Car reviews - Skoda - Yeti - 103TDI 5-dr wagon
Clever and spacious cabin, tough underbody, sharp handling, fuel economy
Room for improvement
Harsh ride, road noise, DSG response, small cargo space
10 Feb 2012
By PHILIP LORD
BREATHLESS advertising extolling the benefits of dusty, befouled 4WDs just doesn’t get the traction it used to. The market has long woken to the alarm that eventually sends them into the daily traffic jam.
Now the real 4WD wagon is the exception rather than the rule in a market filled with wagons that stand tough and tall but end up hiding out in shopping centre car parks.
Even the market segment name has gone soft – what we used to call four-wheel drives is now called Sports Utility Vehicles.
The Skoda Yeti is a recent addition to the Compact SUV segment, but it is one of the few that could genuinely be described as compact.
As these sorts of vehicles become more and more generously proportioned, it’s refreshing to see a contender like the Yeti that barely stretches its footprint further than a Mazda 3.
With a good turning circle, a bonnet you can actually see and large windows (albeit with thick B- and D-pillars) the Yeti is a very easy vehicle to manoeuvre. Even reverse parking doesn’t require the sort of guesswork and parking aids that have become a necessity in many modern cars.
However, as much as the automated manual DSG transmission is one of the best of its type, the fact is it doesn’t always work very well. Steep gradients can catch it out – we noticed distinct jerkiness at low speeds, no matter how smoothly we tried to modulate the throttle.
It is in these sorts of situations where the hill-hold assist function – which holds the vehicle stationary on inclines – is a real godsend, because it allows the clutch to take up helps avoid rollback.
Once you get going beyond walking pace, however, the DSG’s pinpoint sharpness outpaces almost any conventional automatic we can think of. Once up and running, the DSG is a real winner.
In stop-start city driving we found the Yeti prone to a frustrating discontinuity in throttle response, and while you do begin to come to terms with it, getting the right amount of forward thrust to match speed with the line of traffic you’ve just joined can be a bit difficult to achieve smoothly.
The cabin is tall and the wide-opening doors welcome you into firm, flat seats. The front seats have a bit better side support than the rears, but in each instance the pews are quite comfortable and don’t let you move around much.
All-round vision, as mentioned before, is very good and the Yeti’s instruments are also as intuitive and clear as most Volkswagen Group products. Fit and finish is generally top notch, although items such as the steering column stalks have been around forever and look and feel cheap.
The rear seats are split into two removable sections and can be moved fore-aft, while all three seat backs also recline. A triumvirate of adults sitting across the rear row will find it tight, though, and getting a foot past the centre console is likely to be a point of irritation for the middle passenger.
This is a great back seat for kids though, because you can get three booster seats across and – depending on the brand – possibly three child seats. With the flat cushioning and seatback-mounted tether point it is also easy to secure the child seat or booster seat in position – not a given with more contoured back seat designs.
The only downside is the floppy seat belt stalks – fixed stalks make buckling up the kids that much easier – and the centre console that extends to the rear enough to tempt kids in the centre seat to use it as a footrest, which is not so good for the fragile plastic air vents housed in the rear of the console.
The cargo area has a relatively low loading lip but it is a bit shallow, and while there are deep pockets around the (commendable) full-size spare, it does seem as though Skoda designed it with a space-saver spare in mind.
If it were fitted with a space saver (not that I think that’s a good idea in Australia) it would be a much deeper cargo area. It just seems a compromise that wouldn’t be necessary if Skoda has the full-size version in mind when the Yeti was designed.
The 103TDI engine is pretty unobtrusive for a diesel, with the rattle at idle noticeable but not annoyingly so. There is a degree of turbo-lag but the transition to the strong mid-range torque is relatively smooth and the engine revs willingly to redline. Extending past about 3000 rpm does introduce some vibration and noise but this engine is not as agricultural as some diesels by any means.
The Yeti is also pretty economical in the real world: We got down to 5.7L/100km with an easy 80km/h back-road cruise, 6.1L/100km with some freeway driving mixed in and 8.2L/100km around town.
Although we didn’t head off-road for this test, we know from previous drives in the Yeti that it has a surprisingly tough underbody.
One of the disadvantages of not having low-range gearing when driving off-road is that sometimes you need to compensate with a little more speed to overcome obstacles.
Furthermore, those low-profile road tyres and lack of ground clearance really do preclude the Yeti from serious adventures off the beaten path.
But at least the Yeti won’t break as easily as other compacts if you’ve reached a point where more throttle is the only way.
On the road, we think the car handles really well for a compact SUV, with responsive steering, minimal bodyroll, a balanced chassis and grippy tyres to allow good point-to-point touring. It is certainly a satisfying drive in the twisty bits, which can’t be said for many in the Yeti’s segment.
Where you pay for that handling is in the ride department, because it fusses over small-pitch undulations, thumps over sharp bumps and potholes and exhibits excessive road noise.
Even though it feels as if the suspension simply hasn’t got enough travel in slower-speed driving, out on the open road it does absorb the bigger undulations pretty well.
Overall the Yeti 103TDI DSG is a bit of a mixed bag. Its compact size and roomy cabin are good points, as is the engine performance, fuel economy and handling. But the Yeti might not work for buyers for whom the term ‘wagon’ automatically implies plenty of luggage room and ride comfort.
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