Skoda Yeti SE Plus – Full Test
If you’re a regular visitor to Driving Spirit you may be surprised to see a Skoda Yeti coming in for review when I usually concentrate on hot hatchbacks. Just bear with me though, as the Yeti has received plenty of praise from … well, from just about everyone really, but Jeremy Clarkson loved it and Evo magazine were very keen on their long-termer. Could it be that the Yeti has a fun side that its utilitarian looks hide?
The Yeti is Skoda’s first foray into the ‘soft-roader’ 4×4 market. It comes with a choice of two or four-wheel drive and uses various petrol and diesel engines from the Volkswagen range. Prices start at £17,390 for the entry-level 1.2-litre TSI.
This particular Yeti is a two-wheel drive SE Plus model equipped with a 1.4-litre 118bhp petrol engine and a six-speed manual gearbox. There wasn’t much point in me testing a four-wheel drive Yeti as my experience in off-roading amounts to parking on grass verges and a few minutes behind the wheel of a M-Class at Mereceds Benz World. There are also advantages to sticking to two-wheel drive that will become apparent later…
If four-wheel drive is your thing the more powerful Yeti models come with a Haldex system, tried and tested on a variety of vehicles in the Volkswagen stable. You’re effectively getting the same setup as used on Volkswagen’s 4motion or Audi’s quattro models for a fraction of the cost.
The SE Plus sits below the range-topping Elegance. For 18,830 OTR you get loads of standard kit, with the only upgrade on this car being the Platin Grey metallic paint (£440).
A look at the dash reveals two obvious features – dual-zone climate control and a multimedia sat-nav system with touch-screen, luxuries that would be expensive options on lesser cars. Coupled up to the multimedia system is a 6-disc CD changer in the boot while the MP3-compatibility and aux-in socket cater to the needs of the digital music-lover.
The driver benefits from cruise control and a multi-function computer that integrates with the sat-nav, with a four-spoke steering wheel that houses all the controls necessary to navigate the trip computer and control the Bluetooth phone connection.
Another feature that integrates with the multimedia system is the reversing sensors. Slot the gear lever into reverse and the screen displays a plan view of the Yeti’s rump. As you reverse towards obstacles the screen shows just how close you are getting while the accompanying beeps get increasingly frantic. It’s a nice touch that should allow you to keep the Yeti’s bumpers scuff-free.
On the outside are headlight-washers, usually standard on models with xenon headlights but here included with the halogen headlights, presumably to keep the lights clean during a mud-plugging session. The large circular front lights incorporate both the fog lights and a set of daytime running lights.
The styling benefits from darkened rear glass and 17-inch alloys but there’s very little of the LED and chrome highlights that you’ll see on some of the Yeti’s rivals. It’s very much a personal thing but I do like the Yeti’s chunky looks, which are more about practicality and purpose than any of the silly coupe-esque styling that seems to be the fashion in this sector.
Clever Use Of Space
The Yeti is a great example of how to make the most of available space. Only 34mm longer and 14mm wider than the Golf on whose chassis it sits, the Yeti takes the high-rise approach to give a greater feeling of space on the inside. Passengers sit high with generous space for long legs while the tall windows allow everyone to enjoy a great view, particularly the driver. You’re not quite at the same altitude as a Range Rover driver but you’ll at least be able to make eye-contact with them.
Once you start looking around the inside the Yeti’s clever features start to reveal themselves. There are air vents for rear passengers built into the storage unit between the front seats, door pockets with straps to hold items in place, a parcel shelf with elasticated netting and a built-in hook system for securing items in the boot. Very important for a spirited drive home from the supermarket.
At first glance the boot seems small but Skoda’s brilliant Varioflex seating system improves things dramatically. Each of the three rear seats can can be folded up or removed completely with a flick of a lever, the two outer seats can slide forwards to improve boot space while the centre seat can fold flat to reveal two cup holders and a handy table.
Not only that, there are two picnic tables on the back of the front seats, ideal for feeding peckish little ones on a day out. The last time I saw that in a family car was in the back of an Austin Allegro Vanden Plas. Fortunately there’s none of the Allegro’s walnut veneer in the back of the Yeti.
Time To Drive
With only 118bhp you’d be forgiven for thinking the Yeti is going to be slow but the kerb weight might surprise you. Tipping the scales at 1,375kg means it won’t win any awards for Slimmer Of The Month but it’s only 50kg heavier than the Golf with which it shares so much.
