17 Jan 2013

Living with - Skoda Yeti 4x4

This is possibly one of the more genius "Living with..." articles seen so far on Speedmonkey.  In which Scunjee (who, you may ascertain from some of the dialect, is Scottish) details why he ended up buying a Skoda Yeti, and life with the 'wee beastie'

The car - 2009 Skoda Yeti CR170 (diesel) 4x4
Owner - Scunjee


Form over function seems to be the prevailing trend in the 1st world. How else could you justify the continued existence/endurance of the part idiot, part commercial viper and wholly plasticised modern celebrity, Jordan and her mannequins?!

This view lends itself to the car world too, especially the growing band of faux by faux and genuine off road capable vehicles. These vehicles still have a significant proportion of folks willing to part with their cash for them so that their cars can sit on driveways or company car parks in order for their owners to proclaim to the world, “hey, my disposable income is next to nothing because I’m paying a huge amount for this wagon on the never-never, I’m prepared for anything the speedbumps throw at me and (if I could afford to) I could theoretically go anywhere on my lunch breaks, so don’t mess with me in the urban jungle you poor 2 wheel drive underlings!” *

* incidentally, an ancient air cooled, twin cylinder Citroen 2CVcould take these folks most places a 4x4 could, but it’s not butch or chique with only radical thinkers and hippies keeping them on the roads of UK these days. Maybe more about that in another report….

I can hear the cries of derision from some readers, because there will be those that live “oot o’ toon”, where the notion of a smooth, tarred and well maintained road surface never really took hold, where roads aren’t gritted, where psychotic/suicidal fauna (rabbits, pheasants, deer, sheep, cows and lamas to name but a few mangled roadside examples I’ve seen in the last couple of years) throw themselves at road users at a frightening frequency. We’re talking about the kind of places where mobile phones don’t work and some of the locals have vaguely heard of the concept of diversification of their DNA gene pool but have significant issues in keeping the mono-brow straight across their protruding foreheads whilst counting to six.

Of course I’m referring to country dwellers.

Believe it or not these folks have families (albeit some of them are against the laws of nature and decency) including wee boggits that need schooling. These people have social lives, careers and need to be able to get to them, quickly, safely with a minimum of hassle.

The car is a great leveller in this aspect, whereby if you are prepared to commute the often treacherous conditions, you can reap the rewards of your labour by chilling in stunning countryside and you don’t have to worry that your prized collection of thrash metal being played at “11” on a sound system measured in “Gigawatts” will turn your neighbours into sleep deprived axe wielding maniacs.

Up until recently, “countryside functional” cars have been big, unreliable, heavy, thirsty, unwieldy beasts that are fine for going head to head with a tonne of raging bull and climbing windswept mountains looking for lost ramblers but relatively useless when travelling distance or trying to park in skinny, city car parks.

Then came the Subaru Forester. Relatively nimble, relatively light and could pull a trailer full of sheep across a peat bog. You could fit the kids and a dog in there, it was hard wearing and the car could be used in town. Most importantly it was robust and reliable in adverse conditions (a mantra that has yet to reach a lot of car manufacturers!). Sadly, Subaru sat on their laurels and did diddly-squat with the design for over 20 years and the once stalwart of country living became expensive, outdated and irrelevant. It drank fuel, (oh how I remember wishing for more that 26mpg and 360 mile range) and was bloody noisy, uncomfortable for more than 2hrs in the drivers seat.

So after the long preamble, “what the heck am I building up to” you might ask.

We live in the 21st century, where mesmeric technology reigns supreme and some car manufactures have managed to harness that technology and apply superb design and engineering excellence. I’m talking about Skoda, the once laughable but now fully fledged phoenix of the car world.

For those of you who don’t know, Skoda take a random set of VW/Audi group components, tweak them and assemble a cage of their own specification and design, with the final product far improved over their corporate parents products in the forecourts.

The Skoda that provides the panacea to the transporting issues of country living is the mighty (yes, I mean that!) Skoda Yeti or as I refer to it, “mah wee beastie”.

I was in the market for a good all-round vehicle that ticked all my “must do well” boxes.  I looked at and quickly discounted the pretenders from Ford, Vauxhall, some Japanese, Americans and Koreans as being far too faux for my needs. So that left me looking at the big boys in the market (VW, Audi, Landrover, BMW, Toyota and Mercedes).  All good but abhorrently expensive for what you get.

Ultimately I took a punt and before they’d even been released for sale in UK, I secured a new Skoda Yeti 4x4, CR170 (bhp) diesel model with all the bells and whistles (Elegance trim and fittings) that seemed pertinent for my needs, offloading £21.5k in the process. Yes it’s a bag of cash but a lot smaller (at best a 1/3rd, at worst, lots…… my brow is starting to unhinge itself thinking for the gap) bag than the alternatives on the market to the same spec’.

Three years and over 45,000 miles later (I do at least 15k miles a year by motorbike too) I can honestly say the Yeti is the best car I’ve ever driven, so here’s my shakedown.

Outside – Not as big as a modern Freelander in footprint, boxy with a wheel at each corner (no overhangs). It sits high on its suspension. The Yeti is a jacked up, mid-sized family car (think Focus, Golf etc). Atheistically, its function over form but in truth it’s far from offensive to modern design sensibilities. Best to say it’s a touch left of centre but unique/well designed enough to catch the eye due to good proportions and lines. Think Lily Allen/Nigella Lawson over Lynsey Lohan/Jordan!

Inside – Heated leather seats (including back of seat heating, “hmmm, ahhhhh ” sigh feeling on cold winter mornings), automatic wipers, a bunch of easily identified and controlled buttons for radio, telephone and the most comprehensive car computer (trips, distance travelled, current averages, overall averages etc, etc, that you’ll ever need) on the market. Add auto-dimming rear view and side mirrors, seating, climate control and ergonomics that allow you to drive 1200 miles in a day without repetitive distraction, in total, supreme comfort and you might begin to acknowledge that this “value brand” of car manufacturer is giving the big boys (VW, Audi, Landrover, BMW, Toyota and Mercedes etc) a formative lesson in how to build a car.

Practicality – Tardis like. The interior moves sideways, bends, folds and is simply removed so that apart from transporting humans, a trip to Ikea and Curries to lug home a 5yr old child (in isofix-ed car seat), a medium sized Dog (in her car-cage) a Samsung 55” LED tellybox in packaging, an executive office chair in packaging, an all-in-one printer in packaging all at the same time. This was achieved within the confines of the car (no top boxes or roofrack lashing) and kid/dog/boxes secured and conforming to legal and common sense safety requirements. Folks this is van like territory with added practicality, comfort and speed!

You have a 6 berth caravan and family to transport? No fear. Whilst it may look a little “odd” the Yeti and its ability to pull 2 tonnes has hauled our family, hooge caravan and “stuff” though wind, hail, mountains and motorways. Never once wheezing or lacking in ability and I can assure you there is NEVER a long snaking line of frustration and seething anger behind my caravan if you catch my drift ;0)…..just making progress officer!

Now, here’s another big lesson for car manufacturers. RANGE. Ok so I might have bought your car and I will put up with its, poor ergonomic design, unreliability and bits falling off the interior….give me a tank big enough that I’m not wasting 2hrs a week in bloody fuel stations please. Ive got better things to do. (My Audi S4 does 200 miles to a tank - Matt)

The Yeti in its most powerful diesel form (it’s the same engine/power output as the much lauded VRS Octavia) gives me a range of just over 600miles on my quick country B road/city, 74mile daily commute returning just under 50mpg. More about that later……

Finally, 6’ 4” and 17stone isn’t usual in our well provisioned 1st world. It’s good to see a manufacturer who recognises this when filling in the, “how much do we need to allow the driver’s seat to move” box. It’s also innovative that that the rest of the car adjusts to the driver not the other way around. This stands true for folks of my proportions down to 4’9”, hairy toed hobbits. All can find a comfortable and safe driving position with ease, without the need for open sun roof, extendable arms or booster cushions as circumstance dictates.

On the road – Suspension, I kid you not; the designers of the Yeti system should receive a Nobel prize or something. Compliant, comfortable, smooth is one thing, lots of cars do that. What they don’t do when the little voices are talking to you, is corner flat (hardly any body role or diving) and give amazing feedback like nothing else I’ve driven since my tarmac rally prepared RS Mexico mk1 on Bilsteins nigh on 30yrs ago. It is a work of engineering genius without being “electronically adjusted”. It’s just struts, springs, dampers and brilliance.

The engine produces power/torque from the bottom of the rev range straight through to the top and then some. When you think “bloody hell it will give up soon and fall off because it’s a diesel engine” the thing just keeps on delivering more. I’m serious here folks. On dry days, no traffic and a Porche 911 or souped up Scooby WRX being uppity, the Yeti more than holds its own on fast A and B roads. I’ve even pulled in to work and a random guy in a Porche stopped and demanded to know,” what the fcuk I had done to the car to modify it”. The guy steadfastly wouldn’t believe me that it was box standard!!!!!

