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The fantastic 2007 range of Skodas

September 16, 2006 15:55 IST

The statue of Christian X looked magnificent but why have they written "Kong" under that? Why is the beautiful eating place called a "Restaurang" of all things? Why is Nyhavn not spelt New Heaven?

How come "Pissoir" is not a place you pee in? Why do the Swedes insist on calling Copenhagen 'Kopenhamn'? How can someone call a hotel "Front"? Or better still, why didn't they call it "Back"?

Well, these were the primary questions that went through my jet-lagged brain as I went through one of the most hectic test drive programmes I have ever been on.

How far will you go to drive a car? Very far, if it is a Lamborghini and, well, not so far for a Skoda Octavia, right? Well, I drove a Lamborghini in my backyard for the forthcoming October issue and, ahem, flew all the way across the globe to Denmark and Sweden to drive an Octavia and some other Skodas. The story does not end there.

If you were thinking we had a leisurely time driving the Skodas across countries over a week, think again. We had precisely 24 hours to spend in these countries before we took a flight back home. The brighter side of things is that I had never been to any of the Scandinavian countries in my life and that meant a lot of room for amusement within 24 hours. And Kong really means King if you are in Copenhagen.

The moment we retrieved our bags from the carousel at Copenhagen airport, we were directed to one corner and then on to the airport's basement parking lot. Before I could ask "can I brush my teeth before this?" I was handed over the key to an Octavia 1.4 -- the base model with an 80 bhp petrol motor.

Well, a truck with numerous wheels coming straight at me gently woke me up to the fact that I was supposed to drive on the right. Brilliant. And before I knew it, the new Octavia -- which we know in India as the Laura -- was humming along at a splendid 120 kph when the walkie-talkie chirped.

"Last week a minister of Denmark was fined lots of kroners for doing 75 at a 50 kph speed limit zone." That of course slowed me down a bit as I entered what looked like a tunnel which had glowing 90 kph signs hung over it. Instead of light, the other end of the tunnel presented a whole new country, Sweden!

The said bridge does not merely connect Sweden to Denmark, but it is one of the few links the cold world in the northern hemisphere has with the rest. So thanks to this bridge, someone with a name like Stefan Nordqvist who lives in, say, Karlstadt, can wake up in the morning, yawn, and drive straight to Cape Town in South Africa, if he so wished. The bridge that I was crossing was that important.

The Octavia 1.4 was cruising effortlessly over the bridge with no road noise whatsoever intruding into the cabin. The radio stations were playing hip-hop but I was more interested in the fantastic sounding Swede who came between songs and uttered more Kongs and Bongs to my delight.

Despite just 80 bhp on tap, the Octavia didn't feel underpowered. Later I would learn that lean petrol engines are quite a hit in this part of the world. With strict speed limits, an RS will only land you in trouble in any case.

Now that was reason to worry since the next car I drove was a rather powerful version of the Octavia -- not the RS, but the attractively styled Combi with 4x4 capability. Well, my worry was shortlived since the thoughtful organisers had concurred and decided that letting Indian journos loose on these antiseptic roads would result in some kind of bother for them and decided to send a pilot and a sweeper each for us.

Soon we were part of a happy convoy which ensured that we had ample time to leave the steering wheel and check out the rather vast innards of the Combi, the estate version of the Octavia. Or take a nap while listening to more hip-hop.

I got back to the wheel when the convoy eased and pushed the 140 bhp Pumpe-Deuse motor a bit. And on cue, it started raining -- perfect then to see how good the 4x4 system is, right? To be honest, it is very good as an all-weather tool.

The Combi felt absolutely surefooted around fast sweepers and I was soon tempted to break the convoy and let the 4x4 loose in one of the many gravel roads that makes Sweden a great rallying country.

Though I would like to tell you that I drove WRC style on a fabulous gravel road, the reality is that I just managed to drive a bit around the countryside -- and that felt very good indeed. It was nice to hear gravel getting crushed under rubber and it felt good to know that power was going to all four corners.

Before jet lag catches up with me, let me tell you that the new gen VW-derived PD diesels are a bit harsh on the noise front -- I can't say that whether I like it or not, but it did get to a level where I had to turn the volume up when the RJ came back to entertain me.

But what they do have is immense thrust -- plonk the accelerator down and the diesel motor gets to work as if it is powering an excavator (I mean the land speed record breaking JCB kind!).

Some time during the day when the sun was hitting my eye, I wondered why Skoda decided to do this press launch of its 2007 line-up in Scandinavia. Later I would learn that it is an important market for Skoda since the Scandinavians seek exceptional value for money when buying their cars since cars are almost twice as expensive in these countries compared to the rest of Europe.

So they look out for maximum car for their money -- large, well-built (they need to last many strong winters) and generally trouble-free, so they have found Skodas to be the perfect bet.

As I drove around the suburbs of Malmo -- an upcoming city with one very large and equally twisted skyscraper --the reality was there to see. You see cars from the Eighties still running -- W123 Mercs, those all-square Volvos from the days when Volvo and not Ford built them and Saab 9000s that looked fantastic even in Ambulance White. Sure they like cars that last and last.

Coming back to the Combi 4x4 -- which may not come to India since we Indians are not very appreciative of estate cars -- it is also available with a 2000cc FSI petrol that is good for 150 bhp.

But I would say that the car I was driving, the two-litre diesel with 32 kgm of torque all the way from 1750 rpm onwards, is the ideal groom to marry the 4x4 system. If at all Skoda launches it India, they have one buyer.

The sun was setting and it was raining cats and dogs and we had another ten cars with a minimum of seven engine options and combinations to drive. They all felt as solidly built as the 4x4 Combi that I was enjoying most of the afternoon. Solid build, quality materials and eminently liveable interiors are the virtues of Skoda today.

Combine that to some of the very best engines, both diesels and petrols, and you get the idea. Now sprinkle that lineup with some stunning RS motors and few 4x4 estates, and you can say that Skoda has got a near-perfect lineup that must be envied by even by its parent company.

The little Fabia, which is blistering the sales chart in its fifth year in production in Europe, was there too. I would have loved to have a go in the Sprint Yellow hatchbacks, but other journos were busy with that one. And yes, the funky Roomster would have been fun to sample too but alas, that was meant to be only a support vehicle.

So a Superb it was to be, to ferry me back across the famed bridge and into er, Kopenhammel. And I took the wheel of a 30-valve V6-powered flagship Skoda in Olive Green.

The roads were empty and I assumed that the speed cameras were asleep as I sped across to Denmark. After all I had a flight to catch after the appointment with the Kong.

Bijoy Kumar Y in Mumbai