Despite my best efforts and using various tricks in trying to source a drive in a wide variety of cars, sometimes it takes a long time to get hold of something that has been high on the priority list. One such car is Skoda’s Yeti, which immediately appealed when I saw it at launch at the 2009 Geneva Auto Show, and in which my interest has not subsequently waned. I was far from alone in being impressed, and the Yeti quickly stacked up both awards and delivery delays. Top Gear magazine voted it as their Family Car of the year in 2009 and AutoExpress selected it to be their Car of the Year in 2010. After a lengthy feature on Top Gear in mid 2011, when Clarkson postulated that it could very well be the “best” car in the world, not only did the feature completely overload Skoda’s website for a while, but demand just got even greater than the already limited supply. I understand that even now, over three years since launch there is a long lead time for a new one, and that residuals of used models remain particularly strong. Somehow, though Hertz UK have managed to buy some and when I landed at Heathrow mid Monday morning and found that the car allocated to me was not only not in its designated parking space but not even visible, I almost bit the hand off the rental agent when he offered me a Yeti as an alternative. It turned out that a batch had arrived on a transporter that morning, and this was the last one available. So, a brand new Yeti with 8 miles on the clock was mine for the trip back home and whatever else I could fit in during my 24 hour tenure.
On looks alone, the Yeti scores very highly in my opinion. It reminds me a little of my one my favourite cars from the late 1970s, the sometimes late lamented Matra Rancho, but brought up to date. In true Skoda fashion, though, the Yeti avoids the temptation for over-stylised fussiness that so afflicts a growing number of cars. Instead what you get is a neatly resolved shape, with just the right sort of details, which range from the large driving lights inboard of the main headlights and a gently curved front bumper with skid guard past a side profile with black plastic skirts to a very vertical rear end with a scuff plate which whilst not strictly necessary for those who do not take their Yeti off-road will be very useful for those who do. You can personalise the car by choosing not just between the 14 exterior colours but by selecting a colour contrasted roof, as well as the option of different wheel trims and roof rails.
Skoda offer the Yeti with quite an array of both petrol and diesel engines, all of them familiar from other applications across the VAG Group. The test car was a 2.0 TDi developing 110bhp, and fitted with the optional four wheel drive. It is clearly a diesel on start up, but the characteristic diesel engine sound disappears completely when cruising. Indeed on the motorway the only real noise is from the tyres and road surface, with engine and wind noise particularly well muted. Drive on a trailing throttle or a low speeds, though, and the diesel-ness comes back again. Diesel characteristics also mean that there is plenty of torque, 207 lb/ft in the 4WD cars, which is more even than in the FWD versions with the same engine, so from almost any speed, whenever you put your foot down, you quickly feel a sensation that something is happening, and that was on a brand new car where you might suppose that the engine is tight. Although this was “only” the 110bhp model, it felt more than adequately brisk, so I can but imagine what the top spec 140 bhp car is like. I do suspect that if the Yeti is loaded up with people and stuff then that extra power could come in useful. One reason for the refined cruising became evident when I looked at the rev counter. At a motorway speed of 70 mph, it was turning over at just 2200 revs. Whereas this could mean the need to change down a gear or three if you need any acceleration at all, as would surely be the case in a petrol engine, with this Yeti, the extra impetus just came with the flexing of your right foot on the accelerator pedal. As with some other VAG group cars, that accelerator pedal is of the organ type and is quite stiffly sprung so you need to press quite hard on it. Yeti is offered with a choice of either manual or DSG gearboxes. At present, the 7 speed DSG is limited to the 1.2 TSi petrol and the 5 speed manual is confined to front wheel drive 2.0 TDi models, everything else having 6 speeds. As the test car was a 4WD model, that meant six forward gears in the manual box of the car I drove. The gearchange felt very typical of many VAG products. Although the gears engage very cleanly, there is always a slight sensation that moving the lever is really causing things to have to move in the box, which you can just feel, though not really in a bad or obstructive way. This may loosen up with more miles on it. There is a discrete gear change up recommendation icon in the upper right of the instrument display, which like all these things assumes that you would use minimal revs and the torque to make your progress. Although the test car was fitted with four wheel drive, with the exception of a badge on the boot you cannot tell from a visual inspection unless you get under the car. It is a Haldex system whose multi-disc clutch is controlled electro-hydraulically to send the engine’s commands to the wheels with most traction. That means that most of the time, most of the torque goes to the front wheels, but should there be a difference in speed between front and rear axles, up to 90% of the torque can be send to the back wheels. A limited slip differential also allows the torque to be split between left and right wheels if required. My test mileage was all conducted on road, on easy conditions, so I have no experience of how this all works in practice. What I can say is that the handling of the Yeti impressed me for being less van-like and more controlled than I was expecting. There is not much body roll and the Yeti took the bends with more gusto than you might expect. The steering is a bit on the light side, but there is some feel there and it does add a bit of a weight as you pile on the lock, so this is a pleasant car to hustle down a twisty and undulating road. It rides well, too, smoothing out the lumps and bumps of our highways. The brakes proved well up to par and there is still a proper pull-up central handbrake between the seats. Whilst there are those who could decry the Yeti for not being exciting to drive in the manner of a hot hatch, it is still satisfying, as all the components seems to work together giving a well co-ordinated and balanced feel. It would also be easy to cope with, as the short overall length and generous glass area mean that overall visibility is good, and with the very vertical back end, judging the extremities when parking is particularly easy.
