Spending cuts: Skoda Yeti 1.8 TSI 4x4

New cars Skoda Reviews

I'll start this review with a confession. Ever since the Skoda Yeti's launch in late 2009 I was living under the false impression that it was named after the mythical creature that is said to roam the Himalayas. A little bit of clever thinking to name a practical, go-anywhere car after a creature well used to surviving testing conditions. But no, rather embarrassingly, I was wrong. After a week living with the Skoda Yeti I can only conclude that the name is actually pronounced YE-T-I. Volkswagen may have practically invented the GTi, but now one of its children has presented a new icon - the YE-T-I.

Spending Cuts: Skoda Yeti

OK, so I'm making this up, but the fact is, the Skoda Yeti is so good to drive, you'd be forgiven for thinking you're driving a hot hatch. In fact, within minutes of first driving the Yeti I was bemoaning the fact that the gear shift wasn't quite as good as some of the hot hatches I've driven recently. Then I remembered that I was actually driving an SUV and that I really shouldn't be expecting B-road thrills from it. But as the week went by, I began to realise that it is possible to have fun in the Skoda Yeti. A lot of fun!

The Yeti I tested was the 1.8 TSI 4x4 with manual six-speed 'box. At £22,230 before options, this isn't quite the most expensive Yeti in the range, but with a CO2 rating of 189 g/km it does command the highest level of tax. But this is PetrolBlog, so I naturally tested the petrol variant. I was also keen to test out the 4x4 capabilities as this would be a true test of the car's overall capabilities. For the record, Skoda Yeti ownership can be yours for as little as £14,645 and for this you'll get the basic E spec Yeti with the 1.2 TSI engine. There'll be many buyers who are attracted to the Yeti at this price, many tempted by the practicality and low running costs. But this test is all about the full fat, 1.8 TSI 4x4 in top Elegance spec. This means you get a few added toys in addition to the already generous SE spec, such as bi-xenon headlights with cornering function, 4-spoke multi-function steering wheel, leather upholstery, rain sensors, auto dimming rear view mirror and Bluetooth functionality.

Rear of Skoda Yeti on Dartmoor

The first thing that strikes you about the Skoda Yeti is the strange size of the thing. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but the Yeti is shorter than the Fabia estate, only slightly narrower than the Superb and a little bit taller than the Roomster! Seemingly bizarre proportions on paper, but in the metal it seems to work. Regardless of what some people say, the Yeti is a well proportioned, almost handsome machine. Especially in black and with the optional 17" Annapurna alloys, the Yeti just seems to work. Like the rest of the Skoda range, the Yeti is non-flashy and discreet. Two words that can't always be used to describe SUVs or crossovers, which is quite frankly a silly and meaningless name which will never again be used on PetrolBlog.

But back to the Skoda Yeti and the interior, which has a very strong resemblance to the Superb, which is no bad thing. In Elegance spec at least, there's a familiarity and level of quality that comes close to that of the brilliant Superb. Unlike the Superb, some of the plastics are a little on the cheap side and little touches like the undamped grab handles giveaway the fact that you're in a Skoda and not in a Volkswagen or Audi, but in general, the interior is solid, well thought out and a good place to be. Elegance trim means you're treated to heated leather seats and these help to create a great driving position, even for my 6' 2" frame. In the back, I found plenty of room for two full size Recaro child seats and it is comforting to know that the middle seat comes with a full three-point seat belt.

Skoda Yeti 1.8 TSi interior

But the Yeti's biggest interior trick comes in the form of its clever Varioflex seating arrangement. Put simply, there are three separate seats in the back and each one can be removed to create extra load space. Alternatively, the centre seat can be removed to enable the outer seats to be moved 80mm towards the centre, thus creating more space for rear passengers. Sliding, removing and refitting the seats is easy and certainly gives the Skoda Yeti enhanced practicality. In truth though, the extra space may be needed, as the Yeti's achilles heel is the relatively small boot, with only 416 litres of space. Skoda may point to the fact that this is more than the Astra or Focus, but many families will demand more. In fact, across the entire Skoda range, only the Fabia hatchback has a smaller boot.

