Skoda Yeti 1.8 TSI Elegance 4x4 review
by Mike Grundon (27 April 2011)
The thing is, I'm not sure whether I'm telling myself this Skoda Yeti isn't a bad-looking car because I really believe it, or because I want to believe it. You should never judge a book by its cover, and trust me, this little car has an interesting tale to tell, but I can't help feeling that the company that brings us the elegant Superb could have made this multi-award-winning little crossover a bit more . . . well, sexy.
This is the 1.8-litre petrol TSI model in Elegance trim - a car that combines the dimensions of a family car with the performance of a warm hatchback and the all-road ability of a small 4x4. It's the one for people who still can't bring themselves to buy a diesel-engined car, either for prejudicial reasons or a preference for the power and torque characteristics of a gasoline burner.
In Elegance trim with the all-wheel-drive, it's at the more expensive end of the range, the tag dangling from its ear asking you for £22,320 if you want to drive it away. It's reasonably powerful, well-mannered on the road and well endowed with kit and caboodle; things like satellite navigation, voice-operated sound system and phone connections, heated leather seats, automatic wipers, clever lights and all sorts of stuff.
Even setting aside the joys of the toys, this is a car that does everything you could reasonably want a car to do - except show off.
To start with, it has an engine that's smooth and quiet that gives you smart acceleration from the word go. The official figures are 158bhp pulling you through the 62mph mark 8.4 seconds after a standing start and dashing on up to a top speed of 124mph. That's rather impressive for a relatively upright box.
The figures don't tell it all, though, and the little car feels particularly eager to leap out into traffic, accelerate into lane changes on the motorway, and press on through the high hills of Bodmin moor or the snaky hollows of the deeper Cornish countryside. Body roll is minimal, the ride is firm but far from harsh, and that handsome little engine just keeps pulling and pulling.
It's easy to forget this particular Yeti also has four-wheel drive that is clever enough to put torque to whichever of your wheels is giving you best traction. After last winter's scenes of snow-blown chaos on Britain's roads, who wouldn't want that?
Even the basic 4x4 Yetis come with a wide range of three- and four-letter initialisms, under the umbrella initialism of ESP which stands for electronic stability programme. Things like ABS, EBD, EBC, ASR, EDL, HBA, DSR and ESBS are all in there, but when you’re going off into the slipperies, it's the EDL (or electronic differential lock) that counts. It's this that makes sure the drive is fed to wheels that grip, rather than the wheels that slip.
Always bearing in mind that the little car only has about seven inches of ground clearance, and it comes as standard with road-orientated tyres, I took the Yeti across some dirt hills and ridges to see how it fared. And it fared pretty fairly.
This car has what's less than enigmatically labelled the "off-road button" fitted as standard. It's an option on lesser models and while it doesn't give you any new toys, it alters the performance characteristics of the engine, brakes and EDL to make it easier for even someone with no experience to travel safely across country. It helps stop you revving the engine too much, running away downhill too quickly, rolling backwards when you're doing a hill start and allows more room for play in the traction control and antilock brakes.
By straddling holes and avoiding ruts, I coaxed the Yeti round the parts of a motocross course that didn't demand any colossal breakover, approach or departure angles. That meant there was room to play with some ridges, cambers and steep dirt climbs and falls without risking its important little places. I got the chance to listen to the sounds of the technology doing what it does best to keep the 1.43-tonne car going where I wanted it to and at the speed I demanded of it.
When the wind-whipped winter skies begin once again weighing heavy with potential for blinding blizzards, I'd be getting my Yeti shod with sensible rubber, but I believe that, properly booted up, it would cope with most of what the UK faces in the dark months from November to March.
There's room inside to bring the Christmas tree home in it too. The car has a flexible and airy interior for people and cargo, thanks in part to the Yeti version of Skoda's Varioflex system with three separate back seats that can recline, fold or roll forward or be taken out completely.
So now we come to the technology in this Elegance version of the car. Things like the touch-screen satnav and sound system are all very nice and very easy to use, but they somehow feel a bit incongruous in this little car, and they push the price up to that of some bigger cars like the Ford Kuga and Honda CRV, even the Land Rover Freelander and almost the BMW X1.
Some kit you maybe don't need, but there was one piece on this car I really didn't want - the active headlight system. Many cars these days have moving headlamps or little supplementary lights to help you see your way round corners in the dark. The Elegance version of the Yeti has a system that turns the front foglights on and off to help you see into the bends.
It all works fine from the driver's point of view, but it confuses the hell out of other road users. I was following someone along a country lane in the dark and they stopped to see if I was alright. They'd been watching my headlamps in their mirrors and seen them apparently coming on and off as we snaked along the valley. They wanted to either find out why I was flashing them, or warn me my headlamps weren't working properly. Hmm. Embarrassing. Maybe just leaving the fogs switched on would negate the confusion.
So what about those looks? Normally I'm particularly impressed by something which focuses mostly on doing the job rather than prettying up the street, but on this occasion I'm not so sure. No one I've met during this test period has said spontaneously how lovely it is, my brother has been openly and regularly disparaging, and other more charitable bodies have suggested it "isn’t too bad and what does it matter anyway". I guess it could grow on you, but I can't help wishing, if it just had headlamps like the Superb . . .
Anyway, in summary, this version of the Yeti is fun to drive, it's practical, it's well-appointed and the only thing that lets this particular version down is the rather less than impressive fuel consumption. Officially you should be able to get an average of 35.3mpg – not great really and my mixed bag of motoring on around 500 miles of the UK's highways and by-ways fell short of that by about two or three mpg, according to the onboard trip computer.
If I was buying, I would go for one of the diesel-engined versions and I'd get a more basic spec than the Elegance then top it up with the bits I needed from the box of optional extras without having to live with those "cornering front fog lights".
If you're buying, you should get your order in early to avoid disappointment. This is a popular car and even if you order now, as I write this in the spring of 2011, your drive to work could once again be white before you take delivery.
Well done to Skoda for bringing out exactly the right car for the times, but for the next generation, let's hope they make it look a bit cheerier, eh?