What is it?
For a while, the Nissan Qashqai had the crossover market all to itself. Then Skoda came along with the Yeti and started stealing sales, and rightfully so. The Yeti combines car-like handling with a dash of rough-road ability and a flexible cabin in which to pack children and pets. There’s a lot to like about the Yeti: it remains one of our favourites in this sector. That’s despite a facelift that makes it look less pretty and appealing – that’s how good it is.
Lots to like here. The engine lineup starts with the 1.2 and 1.8-litre TSI petrols and, via a 1.6 diesel, ends with a 2.0 diesel in either 110, 140 or 170bhp guise. The 1.2-litre, turbocharged unit matched to a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox is the most interesting of the bunch. It’s a great little combination – efficient yet rapid, quiet yet revvy, and despite being small in capacity it doesn’t feel short on power.
But the workhorses of the range are the 140 and 170bhp diesels, with plenty of torque to haul families, plus whatever bicycles or canoes they’ve attached to the roof. Show it some pace and it rolls slightly as it leans on those high springs, but it’s not too squidgy and finds plenty of grip. It rides with fluid smoothness and certainly handles better than a Qashqai, which is a pretty unrewarding thing to drive quickly. But the Yeti’s party trick is revealed when the tarmac runs out. It’s surprisingly skilful off-road, and the optional four-wheel-drive system (a Haldex clutch rather than mechanical diffs) finds traction in places you thought impossible.
On the inside
Switchgear is familiar from other VW Group cars and are predictably well crafted. This might be a mostly utilitarian machine, but it has an upmarket feel that most rivals lack. There’s plenty of room for five passengers and the maximum boot space – rear seats folded down – of 1,760 litres is huge. But the most useful feature is the Varioflex seating system, with a folding/flipping/removable second row like the Roomster. The Yeti loses 20 litres of max bootspace to its MPV sibling, despite being a bigger car, because its roof is lower. Still, 20 litres is just a couple of carrier bags.
Skoda now offers the Yeti in two guises: smooth and city-friendly regular form, and the more offroadery Outdoor. Both cost the same but the Outdoor has four-wheel drive options, so is the one we recommend. Smooth and sleek doesn’t suit the Yeti. The range is as broad as ever, with better fuel economy for 2014, but the best Yeti remains an affordable one. Choose a mid-range trim, go easy on the options and try the 140bhp TDI engine for a nice balance between torque and efficiency.