With its off-roader agility, well-engineered seats and ability to make city driving effort-free, Skoda has a winner in its Yeti

Siblings they might be, and yes, they do share a lot of important mechanical bits, but both Skoda and big sister Volkswagen have their own unique individual approach to design. While VWs lean towards being safe and non-controversial, Skoda has more of a well . . . Bohemian approach to things.

Case in point is the Yeti, which is brimming over with individuality and ‘look-at-me appeal'. There really is nothing similar to it out there. The first time you see the car, you think, “Okay, there's plenty of SUV here, but what else am I seeing?” Soon, however, you stop questioning and start appreciating. And, there are so many really good bits to take in. The manner in which the round headlights bulge out and overlap so many surfaces, that very attractive angry SUV underbite of the scruff plate, the way the squared-off wheel arches deliver a well-planted stance, and even the arc of the window line that curves up to the roof. The Yeti looks attractive from the rear as well.

What you may not notice though is that the Yeti isn't very long. To give its urban off-roader agility and compactness on tightly packed city streets, Skoda has given this car a length of just 4.2 metres. As a result, squeezing into tight parking spaces is very simple. Visibility from the driver's seat is excellent, the parking sensors do a stellar job and there's plenty of articulation in the front wheels too.

Skoda has taken a leaf from tall boy hatchbacks and has used vertical space to very good effect. Using the adjustable seating, you can slide the rear seats back and fit one six-footer comfortably behind another, and that's impressive. The front seats are as large and as comfortable you'd expect of any Skoda, door-shut and build quality are tank-like and there are plenty of high-quality bits on the dash. The steering wheel and dials look similar to those on the Laura, the central console is traditional and there is a neat horizontal line of separation between the upper and lower dash. As on the Laura, a few low-rent plastics do exist but it's not enough to spoil the cabin's ambience.

Seat talk

The rear seats themselves are beautifully built and well-engineered. There's plenty of thigh support, you sit higher than the front seat passengers and the backrests of the seats recline as well. Then, there is the added convenience in the form of flexibility these seats offer. All three rear seats can be removed individually for variable luggage space and flexibility, and you can even uniquely place the two rear seats directly behind the front seats by taking out the centre seat. And all three passengers get a full-fledged seatbelt. The only hitch is that the rear air-con vents can be a little intrusive to the middle passenger. Luggage space is pretty generous at 415 litres under the parcel tray. And there are all sorts of nets, hooks and very cleverly engineered extras that make this a very user-friendly boot.

The Yeti is built on the same platform as the Skoda Laura, which means it has a highly sophisticated all-independent suspension. The Yeti, however, uses a full-time four-wheel-drive system. Under normal conditions, up to 95 per cent of its power is sent to the front wheels, with more power only sent to the rear wheels if any slip is detected. What's impressive is that up to 90 per cent of power can be sent to the rear wheels if need be, and it has a limited slip differential as well, which is useful in our slushy conditions.

With a generous 180mm of ground clearance, the Yeti is capable off tarmac, taking to slushy parts and rough roads with a surprising amount of confidence. Attacking dirt roads is serious fun. And what comes as a bit of a surprise is how well the Yeti drives when you press on. The Haldex four-wheel-drive unit has been placed in the rear for better weight distribution, there's a tautness to the suspension setup that makes the Yeti feel even more agile and grip levels front and rear are well balanced too. So well balanced in fact that it goads you into driving quicker and quicker, and that's even when you have limited traction on the dirt.

The Yeti's agility on tarmac is equally impressive. We would have liked some more feel from the electric steering, but it's direct and very accurate and this makes the Yeti enjoyable on the highway too. Straightline stability remains stable even at speeds as high as 160kph and whatever little body roll there is, the Yeti's cohesive handling takes care of without alarming you in the least. In fact, so good is the adjustability of the Yeti that the ESP doesn't cut in, even when you are slipping around a fair bit.

Also impressive is how effort-free the Yeti is to drive in city traffic. You can dart in and out of gaps, the brakes are progressive and feel just right and you soon forget you are chucking around a tonne-and-a-half. The downside of the taut suspension, however, is a slightly revealing ride. The Yeti isn't as supple as something like a CR-V in town and this is especially true over short, sharp intrusions.

The two-litre common-rail diesel and the six-speed manual gearbox are well up to the task in the city. This new-generation 140bhp motor is the same as the one that powers the Laura and that gives it a very impressive turn of foot. There is only the slightest hint of lag from this motor, after which you are smoothly and briskly whisked up to higher speeds with a very pleasant slug of torque that stretches well into the midrange. Driving in traffic is no chore, and the Yeti displays impressive pace too.

Flat-out acceleration is more impressive than outstanding and 0-100kph and 0-150 come up in 11.2 and 28.4 seconds, respectively.

If you are looking for a traditional SUV, where the price-to-size ratio is paramount, the Yeti is not for you. It just isn't imposing enough. What this compact SUV has, however, is the appeal of an off-roader with the convenience of a car built in. It's a car that's comfortable off-road, and a 4x4 that's even more comfortable on it. The interiors are exactly what you expect from a car in this class, seating is very flexible and, as ever, it has that solid Skoda build we all love. With prices expected to start at Rs. 16 lakh, here's yet another Skoda you are likely to see a lot of.

Keywords: SkodaVolkswagen