First drive: Skoda Yeti off-road challenge
A funky, chunky little car, the Skoda Yeti 4x4 does little to make you think that it is a vehicle with any real off-roading capability.
It falls into the urban crossover category with the likes of the Nissan Qashqai and MINI Countryman, aimed at giving drivers a high position with large interior space and a tall boot for ease of access.
It was with some reservations then that I set off in the Yeti heading for a specially designed off-road route nestled in between the Scottish hills.
Almost instantly it was apparent that this was Land Rover Defender territory. Massive inclines, muddy verges, harsh rocks and slippery moss made for a route that should have seen the Yeti cower and give up at the first stage. It was wet, muddy and quite daunting.
More rugged than a Fabia but not very purposeful in appearance, you would be forgiven for thinking that the 4WD system may only a novelty.
Yet the 2.0 TDi engine was able to cope with pushing the car through the toughest parts of the course without any acceleration, at around 15-20 mph due to its healthy torque. Even when the car started to bog down, a dab of acceleration ensured that the grip was transferred through to the most needy wheels from the clever Haldex clutch, previously seen in Golf R32 models.
The Yeti is so keen to tackle anything in its path it is almost comical. Even the highest parts of the course were no trouble, as it scampered up the muddy tracks like a little whippet. However hard I tried to get it stuck, the car would come belting out of the deepest ruts with an ardor very similar to that of the older Fiat Panda 4x4.
It feels comfortable and quiet over the rough stuff, with no discerning bangs or creaks. At 40 mph in fourth gear, the engine did not struggle to accelerate over a rutted gravel track, giving great traction and feel through the steering. Although some of this can be attributed to the snow and dirt tyres it was wearing.
The only sign that we were tackling particularly large crests and troughs from inside the cockpit was when the car bottomed out. It is here that the Yeti displays a slight height disadvantage. It could do with a few more inches of ground clearance when the going gets really tough, but this only happened on the steepest of ascents and descents, and the metallic sounds of the underside kissing rocks failed to get the little beast stuck.
A fantastic feature of the 4x4 Yeti is the Hill Descent Control. Extremely easy to use, it simply requires the driver to press a button, go down a slope, prod the brake and remove their feet from the pedals. It is quite unnerving at first, but sure enough, the ABS grabs automatically at each wheel when the computer recognises that the car is going too fast. This nifty gizmo works out the optimum speed to cruise over lumps and bumps, therefore you don't have to worry about throttle control.
On the smoother gravel surface, the car felt very chuckable in the corners and the steering responded well to quick changes, giving instant feedback.
To sum up, the Yeti proved that it is more than capable to take on anything that is chucked at it. It is an eager little car that can take on the goliaths of the off-roading world such as Land Rovers and is so much fun to drive off the beaten track.
Skoda are looking to take sales of crossover models away from Nissan, and the Yeti is an impressive alternative.
As with most of these new models that are appearing, it is unlikely that it will be used for extreme off-roading as I experienced, but with a bitter winter on its way, the Yeti has great potential under its belt to tackle snow and ice.
In fact, it seems that the Yeti can take on pretty much anything, going by Jeremy Clarkson's mind-boggling tests: