For the past two years, the Nissan Qashqai has single-handedly given the hatch/SUV niche mass appeal. It outsold the Insignia in May and was only 18 registrations short of the Mondeo that month - it's now firmly entrenched in the top ten seller list in the UK.
No wonder Skoda wants a piece of the action. Enter then, the all-new Yeti. It's a hatch-type-SUV in the Qashqai mould, based on the Octavia/Golf platform with a ‘Varioflex' interior similar to the smaller Roomster (which, for the platform enthusiasts among you, is based on a Fabia/Polo). Skoda reckons it's also pretty good off-road.
We'll come to that in a sec. First, let's talk about the all-new engine, a 1.2-litre, turbocharged unit matched to a seven-speed DSG 'box. Like we found in the new Polo, it's a great little combination: efficient yet rapid, quiet yet revvy. Despite being small it doesn't feel short on power, though it could start to struggle with a big load. And if you want a 4x4, you'll have to look to the bigger engines, as the 1.2 is 2WD only.
Like any car of this shape and size, the jacked-up suspension means it lollops over speedbumps, but the ride isn't squidgy. Show it some pace and it rolls slightly as it leans on those high springs. But it grips well and certainly handles better than a Qashqai, which is an unrewarding thing to drive quickly.
Inside, the knobs, dash and dials are familiar from other VW Group cars and are predictably well put together. But it's the Varioflex seats that impress most, with a folding/flipping/removable second row like the Roomster. The Yeti loses 20 litres of max bootspace to its smaller brother, despite being a bigger car, because its roof is lower. Still, 20 litres is just a couple of Tesco bags.
And what about those off-road claims? We tried the Yeti down slippery banks, through tricky furrows and on the sort of hills that'd get spirit levels in a twist. And it works. The Haldex clutch acts like a locking diff (which is what you get on hardcore off-roaders) and the ABS system brakes individual wheels, acting as hill descent control and allowing the car to creep down inclines with sure-footed ease.
Inevitably it doesn't have the outright grip of a fully mechanical system, but it certainly works well enough and few buyers will ever need it. Which is why the 2WD version makes more sense (Skoda predicts 2WD sales will outweigh 4WD sales by around 70/30).
Where then, does all this leave the Qashqai? Cowering in a corner somewhere, we suspect. The Yeti drives better, has a better interior and a stronger engine line-up. Prices will be competitive too, starting from around £13,000.
So budge over Nissan. Time to share that niche.