This is one area where this car’s small petrol engine and lack of four-wheel drive helps, saving over 150kg over the equivalent 1.8-litre 4WD model. That’s the equivalent of one large pie-eating individual permanently sat in the front with a supply of his favourite pastry-based products. As a result you get the most from the engine, the economy improves and so does the handling.
The ratios in the six-speed manual are closely stacked in the lower gears so acceleration is brisk. It drops off in the higher gears but by then you’re battling against wind resistance, not helped by the Yeti’s bluff features. The penalty is a bit of wind noise at motorway speeds but at all other times the Yeti’s cabin is a relaxing and comfortable place to be.
The 1.4-litre is closely related to the unit found in Skoda’s little Fabia vRS. In Yeti-spec it’s missing the supercharger but it keeps the turbo and direct injection and is lively enough to trouble the front wheels on damp tarmac, triggering the ESP system if you’re clumsy on the throttle. It’s not what you’d call fast but the 0-60mph time of 10.5 seconds seems realistic and the six-speed box allows you to make the most of the power band. I certainly wouldn’t want to trade down to the lesser powered 1.2 petrol or 2.0-litre diesel, but the 1.4-litre is £2,040 cheaper than the thirstier 158bhp 1.8-litre petrol and £3,115 cheaper than the 138bhp 2.0 diesel.
It’s the handling of the Skoda Yeti that surprises most and this is why it’s ideal if you’re looking for a fun family car. In normal driving the suspension soaks up potholes and speed humps with ease and it’s a great way to tackle the crumbling road network. Get out onto open roads and that’s when the Yeti’s playful nature starts to shine.
Despite the high-rise suspension the Yeti is incredibly stable through the bends, so much so that you’ll find yourself pushing on at a pace that seems entirely inappropriate for a car like this. Discs all around means the Yeti can scrub off speed very quickly in the approach to corners, while the naturally aspirated engine gives instant response as you get back onto the power.
It’s really enjoyable to drive the Yeti quickly and there’s a sense of achievement when you get back from a fast run, almost as if you’ve defied the laws of physics by driving a jacked-up SUV so quickly and tidily. Most other drivers will under-estimate the Yeti’s potential but that’s their mistake – it’s might not be a hot hatch but it could run rings around a lot of other sensible cars.
One thing I’d like to change is the steering. It is precise and well weighted but the rack could do with being a touch quicker for a sharper turn-in. It’s a small detail and something I adjusted to, but I do prefer my cars to have quicker responses. Another nitpicking point is that the most powerful engines are only available with the 4×4 system, pushing the price even higher and possibly deterring some buyers.
The Final Reckoning
As an all-round family car the Yeti is superb. If Skoda hadn’t already used the ‘Superb’ name on their large saloon model it would have been ideal for the Yeti, but I do like the Yeti name – it adds to the character of the car.
The Yeti combines practicality with a rugged build quality that makes it more than capable of standing up to the abuse of daily life. It’s generously equipped, adding a splash of luxury that makes it even more appealing, while the pricing is very competitive.
The best bit is the driving experience. The petrol engine is smooth, the handling is a revelation and for keen drivers with a family to ferry around this is a great way of providing a practical package without compromising too much on driving entertainment. The Yeti will never match a proper hot hatch in terms of driving dynamics but it scores points for being much better than you’d expect.
After a week with the Yeti I was left with a feeling of admiration for its many talents. I even went so far as to check second hand prices but unfortunately for me the Yeti holds its value extremely well (a good argument for buying a new one). Give it another year or so and we could find another Yeti parked on the drive. It really is that good.
Skoda Yeti SE Plus Specifications
|Engine:||1,390 cc Turbo|
|Top Speed:||115 mph|
|CO2 Emissions:||159 g/km (Band G)|
|Official MPG:||41.5 mpg|
|Actual MPG:||35.1 mpg|
|Price (as tested):||£18,830*|
Skoda Yeti SE Plus Scores
|PERFORMANCE||Keen engine but needs a bit more power||6|
|HANDLING||Surprisingly nimble and well controlled||7|
|AFFORDABILITY||Reasonably priced with generous spec||8|
|DESIRABILITY||Sensible looks and interior, perhaps too sensible?||6|
|DRIVING SPIRIT||More entertaining to drive than you might think||7|
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*Prices taken from Skoda website, December 2011