It’s been raining urban crossovers over the last five-ish years making it one of the fastest growing segments of the automobile industry and hence extremely difficult to ignore for any automobile reviewer. Virtually every major automobile player aspires to get a share of the pie. Very recently we had the opportunity to spend a few days with one of the few European crossovers in the country, the unconventional and differently appealing Skoda Yeti.

Differently appealing is the word. There is something about the design of the Yeti. It is far from the usual designs of the conventional suvs or urban crossovers in one prominent way. Most suvs are tall, sport a very high stance and center of gravity. The passengers are seated at a height. This one, on the contrary, is hardly as tall as an overgrown tall-boy-hatch! Good? Bad? Well, it’s actually a bit of both! Let’s hear the not so good part first. A large number of automobile buyers actually decide in favour of an suv or an urban crossover mainly because of the huge, tall stance of the vehicle and the so-called “road presence”. We have been reviewing cars for quite some time now but yet to completely understand what this term, which has a certain significant weight in the car purchase decision in India, really means. But, for now, yes, it is a factor in the purchase decision of an suv/urban crossover. Let’s leave it at that. Now, Skoda Yeti with its “closer to the ground” stance loses out on this front. Compare it to a Ford Endeavour, which is in the same price bracket as the Yeti or even the much much cheaper home grown Tata Safari or the latest desi sensation, the Mahindra XUV 500! We’ll get to the good part in a bit…

The Yeti clearly looks stout. Well built. In spite of its diminutive proportions, the wide wheelbase, wide tyres, prominent wheel arches, bumpers that are not body colour and hence ready to get dirty without the worry of scratches, the huge fog lamps in the front, all add to providing that little bit of an adrenalin rush that makes you want to jump into the driver’s seat and have some fun! At first glance it really inspires that feeling. It coaxes you to go off road and really look at some throwing around! The build quality and exterior fit and finish is typical Skoda like. Top notch! The design highlights are the very large fog lamps in the front that almost take the place of the large fogs that are usually retro-fitted on rally cars right over the radiator grill. Front fog lamps come with a cornering feature that illuminates the road in the direction you are about to turn providing better visibility. Typical Skoda grill with chrome lining and tasteful body creases, large windows, all add to the good impression.

We did mention about the diminutive stature of this SUV earlier. Open the door and try stepping into the cabin and you will find it a lot more easier than say stepping into a much more regular suv. You can feel the Skoda build quality as you operate the doors. The way they handle and close. Pleasure. If you use the remote to unlock the car, you will notice the small lamps placed under the side view mirrors which light up the ground just under the front doors for you to make an assured entry into the Yeti. Thoughtful. Step in and well, it’s a Skoda. The familiar Laura like four spoke steering wheel, the chrome plated gear knob, the familiar instrument cluster. Typically Skoda! Two buttons that stand out; traction control on/off and hill descent control. Now hill descent control is a feature that gives the Yeti the ability to manage the power delivery to the wheels in case of a hill descent allowing the driver to concentrate on steering the vehicle and selecting an appropriate track which can be quite a handful. Apart from saying that the interiors are typically Skoda, there is one remarkable aspect about the cabin which deserves a special mention along with the fit and finish, above the quality of the plastic and walnut finished dash, above the ample room and that is the seating position. If someone were to blindfold you and usher you into the driver’s seat, it would be tough for you to be able to guess that you are sitting in the driver’s seat of a suv! It is that car like with slightly larger proportions. What a delight! Space is ample. Huge head room, front seats offer great knee room, rear bench is quite spacious as well. So, it’s all thumbs up on that front! Flexible seating can convert the already large boot into an even more massive storage chamber for the long getaways.

Crank up the 2 lt crdi motor, shift into first and the Yeti sets off without much fuss. Drive around in the city and you have a reasonably pleasurable experience. Not much turbo lag at any gear and range of gears if pretty decent too! The car does provide the extra power for the sudden surge required in the city for a quick lane change or overtake. This extra surge is also handy on the highway during overtaking. There are a couple of things though that stood out though. Firstly, the position of the A pillar. Skoda designers have concentrated on providing a wide front windscreen for good all round visibility which is good, but, in Indian city conditions when you can get an odd biker from any corner, at any junction, any angle, the A-pillar provides an almost perfect blind spot. This may not prove to be as much of a disadvantage abroad where even city traffic is a lot more organized and hence predictable. But in India, it is a bit of a problem. Also, with 140 bhp available on tap, there is power available of course, but when you put the foot down, you do not feel as charged as a 320 Nm worth of torque output should make you feel. We’re not trying to suggest here that it is underpowered. It is certainly not. It’s just that with such torque figures we would have expected a “pin your back to the seat” kinda power delivery which it missing.

Take the Yeti on the highway and the car is happy to settle into a comfortable cruise! Hit the pedal and there is power available without lag and makes overtaking a pleasure. The broad tyres, the four wheel drive system, and the lower center of gravity contribute in making the cornering behavior of the Yeti a lot more planted and with much lesser body roll than you would expect from a crossover.

Now, let’s talk a bit about the other aspect of the crossover nature of the Yeti and that is its off-roading abilities. The Yeti as we mentioned earlier is not as tall as, say, an Endeavour or the Fortuner and this aspect contributes to the car having a slightly lesser ground clearance. In spite of a lot of technology to assist you off road, this aspect would play a part when you drive the Yeti over some real and serious tough terrain. But that’s just what you’d expect from an urban crossover is it not?

We were looking forward to driving the Yeti as, like most cars from Skoda, it had a caused a huge buzz when it was first presented during the Auto Expo 2010. Skoda believed then that the Yeti will generate a cult segment of its own and has no real competition. It is an interesting car of course. And, in its price segment, for someone not looking for a sedan, it doesn’t have too many other contenders apart from the Ford Endeavour which, lets face it, is dated and the next higher price bracket for urban crossovers is at least 30% dearer if not more where the Chevy Captiva, Toyota Fortuner, Honda CRV and some variants of the BMW X1 sit. In spite of this positioning, in spite of being the only European SUV in the price bracket, in spite of it being such a decent product and generously loaded somehow the Yeti has not taken off the way it was expected to. The only reason I can think of, we have said it earlier and will say it again, is that the Yeti lacks the imposing dimensions and profile which most suv buyers look for. But, if you are someone who is looking for a spend in this price segment and are looking for a comfortable, well built urban crossover which offers tons of space for the longer getaways and also has the ability for a bit of tough terrain you might encounter, the Yeti does make a decent case for itself...









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