AT FIRST glance this Skoda Superb Estate looks like any other. But look a little closer; this Superb is a tough as its numberplate suggests.
This first indication is the thick, black composite material structure protruding ever so slightly around the inside of the window frames, and stretching its way around the inside of the bodywork.
Then there are the windows themselves; like triple glazing, nearly an inch thick.
Pull the handle and the immense weight of the doors is a dead giveaway. It’s like prising open the door of a large safe, and there’s momentum to the thing as it swings outwards. “Be careful closing it,” warns Ian, my armed police officer guide to the car. “You really don’t want to trap one of your limbs in there.”
Ian is not his real name, I’m told; the serving officer can’t reveal that for security reasons. I’m also told not to be surprised if his alias changes during the day — it’s hard to keep track of the various pseudonyms he uses, he says.
Ian is an expert on armoured civilian cars and spent some time getting to grips with the armoured Superb Estate before I arrived. The police have already bought around 150 of the 200-plus examples produced so far. What they’re used for is a matter neither Skoda nor the police are willing to disclose; close protection of government ministers and VIPs might be a good guess, but it would only be a guess.
As with the outside, the cabin looks conspicuously normal. It’s a bit darker than a normal Superb Estate, thanks to the composite structure eating into the window apertures, but the controls are all standard Superb stuff — the steering wheel, six-speed manual stick, instrument binnacle and switchgear are all as you’d find at your local car dealer. It even has an 8in touchscreen infotainment system with GPS and Apple Carplay/Android Auto connectivity.
The most obvious sign that this isn’t your run-of-the-mill Skoda is the addition of a switch unit for a set of emergency warning lights and siren, much like the ones you’d find on an unmarked police car, tucked discreetly into the bottom of the centre stack of the dashboard.
The rear seats look normal, too, though behind the headrests is another pane of thick glass. We’re now inside the “occupant cell”, an armoured chamber capable of protecting those within from attacks using a range of guns and explosives. If you wanted to wind down the windows, you’re out of luck — they’re fixed in place.
The exact specification of the bullet-resistant glass and armour can’t be revealed, but it has been created to be compliant with PAS 300 standards for ballistic and blast protection, and certification involved testing against handguns, shotguns and rifles, and blasts to the side, floor pan and roof.
The testing wasn’t as exciting as it sounds, Skoda’s Steven Cowell later told me: “I’d thought they’d stand there with a machine gun and spray bullets at the side of the car, but actually they fire a single bullet at a time. And they make the bullets at the facility, and measure the speed of the projectiles as they fly through the air. If it’s travelling too fast they make up another bullet with a fraction less gunpowder in it and fire again. It’s incredibly scientific.”
Cowell is most proud of the manufacturing process used for the armoured Superb. Normally an armoured car is created by an aftermarket specialist, which takes a standard vehicle, strips it and starts bolting multiple armour plates to the chassis, he says. Skoda armoured its car itself, using just four armour plates that were shaped to fit the body in a process developed over three years.
Its simplified manufacturing process, which takes four weeks from start to finish, allows Skoda to sell its armoured car for £119,000 — around half what you might expect to pay for models from aftermarket specialists, says Cowell. And it’s available for anyone to buy, even civilians.
“I had been expecting the handling to be severely compromised by all the modifications but actually, the armoured Superb is amazingly nimble”
Ian is keen for me to get a feel for the way the car handles, so tells me to fire up the Superb and drive it as hard as I like around our cone-strewn test course. “Just go for it and have a play,” he says. I like Ian.
The added weight of the armour is immediately obvious as unusually high revs and a gentler clutch action is needed to get the thing in motion. Power is provided by the same 187bhp 2-litre diesel engine that you’d find in an everyday Skoda Superb, so it hasn’t been given any extra performance to cope with the heft.
But, of course, the suspension and brakes have had to be significantly uprated. Skoda worked with third party suppliers on this at a testing facility in the UK. The tyres, too, are far from standard — they run-flat to allow the driver to get to a place of safety in the event of a blowout. If the car really is disabled, passengers can escape the occupant cell by unlocking and folding the rear seat back, and escaping via the rear hatch.
I had been expecting the handling to be severely compromised by all the modifications but actually, the armoured Superb is amazingly nimble. Yes, the three-ish tons of bulk (Skoda won’t say exactly how much it weighs) is absolutely evident as you accelerate (an ad hoc 0-60mph test ended at 30mph after running out of road), brake and corner, with significant weight transfer, but the car remains composed and you feel in control at all times.
The feeling of nimbleness, I realise, is largely down to alterations to the steering rack, which is light and fast, and allows the front wheels to turn to an extraordinary degree, allowing for a very narrow turning circle and making our slalom course a doddle. If you needed to get out of a tight spot quickly, this would be a good car to be driving.
But the genius of the armoured Skoda Superb Estate is that it doesn’t look like an armoured car. You’d expect a BMW 7-series or Jaguar XJ transporting a diplomat or VIP to be armoured, and those high end vehicles stand out from the crowd. Drive an armoured Skoda and you blend in; you’re incognito. But should the bullets start flying, there’s a good chance you’ll get out of Dodge alive.
Civilian Armoured Skoda Superb specifications
- Price £118,688
- Engine 1,968cc, four cylinder, turbo diesel
- Power 187bhp
- Torque 295lb-ft
- 0-62mph N/a
- Top speed 120mph+
- Height 1.5m
- Length 4.8m
- Boot space 660 litres
- Place of manufacture UK
- Build time Four weeks
- Certification PAS 300-compliant ballistic and blast protection
- How can I buy one? As you won’t find one at your local dealership, you’ll need to contact Skoda at EmergencyServicesSupply@vwg-
uk.co.uk or call 01908 601050