Skoda’s Yeti was first spotted on New Zealand terrain last year and was offered only in diesel engine/manual transmission form. Some were at first frightened by its unusual looks and segment-bridging body shape, but soon enough we all began to accept it. Quickly, people in the know went from accepting to admiring, and very soon the Yeti was scooping up nominations and awards both domestically and internationally. Now for 2011, a second Yeti has reached our shores to form a two-strong Yeti pack with its diesel-powered pioneering sibling. This new Yeti is a full $10k cheaper and while it offers slightly less than the diesel model, its practicality and driver-friendly nature are shared. Car and SUV was very impressed during its first Yeti encounter last year and again after a fresh sighting of the new-to-NZ petrol model. Now we can answer the questions of curious kiwi motorists.
So what the hell is it?
Good question, the Yeti is a small crossover vehicle or you could think of it as a high-riding hatchback. It shares its platform with the Volkswagen Golf and uses a 1.2-litre TSI engine that also has service in the Golf, Polo and the smaller Skoda Fabia.
Why is it kind of funny looking?
Hey hey, be tolerant there. Sure, its distinctive exterior design won’t appeal to all tastes but its styling has a modern flare and practical features. For example the tall boxy shape allows for a 322-litre cargo capacity that expands to a van-like 1,665 litres if you take out the rear seats. There’s also integrated roof rails, tough black plastic cladding on the bottom edge and plenty of glass for excellent visibility. At the front it might not be pretty but it has presence, with a character-lined bonnet, silver ringed Skoda grille and those unique two-piece headlight clusters. Colour-coded B-pillars are a feature of the Yeti’s profile and there’s also more orthodox crossover design cues like pumped out wheel arches and nudge plates front and back. The tall wheel guards are populated with nicely matched 16-inch, 5-spoke alloy wheels as standard on the TSI model. The Yeti design is definitely bold, but it’s square lines, chunky bumpers and four-eyed face have a charm that really needs to be seen in the metal.
What’s it like inside then?
Not bad at all. The Yeti’s biggest interior strength comes with the amount of space on offer, the tall body shape allows for generous headroom throughout. Leg and shoulder room is also very good for this market segment and the rear seat is slightly raised to give backseat passengers better visibility. It can also be reclined and split folded 40/20/40 with the middle section creating a usable table. If you have larger items to transport, the seat can also be completely removed. The hatch compartment is very practical too with a false floor for hiding things away, sliding shopping bag hooks and extra side compartments for loose items.
The dashboard and switchgear are made of quality materials and feel robustly assembled but can’t really match the visual appeal of the Yeti’s exterior design. Black plastics are broken up by contrasting silver and chrome trim in a compact and basic arrangement. Functionality is very good with large, clear instrumentation and a multi-function display screen that relays various vehicle and trip info. The leather wrapped steering wheel is thick to the grip and houses audio and Bluetooth buttons. There’s plenty of cupholders and small storage options including huge door bins, a box under the armrest and a chilled glovebox for your drinks. Other handy equipment includes an 8-speaker CD stereo with iPod input, Climate air-conditioning, rear parking sensors, height adjustable front seats, an auto dimming rearview mirror and remote central locking.
With only a 1.2-litre engine it must be pretty slow right?
Incorrect, it’s easy to make that assumption by the engine’s small displacement but it’s a very modern and deceptively lively unit. It’s also very light, helping keep the Yeti’s kerb weight down to just 1,345 kg. The petrol-powered engine uses turbocharging to produce 77kW of power and 175Nm of torque available from 1500rpm. As you’d expect it performs best higher in the rev range but exhibits very little turbo lag lower down. However, the smaller-engined Yeti is no dragster off the line and takes 12 seconds to reach 100 km/h from a standing start. That said, once rolling, it can provide rewarding bursts of speed and is well suited to nippy suburban duties. During motorway cruising it’s nicely settled but overtaking on the open road will require some distance.
The small TSI engine is a nicely refined, modern piece of engineering but it’s really brought to life by the VW Group’s 7-Speed DSG gearbox. Available as the only transmission option for the Yeti TSI in NZ the auto DSG is silky smooth, unobtrusive and gifts this diminutive engine with a sporty feel. At times it can get a bit too busy working through its seven ratios but the changes are seamless enough that you don’t really notice. On the motorway the Yeti keeps itself in high gear staying quiet and returning an open road economy figure of just 5.7litres per 100km. When combined with some urban driving this figure raises to 6.4l/100km so running costs for the Yeti are very low.
So it might go forward well but it looks tall, how does it handle?
The Yeti is well composed on the road, it is taller than a standard hatchback but it has a wide track and minimal front and rear overhangs. Power is only put to the front wheels so it pulls itself through corners. Torque steering or wheelspin at the front isn’t an issue and there is loads of grip on offer through its 215/60 tyres. Push through the corners harder and the Yeti will lean its shoulder in, but it refuses to abandon its point-and-shoot driving nature. The steering is well weighted and provides mid-corner feedback for the driver.
The taller body shape pays off in ride quality with the excess suspension travel giving the Yeti a nicely supple ride. Broken or gravel roads won’t unsettle it and most bumps and dips are easily absorbed.
What about off-road then?
Well without the four-wheel-drive system and torque-rich diesel engine of its more expensive stablemate the TSI Yeti isn’t really built to go off-road. That said, it does have a raised ride height, a hill hold control system and an underpinning ‘can-do’ attitude. It may prove tenacious in light off-road excursions.
The Yeti is a fairly cheap car, has Skoda cut corners on safety?
Nah, not at all, safety features have become a strength of Skoda product and the Yeti is no exception. Standard equipment includes traction and stability control, a headrest safety system and a full compliment of airbags including driver’s knee bag.
Well I guess it sounds like a good car, but is it right for me?
If you’re looking for a relentlessly fast sports car or a luxury sedan cruiser, then obviously no. But the Yeti TSI is a brilliant all rounder and it would be difficult to find a more practical small vehicle on the NZ market right now. It’s economical, has refined and competent dynamics, has a handy flexible interior configuration and looks like nothing else on the road. Priced at under $40k it’s also a solid value-for-money proposition. It won’t appeal to all tastes but buyers who pass over it will only do so because of personal opinion on its badge or aesthetics because everywhere else the Yeti is very difficult to fault. It’s a rare and wonderful beast in the NZ car market.
What we like:
- Great all round package
- Practically focused and flexible cabin layout
- Sure-footed driving dynamics
- Fuel economy
What we don’t like:
- Cabin is well assembled but not very stylish
- Engine can lack power at open road speeds
Who will buy this car: Smart people, who aren’t put off by the styling or the badge and can recognize that the Yeti does a better job than most bigger selling hatchbacks and small crossovers.
Cool factor: Those who have been educated about the Yeti will think you’re damn cool for driving one. But sadly there is still a lot of ignorance out there about the Yeti and Skoda’s current range.
Words and Photos: Adam Mamo