Skoda Auto business sales chief John Rooney said: 'We've decided to mount a direct challenge to these brands because we feel sure about the potential of this car.
'The time has come for us to have the courage of our convictions and we'll succeed because no competitor has a product that matches our combination of price, accommodation and quality.'
Speaking as the firm returned to the large car arena after more than half a century, Rooney told Fleet News: 'Skoda has finished being a joke and is no longer regarded as cheap and cheerful.' And Skoda director Rob Tracey added: 'We have done our homework and feel this car has the chance to make an impact in the fleet market. It should appeal to the user-chooser as an alternative that offers unusually high value. I've no doubt we will achieve 1,000 sales this year and 3,000 in 2003.'
Despite squaring up to upper-medium rivals from volume makers, the Superb is sized to straddle the executive sector by being bigger than the Audi A6. With the build quality to match, the elegant-looking model revives a name used by luxury Skoda cars built between 1934 and 1949.
Five engines will be available - 1.8, 2.0 and 2.8-litre petrol and a choice of turbodiesels sized at 1.9 and 2.5-litres. But despite carrying likely aggressive pricing of between £14,750 and £23,000, the Superb is no stripped-out special. It will be the first VW Group model to feature CargoFlex, a novel luggage retention system that can be folded and raised to fit into the roof of the luggage area when not in use. Other firsts include a front seat that allows part of its backrest to fold to act as a footstool for the passenger sitting behind.
Rooney said: 'Residual values have strengthened as the perception of Skoda has improved, and we aim to continue in this direction by keeping tight control of supply.'
Specification details are yet to be confirmed, but Fleet News understands the entry-level Classic will come with anti-lock braking, front and side airbags, air conditioning, power windows, multi-function trip computer and a CD player.
The Comfort is expected to add parking sensors, multi-function steering wheel, cruise control, climate control and CargoFlex, while Elegance will add an electric sunroof and alloy wheels.
Behind the wheel
Marketing a new car as the Superb suggests Skoda is either stupid or immune to the jibes it could inspire. But neither is the case at the firm that knows a thing or two about being at the receiving end of motoring jokes.
Bosses at the company claim the car lives up to its nomenclature and after sampling it, I'd be the last to disagree. As surprising as it is accommodating, this svelte newcomer is set to ruffle a few feathers.
With Audi's silky 2.8-litre petrol V6 under its bonnet, the ultimate rendition of the Superb is, well, superb as it swishes along at high speeds with little more than a mechanical murmur. Helped by Tiptronic transmission it provides ample power for rapid acceleration and has the relaxed, confident air of prestige progress.
Much the same goes for the turbocharged 1.8-litre petrol version, but the biggest surprises are delivered by the turbodiesels. You'd expect the 2.5-litre TDI V6 model to be a stout performer and it is, but amazingly, it's the 130bhp 1.9-litre PD unit that proves to be the pick of the bunch.
Forget the modest displacement: this motor is well up to behaving in a manner entirely fitting with the biggest car in the class. Getting to 62mph in a respectable 10 secs and capable of 125mph all out, it still manages to average 49.5mpg.
Irrespective of trim level, the Superb has a luxury ambience and build quality and equipment levels seem more than a match for mainstream rivals.