The cabin of the Yeti is as neat and unassuming as the exterior, and again I see this as a strength. Everything looks well finished, and well put together though when you poke some of the materials, you will discover that whilst the dashboard is made from soft touch materials, the door casings are harder and thinner than their appearance might suggest. The dashboard has the family look to it, with enough Skoda touches to leave you in no doubt that you are in the Czech brand and not one of the German or Spanish ones. The instruments are presented under a single cowl. There are two main dials, for rev counter and speedo, with a smaller fuel gauge and water temperature set in the bottom of the larger items, respectively. There are a lot of markings on the rev counter, whereas by contrast the speedometer only has even increments of 20 mph marked, which means that you have to looks quite carefully to judge 30 or 50 mph. There is a digital repeater set in amongst the other info in the panel between the two dials to help. Column stalks are from the latest design of Group offering with the same markings as you will find in a VW or an Audi. The one on the left operate indicators, that on the right being used for the wipers front and back. Lights are controlled by a rotary dial to the right of the column. The centre of the dash features a display screen which presents information from the audio unit, a representation from the parking sensors, satellite navigation and other vehicle information. Here the graphics are very different from that with which I am familiar in an Audi. The screen is touch sensitive as well as being controlled by a series of selection buttons lining either vertical side. A mix of rotary dials on switches beneath this are used for the climate control.
When I first got into the Yeti, I did what I usually do to get the driving position right for me, which is to set the seat as low as it will go, and the steering wheel as high as possible, then bring the seat well forward so I can reach the pedals, and alter the backrest to suit. I did all this, and something did not quite seem right. I seemed to be sitting too far back, and with my arms almost completely outstretched rather than slightly bent at the elbows. As there was clearly lots of adjustment possible, I tried again and found that, somewhat unusually for me, I needed to set the steering wheel neither at its lowest or furthest in position to get the right driving position, so it is just as well that the column adjusts in both those planes, and once I had done this, I could leave the seat where I had initially set it, and hey presto, the perfect driving position.
Many is the time that I have moaned in my reports that although cars are getting physically larger, the amount of space inside them is not increasing. Indeed in many cars, it seems to reduce as more and more valuable inches are lost to the trend for ever steeper screens and the need to find somewhere to accommodate all the optional equipment. The Yeti is the sort of car that bucks this trend. It is not a big car, measuring just 166″ in length and yet the car is a veritable Tardis when you look inside. Of course a lot of this comes from the extra height and the fact that as with most vehicles of this type, the seating position is more upright than in regular hatchbacks. For sure, passengers in the rear of the Yeti should have nothing to complain about, as there is a lot of space available for them, with generous legroom even when the front seats are set well back. The angle of the backrests is adjustable, with all three seating positions able to set differently. Headroom is particularly generous thanks to the tall styling, and three adults could fit across the width of the Yeti without undue difficulty. There is also a nice square shaped boot, with plenty of space for luggage and there is some additional oddments stowage area under the boot floor around and alongside the spare wheel. Luggage space can be extended by folding the rear seats. The backrests simply drop down onto the rear seat cushions, creating a nice flat and long load area, though with no protection against the rear seat backs. Inside the cabin, as well as the door bins there is a reasonable sized glove box, and a cubby under a lid on the top of the dash, as well as a couple of small areas on the centre console for bits and pieces.
UK market trims differ from those used in the rest of Europe. They get relatively meaningless marketeer names like Experience, Ambition or Ambiente and Track, whereas in the UK a longer list of E, S, SE SE Plus and Elegance are available. Combined with a choice of three different petrol engines and two different diesel but in three different levels of power, along with a choice of front or four wheel drive and manual and DSG automatic gearboxes, there is a lot of choice within the Yeti range. Unusually, perhaps, for a rental car, my test vehicle was from high up the equipment options, as an SE Plus. This comes with some nice features including the touch sensitive display screen for the AM/FM radio with 6 CD changer, MP3, USB and Bluetooth, satellite navigation, parking sensors and guidance, Looking at the official specs, the SE Plus gives you the 6 CD auto changer, satellite navigation, picnic tables on the back of the front seats, a third rear headrest, different upholstery, floor mats and a net below the rear parcel shelf. The SE has added dual zone air conditioning, including a cooled glovebox, USB and bluetooth phone preparation, leather trim for the steering wheel, handbrake and gearlever, steering wheel mounted radio controls, rear electric windows, an upgraded audio unit, trip computer, and a height adjuster for the driver’s seat and for the steering column. There are more minor differences between the entry level E and the S models. Top spec Elegance models have all leather upholstery, and heated front seats among other refinements. There is a comprehensive list of options allowing the buyer to personalise their Yeti. Gone are the days when Skodas bore bargain basement prices, but they are still competitive (Honda, take note!), with the test car listing at £20.895, plus £850 for the silver metallic paint.
My expectations for this test were very high. I was not disappointed. I thought the Yeti really did live up to the positive feedback I have seen elsewhere. It’s not perfect, as the engine is a bit gruff still, but you could definitely live with that. You might think that the more powerful models are worth the extra money, especially if you want to load the Skoda with people and so doing means that it is not particularly cheap. However, it is well finished, and the price is certainly no higher than comparable cars. I reckon that Clarkson could well be right and as a practical family car this really is “the best car in the real world”. That there is still a significant lead time on new models, and that residual values of used one are among the highest in percentage terms of any car on sale shows that I am far from alone in my approbation of this car. And if you want to sample one from Mr Hertz? Well, it is in Group K (along with the Qashqai), which you cannot book explicitly. If they have them available, you can get one (or the Nissan, of which they have rather a lot more currently on fleet) if you ask nicely and have a reservation for a Group C or D car. Be in no doubt I’ll be asking for a Yeti again, and again.