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A mighty duel

The first Accord in India was a paradigm of quality, and the bestseller in its class. The current-generation Accord has the right blend of equipment, space and personality.

But now, there’s a new contender for its title — the Skoda Superb. It looks nothing like the Accord, comes loaded with features that rivals don’t even offer as options — all this at a price that makes every car in its class seem grossly overpriced. But is that good enough?

STYLE FILE

The new Accord has a more up-market look in comparison to the aggressive styling of its predecessor. The current design has a nice, flowing silhouette.

The Accord is wider than the Superb, translating into more interior space and the seats are comfortable and supportive. The driver’s seat comes with the option of electric adjust but you’ll feel shortchanged when you have to adjust the front passenger’s seat manually.

You also get height-adjustable belts and a fully adjustable steering wheel, so finding an ideal driving position is easy. There are paddle shifts behind the steering wheel for the automatic gearbox variant, but audio controls on the steering wheel were sorely missed.

The attractive beige-and-black cabin feels luxurious and the neat dashboard gets a multi-information screen, providing air-con temperature details, and so on. But the centre console is a mass of buttons, which are not intuitive to use. General quality of plastics is good but there is scope for improvement. This is even more evident if you’ve just stepped out of the Superb.

This Superb looks more upmarket than it actually is. Though shorter than the Accord, the Skoda is generous when it comes to legroom at the rear.

Just like the exteriors, the Superb’s cabin feels as if it belongs to a car that’s almost twice as expensive. The quality of materials used in the cabin is superb and impressive. Everything from the meaty steering wheel to the little buttons ooze quality and feels like it could last for years.

Tall passengers will value the all-electric adjusted front seats. The driver’s seat gets seat memory settings. You also get audio controls on the steering wheel. The touch-screen stereo is similar to the iPhone and it sounds as good too.

INSIDE STORY

The Accord is spacious, both for the passengers and their stuff. The front seats get a good amount of legroom and headroom but the seats are placed low, so you have to bend more than usual to get in.

Seat comfort is not compromised though and long drives won’t leave you tired. The rear seats have adequate space and are wider than the Superb’s, so a fifth passenger will not be uncomfortable.

That said, the high transmission tunnel robs the middle passenger of vital legroom and the centre armrest doesn’t fit well as a backrest. But the Accord does a great job of ferrying four people in luxury. Rear legroom is not as generous as the Superb’s, but it’s adequate.

You get decent-sized door pockets in the Accord and good storage space around the centre console. But the 396-litre boot seems meagre compared to the Superb’s warehouse-sized 565-litre boot. But the Accord redeems itself slightly with practical split-folding rear seats.

The Superb is not as wide as the Accord, but it makes up with more than enough legroom. The front passengers get generous legroom and headroom but the talking point of this car is the rear-seat space and comfort. With its extended wheelbase, rear-seat legroom is similar to the BMW 7-series. With the front seats so far ahead, space and outside visibility for rear passengers is greatly enhanced.

Also, the Superb abounds with clever little touches like footrests under the front seats for rear passengers and pillar-mounted AC vents that work better than the regular ‘knee-chillers’ on other cars. But, like the Accord, the transmission tunnel eats up legroom for the fifth passenger.

UNDER THE HOOD

Luxury saloons must transport their passengers to the lap of luxury, in virtual isolation from the world outside. The Accord is powered by a 2.4-litre unit that belts out 177bhp and 22.2kgm of torque. Its five-speed automatic gearbox is a tad lethargic and feels like it’s sapping a lot of the engine’s power.

At idle, you won’t be able to tell if the engine is running. It feels silky smooth all the way up to its 6800rpm redline. In town, it responds well at slow speeds, but the real action is towards the top-end of the powerband.

Once past 4000rpm, the engine steps up the pace and power is available all the way till the top. Zero to 100kph is achieved in 11.76 seconds, slower than the manual Accord’s 9.19 seconds, but quick nonetheless.

A 1.8-litre direct-injection petrol unit that puts out 160bhp and 25.5kgm of torque now powers the Superb. The turbocharged motor feels a bit lethargic too at low engine revs in high gear.

But the seven-speed DSG gearbox helps greatly to mask this. Once past the 2500 rpm mark, the turbo comes on and the engine pulls up to its limit. Zero to 100kph comes in 9.10 seconds. In terms of overall refinement, it’s hard to choose one engine over the other.

DRIVER’S DEAL

The Accord has a soft suspension set-up, so low speed rides are exemplary. Bumps are taken care of easily and very little gets transmitted into the cabin. But with increasing speed, the Accord has a tendency to bob with undulations. The light steering is direct but there is some body roll and overall grip could have been better. The Accord does well when driven in a relaxed manner but those looking at attacking corners will be disappointed.

The Superb has European road manners. The suspension is stiffer than the Accord’s, so some bumps at low speeds do creep into the cabin. But at high speeds, the car tackles most bumps without breaking into a sweat. Straight-line stability is good and the car feels rock-solid while speeding.

The stiff suspension also aids handling; body roll is under control and the steering provides ample feedback. The Superb gamely follows steering inputs and is generally the more fun to drive of the two. Even on the fuel-efficiency front, the Skoda has the edge. It gives about 8.3kpl in the city, more than the Accord’s 6.9kpl.

FINAL VERDICT

Right until the end it was difficult to gauge the true winner. Both cars have different endearing qualities and both appeal to the head and the heart. But after much deliberation, the Skoda Superb is the winner here. Its quality, comfort and refinement levels are so good that it actually feels like a car from a much more expensive class.

But the Accord loses by a very small margin. Its disappointing high-speed manners, a high sticker price and its low fuel econom let it down. That said, we wouldn’t blame you if you still wanted one.

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