Updated: March 26, 2014
The difference between Crossover Utility Vehicle (CUV) and Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) can be a little difficult to distinguish, especially when you compare a typical member of each family, Nissan Qashqai, which I have so inconspicuously tested not that long ago, and Skoda Yeti, our latter-category candidate for today.
My feelings toward the Skoda mark have always been positive, especially in the recent years. The ArmA computer games franchise notwithstanding in boosting the Czech reputation, Skoda has spent an awful lot of time making their cars affordable, restrained and conservative yet not boring, and of good build quality that does not lag behind the more expensive Volkswagen and Audi. To wit, with high expectations, we test a Yeti today.
Value for money
When it comes to budget well spent, SEAT is one of the more money:horsepower efficient brands, but Skoda is not that far off. Indeed, the little Yeti, which is not so small after all, alongside Octavia and Superb, gives you a very honest package without bleeding you dry. Prices being high outside the USA, don't expect any miracles, though. Still, this six-speed manual model, powered with a tiny 1.2 turbo-charged engine developing respectable 105 HP and 175 Nm of torque, comes equipped with a generous if supposedly somewhat basic Ambition trim. This means no wood paneling or leather, but you do get 16-inch alloys, ESP, air conditioning, electric mirrors and windows, and the Varioflex seating, which we will discuss a bit later. By default, six air bags for those safety conscious, with up to eleven available. You do not pay extra for metallic paint, and you also get window pillars and roof rails painted black. No Hill-Hold Assist in the manual version.
The multimedia system is a basic CD thingie, and if you want a full DAB radio and navigation plus dual-zone climate control, you will have to upgrade to Elegance. Another option is just upgrading the multimedia to a posh touch model with Bluetooth phone and a reversing camera at a locally-priced EUR800 at the authorized dealership bazaar. Yeti has a good ground clearance, so even though you only have a 2x4 model, you can attempt some off road fun, with 215/60 R16 wheels to give you some traction on macadam and gravel. More to follow.
Initially, I thought Yeti to be ugly, if only for one reason. Those lights at the front. They kind of ruin it, although, after a while, you get used to them, and you don't mind them that much. Now, you may argue that this Skoda is only a vertically stretched Roomster, and there's some truth in it, as you can spot the utility slash hatchback pedigree everywhere. But it has its own undeniable if arguable charm. The window pillars in black and the rails add flair, and the big wheels infuse the car with a sense of robustness. From behind, Skoda Yeti sports clean, elegant lines, and single fat tailpipe for helping the world maintain its Carbon balance.
Months later, my impression is mixed. It's still not the prettiest, but now and then, it catches the light just right, and you very much like many of its details. The nose and the grille and its four eyes do no longer bother you, and they might even appear cute when you squint. From the side angle, it's all good, and when you see one streaking past you on the road, obviously, because you can't see your own car when driving it like duh, then it's an okay model. Not too stylish, not too flashy, but definitely not boring. Kind of in the middle.
When you open one of the five doors and head inside, things improve significantly. Massively. First, the vertical pillars give Yeti a whole lot of headroom for its passengers, back and front. The car is spacious beyond its dimensions. More spacious than Octavia, would you believe it. And its total length is just 4.2 meters.
Three adults can sit in the back comfortably, I repeat comfortably. The head room is superb, even for tall people, and you can seat two 1.8 m adults one behind another without any problems. The boot is not very large, but you can remove the top privacy shelf and stack things vertically. Three large suitcases fit in comfortably, and you have a bunch of hooks and nets to help you fasten your shi ... gear.
The seats are very good, even though they don't offer too much support in corners, but then, Yeti is not a sports car, and you won't be driving it like you would an Audi A1, for instance, where the lack of lumbar and leg love is quite evident. Access in and out of the vehicle is also stellar. Older people do not need to squat into the seats, instead they slide in and out at a natural height, as if sitting behind a table chair for a family dinner.
Speaking of families, if you have kids, then the Varioflex system is quite awesome. Officially, you can fold the seats using the 40/20/40 split, but better yet, the rear seats can slide forward, enlarging the boot space without having to fold them. You have a billion space saving combinations. Really neat.
