Yeti gives buyers a creditable alternative to a family hatch

Skoda hasn’t tried to produce a fully-fledged small SUV with this Yeti but they have set out to provide a very credible alternative to a conventional family hatchback that has the option of limited four-wheel drive ability should you need it.

Crossovers: every home should have one. According to the motor industry of course, for whom this category of car is the latest, fashionable thing. Since you’d be forgiven for not knowing what on earth I’m talking about about, let me show you one, this being Skoda’s Yeti. It’s neither a compact SUV 4x4 or a family hatchback but its tall shape and optional all-wheel drive system ought, so we’re told, to bring you the best real world aspects of both.

According to the thinking behind this car, the slump in sales over recent years of conventional small SUVs didn’t mean we’d all fallen out of love with them. Only that we were fed up with their high running costs and clunky handling. Nissan’s Qashqai, launched in 2007, was quick to prove the theory and designers originally set to bring us chunky compact SUVs have been scurrying back to their CADCAM drawing boards ever since, with results like Peugeot’s 3008 and this Yeti, Skoda’s first real niche market model.

Unless you’re gunning this car off the line on a wet day or driving it off road, you’re unlikely to realise that it has four wheel drive at all. Actually, it may not have, since the entry-level 104bhp 1.2-litre petrol and 108bhp 2.0-litre TDI diesel models that many customers will choose are two wheel drive-only. If you want the Haldex 4x4 arrangement borrowed from Skoda’s Octavia, you can choose any of the 2.0-litre diesels, the 108bhp offering supplanted by 138 and 168bhp offerings, or a 158bhp 1.8-litre petrol unit.

If you have opted for all-wheel drive, you shouldn’t be expecting to conquer the Serengeti - the system will only send drive to the rear when it detects wheel slip. Still, at least some off-road ability is assured by the presence of hill decent control (which applies automatic braking to maintain a constant downhill speed) and an off-road driving mode that adjusts the ABS, traction control and EDL (Electronic Differential Lock) systems to cope with loose surfaces. Ground clearance is measured at 180mm.

At the wheel, you’ve that elevated SUV-style driving position with excellent all-round visibility but at the same time, a car that will handle like any conventional Golf-sized family hatch, quick to change direction, with surprisingly little body roll for something this tall. There’s loads of grip, the ride is comfortable and the electric power steering is direct and accurate, if a little artificial-feeling. Driver’s who’d normally struggle to adjust to a conventional small SUV will quickly find themselves driving this car smoothly and swiftly.

Though this isn’t trying to be a fully-fledged SUV, it looks pretty purposeful, which is half the battle in this style-conscious sector. There are modern Skoda design touches too, such as the unapologetic chrome-topped grille and the blacked out roof pillars. Inside, everything falls neatly to hand around that commanding driving position, with a smart colour touch-screen dominating the central dash. The broad windows and tall windscreen aid visibility and quality dashboard materials and neat design top off a very accomplished cabin.

They say the tale of the tape doesn’t lie but in this case, we’re inclined to believe that it does. At 4223mm long, this car is shorter even than Skoda’s supermini-based Fabia estate, a car that’s little more than a hatchback with a backpack. Yet climb inside, particularly into the back seat, and you’d never know it. All right, so three adults would have to be pretty friendly but two will enjoy perfectly adequate leg and elbow room with plentiful headroom offering the feeling of travelling in a much larger car. Partly, this is down to the clever VarioFlex individually-sliding seats, enabling the prioritisation of either legroom of bootspace. But mainly it’s a legacy of nearly 1.8 metres of width. The only wider car in the Czech company’s is the large and class-leadingly spacious Superb. Out back, there’s a 410-litre boot which can be extended to as much as 1,760-litres if, as is possible, you lift the rear seats out.

List prices suggest that you’ll probably be paying somewhere in the £14,000 to £23,000 bracket for your Yeti, depending on the spec and engine you choose and the options you decide upon. Four-wheel drive models start at just over the £17,000 mark, the 2.0 TDI 110 variant offering AWD for £1,500 more than the 2WD alternative. Still, you may well decide that you don’t really need 4x4 at all. Indeed, we’d suggest that the lower-order 2WD models easily represent the best buys, the 1.2-litre petrol turbo version in particular offering a surprising well-rounded package. If you’re able to buy in the foothills of the Yeti line-up, then this Skoda looks good value against direct Nissan Qashqai and Peugeot 3008 crossover rivals. For reference, a more conventional compact SUV like a Honda CR-V would cost around £2,000 more than a comparable Yeti, if you comparing like-with-like engines.

A large proportion of Yeti sales are likely to be of the entry-level 104bhp 1.2-litre petrol or 108bhp 2.0-litre TDI diesel two-wheel drive models. Once you get into the 2.0 TDI 4x4 or 1.8-litre TSI petrol options, things start to become a little more expensive, though still reasonable value compared to a conventional SUV. As for equipment, well you should at least find a height-and-reach adjustable steering wheel, daytime running lights, roof rails, alloy wheels and electric wing mirrors. Safety-wise, ABS and Brake Assist are offered as standard, while ESP is included on all 4x4 versions. There are up to nine airbags, Isofix anchorage points for child seats in the rear and you can also expect to find active front head restraints that help to prevent whiplash in a rear-end collision. We also like the fact that the hazard lights come on automatically when you perform an emergency stop at over 40mph.

With a relatively wide engine range, fuel economy and emissions will vary but the Yeti’s are efficient and modern units that should give good returns for the power available. The 140bhp 2.0-litre diesel with four-wheel drive should return 47.1mpg on the combined cycle with 157g/km CO2 emissions. In comparison, a TDI 110 with 2WD manages 52.3mpg and 140g/km. At the end of the day, it’s down to you to do the maths.

Petrol power may make more sense for those doing lower annual mileages. The 1.2TSI manages 44.9mpg on the combined cycle and 149g/km of CO2, while at the other end of the petrol scale, the 1.8 TSI returns 189g/km CO2 with a combined fuel economy of around 35mpg. Insurance groups range between 3 and 6 for mainstream models. Skoda’s servicing costs are reasonable and residual value predictions suggest that this car should realise between 43-46% of its original value after three years and 36,000 miles.

This is a well thought out and practical little product but its value proposition will hinge on careful choice between the various engines and specs available. A lower-order version is a tempting alternative to a conventional family hatch, with a quality build and a surprisingly spacious interior for a car that’s so compactly manoeuvrable on the day-to-day trips that’ll characterise most customers’ typical requirements. The Yeti’s crossover concept may be a compromise but chances are, it’ll be anything but a rare sight on our roads.