with pedestrian avoidance and highway speeds), forward collision warning, lane-departure warning, speed-sign recognition and active lane-keep assist.
Annoyingly - and I can't for the life of me work out why this is a thing - despite some advanced safety features in the base package, you have to pay $1250 extra for blind-spot monitoring, reverse cross traffic alert and reverse AEB, which are part of the Driver Assistance Pack. No, Ford is not the only company to do this.
The back seat has two ISOFIX points and three top-tether anchors.
The Focus scored five ANCAP stars in August 2019.
The five-star ANCAP Superb is well equipped with safety kit, including nine airbags (front driver and passenger, driver's knee airbag, front and rear side airbags and front and rear curtain airbags), AEB (auto emergency braking) which operates at speeds of up to 65km/h, lane departure assistance, adaptive cruise control, side assist and rear traffic alert.
The first five services cost $299 each and also include a free loan car and a 12-month extension to your roadside assist membership for up to seven years.
Skoda offers a pre-paid 'Service Pack' for the Superb , with a three-year/45,000km plan costing $1299 and a five-year/75,000 plan coming in at $2650.
Service intervals of 15,000km or 12 months are suggested.
The car is covered by a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.