Ok, when things get into the hyper/insane category of performance then you’d not be looking to buy a Yeti, but in real world, non-track performance (and there’s some tracks in UK that the Yeti would nail most of the competition, it really is that good) it’s safe to say that Skoda really have thought about and delivered driver satisfaction.

And for the next lesson in how to design and build a car…. What’s wrong with being able to see something smaller than an 18wheeled articulated lorry out of the rear window and to be able to see what’s obstructing the rear quarter of the vehicle? ALL of the big manufacturers are starting to make the rear quarters of their offering low slung/ low drag. Whilst it may improve the vehicles drag coefficient by a gnats man-bag it makes the vehicle almost impossible to manoeuvre without reversing into bollards/children/shopping trollies without rear view cameras. With its boxy “squared” design, Skoda has overcome this worrying trait in vehicle design and fashionable farkle. No discernible blind spots on the motorway and the Yeti manoeuvres/parks on a new 5p piece without the inconvenience of insurance claims or worse.

Off the road (or as I refer to it when things get manky outside) – No other word encompasses a wet, windy, dark, miserable weather condition like the Scots parochial term of “dreich”. Living in NE Scotland, we get lots of dreich and more. At the extremes I’ve seen it at -26 degrees centigrade, with outside looking like some sci-fi Star Wars-esque Ice Planet (planet Hoth - Empire Strikes Back) to sweltering, tyre melting +30degrees. Mostly we get a mean average of dreich. For these ambient conditions, I’ve fitted the Yeti with winter tyres (Vredestein Wintrac’s are brilliant). Tyres and their traction certainly helps a lot but for “normal” driving there’s also a variety of three letter acronyms that subtly assist me in keeping the car on the “road” and out of harms way with no drama.

Bendy lights (zenon lights that directionally follow large driver inputs of steering) are a life saver on dark corners, and unobtrusive Haldex clutch style 4x4 system when the gravel/ice/deep water/mud/cow crap etc contrive to allowing you to lose traction. Suffice to say I’ve pulled brand new Landrover Discoverys out of ditches with my Yeti. In getting to the location, yes, it was manky outside but the Yeti didn’t skip a beat in getting there sharpish!

And as for “real off road” is concerned. Chasing a flock of sheep across wild places with factory spec’ under body “rough road protection” fitted and judicious use of right foot and the wee magic “off road button” (This electronically softens up the engine, beefs up the torque and engages things like automated electronic limited slip diff, frees up the ABS breaking and lots of other black box stuff) the thoroughly sorted road car miraculously transforms itself into a bloody mountain goat.

Deep mud, rocks etc, insane inclines are “nae bother min”. To the shock of some locals, I’ve put “mah wee beastie” where Mitsubishi Pajeros etc with their low range, chunky tyres and diff locks couldn’t get to! It’s fair to say that the Yeti isn’t the natural choice to “go for it” and would need some higher ground clearance and longer suspension travel before you could competitively tackle the Dakar but it punches well above its weight!

Costs – CHEAP.  £155 a year tax,  low insurance bracket (in comparison),  50mpg. Admittedly once, I got rather upset with the dealer after the 1st service (+20k miles variable intervals) after I had dropped off the car, used their courtesy car all day for my business and they had delivered my Yeti (also picking up the courtesy wagon) that evening fully serviced to my home +30 miles away from their garage, valeted and same level of fuel in tank as I’d left it.

The driver-manny didn’t have the bill with him and said that was, “normal, they’d bung one in the post for me”. Thirty days later (after several phone calls enquiring if they were ok I hadn’t paid!!!) I received the bill. I was on the phone and demanding to speak to the manager moments later. You can imagine my disgust at being presented a bill for a mere £140. I don’t want these guys to go out of business, they help me, they look after “mah wee beastie” once a year and they don’t see it until the next year. For the 1st time in my adult life I enquired if a garage had charged me enough. A very surreal, disturbing experience (a timely plug for Victoria Garage, Maud, Aberdeenshire).

Summary – as relevant in the country as in the city. The most practical “swiss army knife” car on UK roads by a country mile. You might not use all of its functions all of the time, but you will need some of the functions at the most important moments AND it’s fun. An incredible car, personified by the company advertising logo, Simply Clever!