The outside temperature gauge read 8 degrees as I belted down National Highway 1. It was pitch dark and the rains hadn’t receded over the past 48 hours. Kashmir had shut-down amidst government warnings of imminent floods. I was trying to reach Srinagar as soon as possible; driving the 2014 version of Skoda’s SUV offering - the Yeti. The incessant rains had taken a toll on the roads, most were excessively water logged, but nothing that intimidated me into slowing down nor did they bother the Yeti.
As I proceeded through a town, in the rain battered darkness, I spotted another water patch up ahead. I entered it without concern until I noticed flashlights in the distance frantically waving at me to stop. As my senses caught up to what was happening, it was too late. The Yeti's headlights flickered, just a little, before going under a large pool of ice cold flood water. At precisely that moment, I wished I was driving the 4x4 version of the Yeti, but I was not. The diesel engine under the now submerged hood was producing 108 bhp and sending that power to the front wheels. Being a submarine was not something this car was designed to do.
Skoda India have just launched the updated Yeti in Mumbai. The design has been updated in alignment with Skoda’s 2014 portfolio of cars, the equipment list has received a refresh to meet the competition, and the variant list has gone under the axe. The Yeti will now be delivered to you in a single trim called ‘Elegance’ into which Skoda has packed every feature it could find. So this analysis should be considerably shorter.
The front and the rear of the Yeti have received cosmetic updates while the sides have largely remained the same. Gone are the earlier foglamp designs that integrated themselves into the headlamp cluster in quite a quirky fashion. In place are single bi- xenon headlamps that adorn LED daytime running lights as already seen on the Octavia and Superb. The foglamps now rest comfortably on the bumper and come integrated with cornering lamps. The rear gets marginal design changes on the bootlid and the bumper, while the taillamps are C-shaped and pack LEDs.
You can now choose to have the roof painted in one of three different colours i.e. white, silver, or black. The side view mirrors will now come painted in silver irrespective of the body colour, and they can now be electrically folded too. Skoda will continue to offer the Yeti in front wheel drive and all-wheel drive guises while retaining engine options.
The car will now detect its key in the vicinity and unlock at the push of a button. As you place yourself into the driver’s seat, you can now adjust it electrically and also record three different driver positions for it to remember. With the keys still in your pocket, you can crank the engine by hitting the engine start-stop button positioned on the steering column, where the regular key slot used to be. What you will see in front of you is a three-spoke multi function steering wheel that has been picked up from the Octavia and is a welcome change.
The steering wheel controls lead into the instrument cluster in front that now houses a Multi Information Display or MID. The MID has a host of options to control various features in the car including the Bluetooth settings. Skoda has added cruise control and a tyre pressure monitoring system as well, for good measure. The rest of the car remains exactly the same as before. It’s 3 mm shorter, in case that matters to you.
Under the hood, Skoda leaves you with two engine options. The Yeti will arrive with a 2.0 litre diesel engine in two different states of tune. One engine will come packed with 108 bhp of grunt producing 250 NM of torque regulated by a 5-speed gearbox sending power to the front wheels alone. The other engine will come charged with 138 bhp and 320 Nm of torque. The difference here will be a 6-speed gearbox that will send power to all 4 wheels permanently.
Driving the Yeti
The Yeti arrives on a fantastic chassis that handles beautifully for the spirited drivers in the lot. The all-round independent suspension works well to absorb impacts and keep the car composed with minimal body roll around corners. Now these are things that you wouldn’t be able to measure on a dealership test drive, but ask owners and they will concur. However, as a result of the dynamic stiff suspension, things at the back can get pretty uncomfortable over pot holes and general Indian road conditions. The Yeti is not a car to be chauffeur driven in.
Even on the driver’s seat, it gets tricky to find a comfortable driving position and can take multiple iterations before you find one. The fact that the seat now comes powered and with memory, helps a lot. While the steering wheel feels great in your hands, I found it a bit too angled away from me and this was a constant niggle through out the driving experience. The reach and rake adjustment didn’t help either.
The five- and six-speed gearboxes have short, smart throws and you need to be gentle with the clutch lest you will stall the engine. You are right to think that 108 horses in this segment is paltry for an engine, but with close to zero turbo lag, the car feels and behaves like an agile cat. It is quick, direct, and sharp. The sister engine comes with 20 more horses and all-wheel drive giving it more bite on the road.
What requires special mention, is the Yeti’s dynamics on water-laden roads. Those 16-inch 215/60 wheels along with the onboard traction control did a phenomenal job of keeping the car in line as I hit water patches by the droves. Aquaplaning is a big fear when we travel over puddles of water and it can make you lose control of the car in a heartbeat. But the Czech machine handled it beautifully. Had I slowed down for every water patch I came across on the road, it would have taken me twice the time to get to where I was going. Yes, Kashmir was soaked completely.
When you decide to leave the road, the Yeti’s dimensions play to its favour. The car’s short overhangs at the front and the rear ensure great off road drivability with excellent approach and departure angles. The 180 mm ground clearance is adequate and the 4x4 version comes with an off-road button on the centre console that automatically adjusts different parameters such as the differential lock, traction control, and stability program to ready the car for some dirt action. Now you wouldn’t see the Yeti gunning for fame at hardcore 4x4 events that push the likes of the Mahindra Thar to the limit, but the Yeti can hold its own, the proof of which is amply available on Youtube videos.
Will it Matter?
When you sit down with the competition you will notice that there really isn’t any. On road prices of the current 4x4 Yeti in Delhi stand at about 22 lakh. That’s INR 5.8 lakh less than a 4x4 Fortuner, 3.4 lakh less than a 4x4 Rexton, and 4.3 lakh more than an all-wheel drive XUV500. The Fortuner is far too expensive, is bigger, and the equipment list is scarce. I mention the XUV500 here for a reason. Though it doesn’t stand a chance to match the build and quality levels of the Skoda Yeti, it stands testament to the fact that there are bigger, well equipped and more powerful SUVs below and above the segment that the Yeti plays in.
Hence most Indian people will continue to see the Yeti as an overpriced mini SUV. What the Yeti needs to do is get bigger, and receive an ergonomic overhaul of the interiors if Skoda is seeking bigger volumes with the Yeti.
The various systems on board the car that were primarily designed to handle roads were now tackling an ocean of water. The 5-speed gearbox was set on first gear and my right foot had planted itself firmly on the accelerator. There was nothing that I could do except hold on. The engine sputtered, the engine choked. The music system continued to blare out notes. The headlights were still submerged as I watched more water pour onto the road from the right side.
There was still no water inside the car, thankfully. As the Yeti waded through, the headlights finally began to emerge from their icy graves as the car plowed through. Every moment was followed by another in which the engine threatened to stall. But it didn’t. We emerged on the other side in a cloud of smoke as water evaporated from the exhaust manifold.