Primal Urge: BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe and Skoda Superb

·7-min read

It seems like the universe is up to its usual antics, handing us both these cars in these deep but luxurious shades of brown and blue. As if to signal that these cars are best resigned to the shadows, asking us to let go and embrace the high-riding present. But the Skoda Superb and the BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe feel like anything but relinquished. There's so much more to draw from them just by how closer they sit to the road. And then there's the small matter of how different they feel from each other.

Looking at the two together, you would think the BMW would be the one grabbing the eyeballs. What with that bright face, heavily styled bodywork and the swooping coupe roofline. But the sheer size of the Superb is hard to contend with, helped further by its ageless design theme that uses simple, crisp lines to create a sense of regality that most luxury cars would kill for. This Laurin and Klement version that adds this deep brown shade and the tasteful chrome highlights work just right with the notchback shape too.

But choose a brighter colour, that goes better with BMW's pitch for the 2 Series, and the purposefulness of this car's M Sport kit is fully realized. The sharper cuts and creases this version brings work great with the compact but purposeful stance.

The sense that a BMW is best experienced from behind the wheel is immediately realized when you reach for the 2 Series' frameless doors, a party trick that never gets old. You place yourself into a seat deep in the cabin that hugs you tightly around the waist. The fairly large steering wheel coming up to you to create a driving position that's one of the best in the business. But equally striking is the level of quality that BMW has achieved in what is still an ‘entry-level' offering. The general layout and switchgear, angled to the driver, is very easy to get your head around with deeply impressive levels of quality and fit. This two-tone interior colour lends a greater sense of space but with not much of it being around anyway, the all-black option seems to match the occasion a touch better. As crisp and intuitive as the infotainment is, we still haven't found peace with this generation of BMW's digital instrumentation. The semi-digital ones from the last crop of Bimmers were the sweet spot we think.

Contrarily, owners of the Superb will be hard-pressed to look past the rear seat. You slide into a fairly raised seat and are greeted with a cabin much larger than the Superb's price might suggest, SUV competition included. The seat itself is very well judged, with just the correct seatback angle, soft but dense cushioning and a supportive bench. Nifty touches like the switches to push forward the front passenger seat, as well as the head learners and sunshades give a sense that more thought than usual has gone into making this a comfortable place to be in. A feeling exaggerated by the quite cramped space in the back of the 2 Series.

Leave your preconceptions of these brands at the door, you'll notice that the Superb is not that far behind the BMW in the way it's put together. Sure the light beige colour scheme and more visible patches of plastic are a sign that this car has been around a while but the quality and feel is top-notch. The slightly grainier screens and a familiar dash layout are other signs that this car is near the end of its life-cycle but there is no arguing with the plushness on offer despite this. In contrast to the BMW, the digital cockpit still is the one to beat in terms of the way it presents information to the driver.

This stately demeanour shouldn't discourage you from getting behind the wheel of a Superb. The two cars here are near identical on paper with their drivetrain configurations, both 2.0-litre turbo-petrol paired with a seven-speed DCT. But it's the Skoda with the torque edge, it makes 320 Nm to the BMW's 280 Nm while power outputs are identical at 190PS.

The fact that the Volkswagen Group and its many outposts have been honing this configuration for years now is immediately apparent. The TSI motor impresses with its sharp low-end response and a more potent gush of torque as you build revs further. And despite a slightly narrower peak torque band, the seven-speed DCT is quick-witted enough to keep the engine in the peak performance range in the sportiest modes, holding gears till the redline and serving up downshifts even above 3,000 rpm when you take manual control. In effect, there's always performance at hand when you want to carve up a section of twisties.

But what stays with you for much longer than the performance is the Superb's duality of nature. Turn everything down and the Superb becomes a textbook luxury sedan. It's generally quiet, there's uninterrupted progress to be made and the ride quality is plush, aside from some jolts over big potholes at slow speeds. The steering is light and twirly so picking through traffic is not a task despite its size.

This also means that for those just chasing the rush, there are some compromises to be made. The generally soft suspension set-up means that the Superb will lean rather than dart into corners, it's well-controlled but not what you'd call sharp while there seems to be just that noticeable gap between when you turn in and the car reacting to the input. The brakes are potent but a touch too grabby on initial application.

The 2 Series Gran Coupe is for these hardline petrolheads. There's a sense of tautness to its motions easily apparent after the Skoda. The heft from the wheel, as artificial as it may be, is reassuring which creates a closer connection with the road. But the party trick is the ARB (actuator contiguous wheel slip limitation) technology. This quells understeer under acceleration much quicker than a regular ESP system, being embedded directly to the car's ECU and allows the stability control to react 10 times faster as a result. The effect on the move is that of a sense of balance around corners that's usually unseen in front-driven cars. This may not be the sharpest of these new-fangled aids but here it means that you can brake later and power out much earlier than you think is otherwise possible. So there's simply a lot more of the sensations of a sporty sedan coming at you for longer. Topping this experience off is a linear and feel some brake pedal.

Again as with the Skoda, there are some compromises to be made. The engine isn't quite as lively as in the Superb, with a more muted mid-range surge. The DCT here could also be a bit more adept at covering for the dead spots lower in the powerband and a bit more intuitive at picking the right gear when you haven't taken manual control. And on a regular commute, the taut suspension setup causes some uncomfortable sideways movements over uneven tarmac as much as the rest of the experience feels closer to a full-blown luxury sedan. The BMW then is the one for the more serious enthusiast, someone ready to compromise just that tad bit further to explore their connection with the car they're driving.

At a time when the recipe for a successful car in India usually begins with a contrived SUV shape and ends with the longest list of equally contrived features that a carmaker can pack into said SUV, these two cars feel all the more special. Warts and moles aside, both seem to touch us at a more primal level. They're less compromised with their shape, with not that sizable a hit to practicality. And this advantage has been put to use to build a deeper connection between the driver and the road. There's just more honesty here with nuances to each that will connect differently with your level of attachment to driving pleasure. You can't go wrong with either the Superb or the 2 Series Gran Coupe. But if it counts for anything, when given a choice, I picked the Superb for the drive back home.

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