However, the further up the spectrum you go in terms of size and price, the more difficult the market is to crack.
The new Superb straddles the line between the upper-medium and executive saloon, and it has elements of two Volkswagen Group stablemates – the Volkswagen Passat and the Audi A6 – in its design.
On price it is close to the mainstream upper-medium cars, in terms of interior space it is closer to cars such as the Volvo S80.
Based on a stretched Passat chassis, the Superb has a Volkswagen-like interior, with Skoda-flavoured instruments and switches. The driving position, steering wheel and stalks are almost identical to those in a Passat.
But you notice the Skoda's unique points the moment you open one of the rear doors. They are huge and swing open to reveal a cavernous rear compartment. Another plus point for the Skoda is an extremely generous list of standard equipment. In this class, and at this level, ABS, six airbags, remote central locking, air conditioning, alloy wheels and four electric windows are the absolute minimum.
However, Skoda offers standard metallic paint, cruise control, climate control, a trip computer and a CD player on the Superb in Comfort trim on top of the above.
The 130bhp 1.9-litre TDI engine is identical to that used in Volkswagens, Audis and SEATs and serves the Skoda equally well, with low fuel consumption and strong performance.
It does take a little longer to accelerate over the 0-62mph benchmark than the Passat, and does not feel as strong in the mid-range as a Mondeo TDCi, but it does the job in a safe and satisfying manner.
Refinement is another plus point, with better noise insulation than the Passat, despite the same powerplant, and a smoother gearchange action. The benefits of the diesel engine became obvious on a long run well within the legal motorway maximum from Lincolnshire to Surrey, with the trip computer showing an average of 61mpg.
On other occasions with the Superb required to accelerate more briskly between the gears, 50mpg was not difficult to achieve. Like most of the cars in this class, the Superb is set up for comfort rather than outright driving enjoyment, and it has the makings of a class leader.
It smothers all kinds of nasty bumps in the road and makes for a truly relaxing companion for those long-haul trips. The steering is a little lifeless until you start pressing on, and under extreme cornering the car does not inspire quite the same level of confidence as a Mondeo or a Vectra.
But that misses the point. When you look at the Superb and compare it with its closest relative – the Volkswagen Passat – you must ask the question, why should you choose the Passat when you can have the Skoda for virtually the same wholelife cost, and have some extra kit thrown in?
That is the question fleet decision-makers and drivers will be asking a lot more in the future.
Skoda Superb 1.9 TDI Comfort fact file
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £17,545
CO2 emissions (g/km): 154
BIK % of P11D in 2002: 18%
Graduated VED rate: £130
Insurance group: 10
Combined mpg: 48.7
CAP Monitor residual value: £5,275/30%
Depreciation (19.51 pence per mile x 60,000): £11,706
Maintenance (2.45 pence per mile x 60,000):£1,470
Fuel (7.95 pence per mile x 60,000): £4,770
Wholelife cost (29.91 pence per mile x 60,000): £17,946
Typical contract hire rate: £408 per month
Three rivals to consider
Ford Mondeo 2.0 TDCi 130 Ghia
Vauxhall Vectra 2.2 DTi Elegance
Volkswagen Passat 1.9 TDI PD 130 SE
THIS is the market where Skoda is hoping for conquest sales, by offering more than its mainstream rivals for less cash. And it is only the keenly-priced Vectra that beats the Superb on list price. The price of the Passat, which shares many components with the Superb, is a little higher, while the Mondeo is nudged over the £18,000 mark. However, some outright purchase fleets might flinch at parting with £17,500 for a car wearing a Skoda badge. They need to realise things have moved on.
THE Skoda is credited with a reasonable best-of-the-rest placing behind the Passat, although in reality, if Vectra drivers can get anywhere near the maximum 30,000 miles between services it might prove cheaper than the 2.58ppm suggested – it's all down to the service indicator.
There is very little to choose between the Skoda, Ford and Vauxhall, and on the basis of these figures the servicing and maintenance costs are unlikely to be the deciding factor.
USING the same engine, the Superb and Passat are tied on fuel costs, achieving 48.7mpg on the combined cycle. The Mondeo is not far behind, and easily outguns the other three on pulling power (its maximum torque is 243lb-ft compared with 210lb-ft for the VW and Skoda, and 206lb-ft for the Vectra). However, the Vectra struggles – nearly a penny per mile higher than the competition, with a less powerful engine – perhaps the price of not adopting common rail technology.
THE big surprise here is that in percentage terms the Skoda is level with the Vauxhall and the Volkswagen on 30%, while the Mondeo seems to be suffering on 28%. It doesn't help that the Mondeo has the highest list price of the cars selected, leaving it out in the cold as the only car above 20 pence per mile (and close to 21 pence). The Vectra's advantage in having the lowest list price gives it an edge over the Passat and the Superb, but the Superb is ahead of its VW Group sibling.
WITH all the fractions of pennies per mile totted up the Passat wins, which is no surprise given its proven record in low running costs.
But it is chased hard by the new Superb. When it is this close you have to think of what the Skoda has that the Passat doesn't, and with the extra standard equipment and rear seat space, the balance is once again tipped in favour of the Superb. The Vectra is still in touch by this stage, but the Mondeo is starting to look expensive.
Emissions and BIK tax rates
THIS is another area where the Skoda shows it is equal to the best in class, but the Vectra sticks out like a sore thumb. The Superb, Passat and Mondeo will protect their drivers from any benefit-in-kind tax increases for the next two years, with modest increases in 2004/05. However, the Vectra starts in the 20% tax bracket, immediately negating any list price advantage, and when the driver is paying tax at 24%, the Skoda driver will be paying BIK at 19%.
SKODA has produced a winner in running costs terms, when you take into account the high levels of standard equipment, although the Superb will not appeal to the driving enthusiast. However, for the high mileage driver who needs a smart set of wheels, the Superb must be king. Anyone old enough to remember any Skoda jokes should be grown up enough to banish them to history. If they choose the Superb, they will have the last laugh.