The build quality is excellent. Everything is robust, sturdy and nicely put together. The car feels expensive and there are no weird squeaky noises. This is true even after some 17,000 km on the road. I like the dash layout. Like the rest of the car, it has that aura of conservative and modern, blended so well. Cozy, inviting yet not ostentatious. You can be a Skoda Yeti owner whether you're 20 or 60. The controls are practical and functional, and easily accessible. There's a bunch of space for your bottles, your handcuffs and other common accessories found inside a vehicle.
On road and off road
For the first time ever, I am lucky to report some off road fun, too, and not just tarmac pleasure. Still, let's begin with civilized driving. The 1.2 TSI offers a solid plenty of power and torque, especially in town. However, on the open road, it lacks a bit of oomph in the sixth gear, and you sometimes do need to downshift a bit. To overtake road pests efficiently and swiftly, you will need to slot in the 4th, or even the 3rd on the incline. This is more acute than when driving the more powerful 1.4 and 1.8 engines, which we've seen in the Leon and DINK mobil AKA Audi A1 reviews.
The ride is superb and extremely enjoyable, with a high sitting position, excellent visibility and good road handling. Despite its height, there's no body roll and you feel confident, even though you will be sledding much less often than in smaller, lower hatchbacks, because Yeti demands a different regime and mindset of driving, as simple as that. The small engine is super sensitive to shenanigans, though. The fuel economy varies greatly on how gentle your right foot is. For example, smooth driving at 90 km/h will get you around 5-5.5 l/100 km. On the other hand, at 120 km/h, the car returns about 7.0 l/100 km, more than Leon or A1.
Even though Skoda Yeti 1.2 TSI is not a racer, it can still pull almost 100 km/h in the second gear, and it will touch the same mark in about 11.8 seconds, with the top speed of about 175 km/h. A family car by all standards, and if you need more firepower, you should upgrade. Lastly, the handsome 18 cm ground clearance is another advantage that this car offers to its owners and casual loaners. It clears road bumps nicely and can climb pavements with ease, even when laden with goods and human flesh, ending in a very pleasant and refined driving experience. Time to go off road. Rollin', in my 5.0 ... wait, that's a different tune.
Now, the terrain ride is not stellar with the two-wheel drive, but the ground clearance is enough for most green lanes plus casual family off roading. The main problem is that the 1.2 turbo is a small engine, and there's less weight on the front wheels, i.e. less traction, and it lacks power below the turbo range. This is most evident when you're climbing in the first, and you often need to do it at low revs so that you go slow and controlled. And that's when the engine begins to really thirst for the power. Surely, you won't be using the aircon at this point.
If you feed more fuel to the engine to build power, and the turbo kicks in, you end with an increased off road speed that can result in uncontrollable climbs. For proper off roading, you really ought to get the 4x4 version, plus a diesel engine for the extra torque, especially at lower revs.
Jozin z Bazin, I mean problems
Well, none really. I am having a very hard time finding fault with Skoda Yeti. And that says it all.
Imagine my test model with a full 4x4 drive and a much more powerful engine, either a 1.8 TSI or 2.0 TDI. I fully understand why Jeremy Clarkson called Yeti the best car in the world. Bloody awesome, I call that. Simply brilliant in all aspects. It's not the best in any one of them, just plain great in ALL of them.
I must compare to Qashqai now. Both are jolly good cars for sitting above the rest of the plebes and cruising with flair. But Skoda wins, I must say. Qashqai is sportier, sharper, but it does not have the same all-around practicality of the Czech people's carrier. Yeti wins by understating its many qualities. It's friendly toward everyone, including older folk, taller folk, families with small and medium-sized children, pets, luggage, those who want a bit of an-naturel driving, those who like feeling confident on A and B and C roads, those who do not like to draw attention to their parking spot, those who simply admire good financial deals. Yeti tries to do it all, and it succeeds fairly well. The 1.2 TSI engine is no Herculean beauty, but it's more than sufficient for most needs.
And so we end here. This car is a great bargain. You should consider it. 9.5/10. Peace.