Having a family and fun behind the wheel used to be mutually exclusive, the usual people-carrying fare being worthy but also incredibly dull. The Skoda Yeti may not be as adaptable as a traditional people carrier but it’s a hell of a lot more fun to drive than its arch rival the Nissan Qashqai. In fact, this funky crossover’s quasi off-roader looks (and in the case of the 4WD version, genuine ability) hides a talented and entertaining chassis. We drove a £22,995 2.0-litre TDI 140 Elegance 4X4 into Loch Ness (and crucially, out again) and on the surrounding Highland roads.
Skoda knows fully that to make its cars stand out against the crowd they need to be visually funky and the production Yeti is proof of this. The conventional two-box design boasts some rather unconventional features, including wraparound pillars and a sort of floating roof. It sits high on its springs, the coils poking through from behind the rims in the squared-off wheelarches, and the dinner-plate lights up front give it a recognizable face. Certainly it looks like nothing else on the road, and despite its opinion splitting lines we think it’s a visual triumph in a rather conventional sector.
Practicality is a bit of a trump card for Skoda and its Yeti. Rarely has the compact crossover sector seen such interior flexibility, mixing the best bits of both MPV and SUV together. There are only five seats, but the rear bench is split into three, all of which are individually removable and slide into various different configurations.
That high roofline means there is plenty of room, the feeling of space enhanced by the massive panoramic glass roof option. You sit quite high too, though the driving position is more car-like than many rivals and only the relatively short boot (it’s still hefty at 416-litres) counts against it.
Performance & handling
If you’re in the mood, and the kids aren’t in the back, the Yeti is an absolute hoot to drive. It’s firm but incredibly well-damped, and in reality this Skoda handles like a much smaller (and lower) car; it’ll certainly give VW Golf drivers a run for their money round the bends. In fact, turn in sharply and the rear inside wheel will even lift itself from the tarmac, ala eighties hot hatch.
Opt for the four-wheel drive model and there’s even more grip on offer, and if you do decide to venture off-road the Yeti won’t disappoint. The optional off-road button offers uphill start assist, downhill assist, ABS off road, ASR off road and EDL off road systems to improve the car's abilities on the rough stuff. We can confirm from experience it all works perfectly, allowing the Yeti to tackle obstacles that would have Land Rover owners thinking twice.
Economy & environment
Although it always follows behind parent firm VW in terms of green technology, the Yeti is now available with Greenline II technology, which encompasses a 1.6-litre TDI engine, Start/Stop, low rolling resistance rubber, lowered suspension, energy recovery systems and gear recommendation. The result is a car that emits only 119g/km CO2 and can achieve up to 61.4mpg. Only the newer and considerably more expensive Mazda CX-5 can match those figures -- though that car is more powerful at a healthy 150bhp. Still, even the 2.0-litre TDI Yeti with 138bhp keeps its emissions below 160g/km. Bear in mind the talented DSG models are slightly less economical and efficient.
Equipment & value
There’s quite a vast trim hierarchy in the Yeti range, starting with E, then S, SE, SE plus and Elegance, with Greenline II technology available on all but E and SE plus. You’ll also notice that some engines aren’t available without four wheel drive, and the SE plus even uses an engine not available elsewhere in the range (150bhp 1.8-litre TSI as opposed to the 158bhp 1.8-litre TSI in the SE or Elegance). The SE is probably the sweetspot, though if you want sat-nav check out the SE plus, which adds mapping (normally a £1,530 extra) to the above as well as Bluetooth connectivity.
When tested in 2009 the Skoda Yeti put in a good showing against the concrete blocks at Euro NCAP, coming away with five stars. Adult occupants were particularly well protected with a score of 92 percent and all models come with curtain airbags, front passenger and driver airbags, ISOFIX and ABS and electronic brake distribution to avoid the accident in the first place.
Despite having been on the block since 2009, the Skoda Yeti is still happy to take on newcomers such as the Mazda CX-5. Forget the brand’s dubious historical reputation (it has been owned by VW for over 20 years now) and look past the opinion-splitting looks and you’ll find the Yeti is not only one of the most broadly talented junior SUVs around, but one of the most talented cars for sale full stop. Practical, capable off road and fun to drive on it, the Yeti deserves every bit of success it receives.
Model tested: Skoda Yeti 1.6 TDI SE Greenline II
Engine: 1.6-litre diesel
Acceleration: 0-62 in 12.1 seconds
Top speed: 109mph
Emissions: 119g/km CO2