The Skoda Yeti is available with a number of different petrol and diesel engines. The 1.8 TSI is the most powerful petrol engine available on the Yeti and I'd previously experienced it in the Superb estate. Once again, I found the 1.8 to be punchy with the 160 horses more than enough to be useable to all driving condition. It could sometimes feel underpowered when exiting roundabouts on A-roads, but certainly not enough to be a concern. At motorway speeds, the engine is quiet and even when pushed hard, I was seeing economy figures between 27 and 32 mpg. For sure, the 1.8 TSI isn't the most characterful and soulful engines in the world, but it does represent a good balance of performance and economy.

But what about the 4x4 system? Well the Yeti is certainly not going to be troubling Land Rover when it comes to off-road sales, but then this was never the intention. Instead, there's enough inside the Skoda Yeti's 4x4 locker to provide as much off-road ability as most buyers will demand. The Yeti's 4x4 tricks are delivered through the fourth generation Haldex clutch which ordinarily sends 96% of the engine's torque through the front wheels. But should things go array, the system can send up to 90% of the torque to the back wheels to settle things down. Without doing the science bit, the trick system relies on a number of sensors continually sending information to the engine control unit (ECU). By matching this to ABS brakes, the traction control system (ASR) and an Electronic Differential Lock (EDL), the Yeti is constantly working hard to keep you on the straight and narrow.

Skoda Yeti 1.8 TSI 4x4

Unless of course you've decided to venture off the straight and narrow and have a play in the loose or wet stuff. In which case, the Skoda Yeti's Off-Road button, standard on the Elegance models, will come in handy. Engage it and the Yeti transforms from a casual off-roader into something a little more purposeful. I gave it a workout on some rough tracks on Dartmoor and the conditions were slippery to the say the least. A number of large craters, numerous camber changes, steep hills covered in loose rocks and a few instances where at least one wheel was raised into the air. And this was just the road heading up on to the moor! Having heard good reports on the Yeti's off-road capabilities, I expected it to be good. But perhaps not quite as good as it turned out. It really is a rather accomplished off-road tool. The downhill assist system is reminiscent of that found on Land Rovers and ensures a safe descent down a loosely surfaced hill. The uphill start is similarly impressive, enabling a safe pull away on wet or slippery hills. The ABS, EDL and ASR functions are also enhanced to give a composed and highly impressive off-road package. I didn't want to head back to the smooth black stuff.

At least I wouldn't if the Skoda Yeti wasn't so much fun on the road. It would be foolish to suggest that a Yeti can rival a Golf GTi for out and out thrills, but it comes closer than you'd actually think. The Yeti's slightly obscure dimensions seem to help it feel very much in the mould of a hot hatch. You can tentatively chuck it around a corner and you'll come out the other side grinning like a Cheshire cat. The next corner you'll go in quicker and the grin gets even wider. The 4x4 factor is clearly working in your favour, as are the excellent brakes which you'll soon learn to trust. After a day of B-road thrashing, you'll realise that you can leave your braking later and start your exit from the corner slightly earlier. On at least one occasion I arrived home with my heart beating slightly faster and a sense of achievement in my head. Yes, I even gave the Yeti a small pat of appreciation as I walked away. The last time I did that was in the Suzuki Swift Sport last year...

The brilliant Skoda Yeti

And that pretty much sums up my week with the Skoda Yeti. Never ceasing to amaze me, my lasting impression of the Yeti is that a week is nowhere near long enough to appreciate the complete package. Could I realistically think that the Yeti could replace my Land Rover, Audi Avant and AX GT? Well actually yes, I could, and this is very much the point.

As the UK enters another year of austerity and spending cuts, the Skoda Yeti could help many families to rework their home economics. It feels as much as home on the commuter run as it does on moorland tracks. It will also transport your family in comfort and safety and when you've dropped them off at the beach, you can head off for a sneaky B-road blast along the coast.

If you're considering buying a sports utility or people carrier this year and possibly investing in a hot hatch to maintain a level of driving fun, you should seriously consider a Yeti. It is one spending cut you won't feel short changed by.