(Pocket-lint) - Let’s get the disappointment out of the way now. After last week’s review of the Beetle where we tried - and failed - not to mention Herbie, this week’s review of the Skoda Yeti will contain no references to abominable snowmen or monstrous Himalayan creatures. Sorry to let you down.
Be not dismayed by its name however, because the Yeti is a car deserving of your attention. You might remember it from Top Gear a year or so ago. They landed a helicopter on it, tattooed a bloke while driving across a field and supposedly put Sienna Miller in the glovebox. At the end of all that, the one with the stonewashed jeans declared it to be one of the best cars on sale today. With Pocket-Lint-coloured shades on, does its star shine as brightly?
Pretty much everything the VW Group makes (VW, Audi, Skoda, Seat, Lamborghini, Bentley, etc), is available with another badge. So your Golf is an A3 is an Octavia is a Leon, effectively. But not the Yeti. And it’s this uniqueness which is its biggest selling point.
This is estate car meet MPV meets 4x4. The seating position’s higher than a car, there’s loads of room inside and it has individual rear seats like an MPV. It looks "rugged" and tough like a 4x4, yet it drives like a car. And the image is neither "get out of my way" SUV aggression, nappy-strewn MPV, nor antique dealer estate. We like it.
Inside, there’s no Range Rover-like sense of occasion, but families will really love the Yeti for its versatile cabin. Three independent, sliding and removable rear seats which Skoda calls Varioflex come as standard – the centre seat folds to become a table. Plus there are stacks of cubby holes in the cabin, even if none of them appears big enough to fit Sienna Miller in.
Even the boot’s clever. The floor lifts up to reveal a sub-divided tray to stow those bits everyone has rolling around their boot, but you can also fold back part of the carpet to split the boot floor and lodge taller things in. On the side there are two rails with hooks to hang things like bags of supermarket. Handy.
Yet all this versatile spaciousness is wrapped up in a car that’s barely longer than a Golf. So the Yeti doesn’t suffer from the size issues that afflict many SUVs on the supermarket and school run. With the glass roof option of our test car, it’s a lovely airy place to be too - a bonus of which means it’s also easy to park and position on the road.
The main option missing from our top of the range "Elegance" spec Yeti was satellite navigation. But other than that, everything you’d expect was standard and just works. That means telephone connectivity through Bluetooth, an aux and USB-in port, dual zone climate control and cruise control. Handily, most of these things can be operated via buttons on the wheel and we’re big fans of Volkswagen group cars being able to mirror much of what’s on the centre stack system in the screen between the speedo and rev counter.
The Yeti’s available with two or four-wheel drive, the 4x4 guise we tested it in brings with it not only the reassurance of greater traction from four driven wheels, but an "off road" button which is supposed to help in slippery conditions. It includes functions such as hill start assist, downhill assist (like hill descent control in a Land Rover) and special settings for the ABS, traction and stability control when working off-road. All stuff you’ll probably never use until you come to get out of a wet field on school sports day and want to laugh at all those BMW and Mercedes estate drivers you leave flailing behind.
Opt for the cheaper, more economical "Greenline" diesel version of the Yeti and you also get things like Stop/start and energy recovery to the battery to help boost your fuel economy. On our 1.8TSi petrol however, the only notable economy feature was a gear recommendation indicator, which we found more annoying than useful.
Buy a car like the Yeti and you might think your days of driving fun are over. But after a few minutes behind the wheel you discover why the likes of Mr Clarkson are such big fans of it. Despite being a bit taller than a normal car, it drives better than most ordinary hatchbacks. The best thing, given the state of UK roads, is the ride, which remains smooth regardless of the surface. Given this, you might not expect it to go round corners too well, but it actually enjoys being thrown around. Thanks to those hooks in the boot, you can drive like Lewis Hamilton on the way back from the shops and arrive home with your eggs still in one piece.
Equally impressive is the refinement. We opted to test the 1.8TSi petrol. Partly because modern petrols are supposed to have closed the gap in terms of economy with diesel engines and partly because we’d been tipped off it was the most fun to drive in the Yeti range. In the latter department, we had no complaints. Switch it on and it’s so quiet you almost don’t know the engine’s running, but need to overtake someone and it shows a surprising turn of speed.
Sadly, on the petrol versus diesel front, we managed to get only 29mpg during our time in the Yeti. Perhaps it’s because we were having so much fun out on the road driving and doing lots of journeys just nipping to the shops. Do bear in mind though that the petrol versions are cheaper to buy than the diesel equivalents and that right now diesel’s 5-10p per litre more than unleaded. If you don’t do many miles a year, petrol might still be best.
There are two ways of looking at our Yeti Elegance’s £22,520 price tag. The first being that it’s a lot of money for a Skoda. Or the second, and correct one, is that it’s an absolute bargain for one of the most versatile yet enjoyable cars we’ve driven in the past year. Given this price includes things like leather upholstery, heated seats and xenon lights, we don’t think it’s unreasonable at all. Bear in mind there are smaller engine options and less luxurious trim levels costing many thousand pounds less.
We’ve started to see a lot of Yetis on the road and having lived with one for a week we can see the appeal. Put simply, this is a brilliant family car but also one which, if you enjoy driving, won’t make you feel like you’re being punished for having kids. We think it projects the perfect image for current times too – tough, rugged and a little pumped up without being flash or having the OTT bling aggression of many SUVs.
It might not have the appeal of a Range Rover Evoque, but it’ll do nearly all the things that car does, without any fuss and at half the price. Or put another way, think of this as an Audi but for ten grand less than the four-ringed brand would charge you, and you’ll be laughing all the way home. It’s the perfect family car for our times. We highly recommend it.