The world of cars abounds with model names which make no more sense than the Congress managing to rule us for the past 70 years. How does ‘Daihatsu Naked’ sound for a car which you are supposed to drop your kids to school in? Imagine your 10 year old son’s classmates asking him about his ride. Now picture him replying – ‘Well, I ride a Daihatsu, Naked.’ Apart from someone who wants to go down in history as a luminary of the LGBT society, I wonder who else would want to have that sort of a name for his car. Here’s another. Nissan Rogue. Tell that name to a strictly Hindi speaking prospect, and he’ll run away thinking of it as the sign of a disease. I wonder how even the English speaking ones would find semblance in a product which nonchalantly tells the interested customers ‘Hey moron, buy me, for I’m a company certified scoundrel by name!’
Now I’m not under the influence of absinth as I write all this. The Yeti, as I figured after a comprehensive, 500km drive is a fantastic name for the vehicle you see in these pictures here. I’ll tell you why, somewhere in this article, and that somewhere, of course, is not here.
Does size matter?
Parked next to a big, bad SUV, like, say, the Fortuner, the Yeti, one has to admit, does look like a junior high student standing next to a freshman. It’s a different story altogether though that this junior high student, for whatever reason, is small only in size. He has a pair of big round things dangling below his crotch, concealed neatly beneath his ironed school uniform. And he looks this big, bad counterpart of his straight in the eye, cold and fearless. Intimidating, as the Fortuner may be, and smaller in size, as the Yeti may be, the latter remains undaunted; fully aware and confident of its own capability, and prepared for a fight if challenged. Some of the most vicious dictators in the world were amusingly short in height, just in case you’re not convinced.
However, beneath that relatively diminutive body beats a potent heart, and while they do not bulge out overly, the muscles on its body are well toned and full of strength. The Yeti looks more like a grown up, muscular hatchback than an SUV when looked at head on. Those unusually big fog lamps flanking the bottom of the radiator grille, and that silverish goatee are the first things to announce that this isn’t what you think it is. It’s got an extraordinarily oddball face. It gives two hoots to conventional design wisdom and treads a path of its own. And that’s the beauty of it, for that’s what it’s really meant to do in the 4×4 guise – to tread a path of its own.
Things are much saner in profile. Except the B-pillar with its unusual slant that gives the Yeti’s otherwise square-ish glasshouse a sporty look. At the rear, simplicity prevails again with clean, straight lines. Beneath the bumper, under that black plastic cladding however, you have some silver-ish pseudo diffuser lines, to jazz things up a bit for the audience trailing you.
It’s puzzling how the Yeti manages to look so simple yet so dramatic at the same time. Looking for a fantastic one night fling? This isn’t the hot hooker you’re hunting for. Add some thought, some intellect to your quest, scratch a little deeper beneath the skin and the Yeti unravels a philosophy. Non-conformist, yet not a rebel; capable but not pompous; proud, but not arrogant. Beautiful!
So just how well does it tread its path?
Like no other vehicle in its class I can think of. Evils like a soft suspension, high center of gravity, heavy weight and excessive body roll come as freebies with every (well, most) damn SUV or 4×4 you could buy. Now some may not care for it, but I do care a lot about the behavior of my car at speed. I drove the Yeti’s sedan cousin, the Laura 2.0 TDI DSG some time back for a good 1000km. And I cross my heart when I say this, it’s the best damn thing I have ever driven this side of Rs 20 lakh. Powerful, predictable, sure footed, solid, nimble, precise – the car was a peach. So when I drive a 20 lakh SUV, just thinking of the enormous fun I can have for that sort of money instantly kills it for me. As long as I am on a smooth surface that is.
Of course, I understand the additional responsibilities an SUV is meant to shoulder, but I just can’t help thinking about all the useless lard. Having said that, I also know for a fact that 90% of the premium 4×4 SUV buyers don’t buy the bloody thing for what it’s actually meant to do. They buy it for the size, for the weight, for the heft, for the sheer pageantry, the whole visual magnitude; and they don’t mind the evils I mentioned earlier which come along for no extra price, or discount.
And that’s where the biggest strength of the Yeti resides. It’s a nastily accomplished 4×4 machine, capable of flattening down your neighbor’s 100 acre standing crop in a night’s time. And yet, the way it drives on the tar with its extremely low center of gravity, wide track and lighter weight, comes surprisingly close to a sweet handling sedan. The underpinnings of the Yeti are gifted to it by its goddess sister, the Laura, so it does drive better than some of the other expensive sedans – both in a straight line, and around bends. The body roll, for a segment that the Yeti represents is ludicrously minimal, the steering feedback, delightful! A reasonably fun to drive sedan which can off-road if you will – how cool is that? It’s a true all rounder for its class.
That crop flattening part, expand on it
The Yeti, unlike many other pretenders in the cross segments doesn’t run a compromised off road gear. Beneath that running board you have a four-wheel drive system that incorporates a fourth-generation Haldex clutch. That 4×4 system isn’t the old-world iron crushing iron sort of an arrangement. It’s pretty advanced, and doesn’t need your inputs to be put to work. Let’s see how it works. On dry roads, 96% of the engine’s torque is delivered to the front wheels. However, if the Yeti’s electronic control unit and its army of sensors detect a difference in speed between the front and rear axles, the Haldex clutch can divert up to 90% of the torque to the rear axle. Then there is also a limited slip differential on the rear axle, so the drive is also distributed evenly from side to side, ensuring excellent grip and stability on all surfaces.
And there’s more! A whole torrent of data is flowing into the central unit at any given point in time from a network of sensors. Engine revs, throttle pedal position, wheel speed, steering wheel turn angle, brake light switch – they’re watching everything you do with the car, every millisecond. So tomorrow if you bash the thing up in an inebriated state and cook up a story to claim insurance, watch out! For they’ll come to know what exactly the car was doing! And you thought you were the only smart chap around!
Now all this data, in conjunction with the ABS and ESP systems ensures that safety and stability is maintained at all times. When the ESP system is engaged, control is taken over by ABS/ESP control unit and the Haldex clutch is handed over.
Then you have the hill descent control which gently and automatically applies brakes on low traction steep slopes to let the driver concentrate fully on steering the car.
Add 180mm of ground clearance to the equation and you’re ready to flatten the crop we talked about. Just make sure you flee the scene once done. 4×4 isn’t an anti flogging device by any means.
You seem impressed. Go on; tell us it’s powered by atomic energy.
Thanks for the sarcasm, but the engine is impressive for its size. It’s the same 2.0-liter TDI oil burner that powers the Laura. It dishes out 140 PS of peak power at 4200rpm. Peak torque is rated at 320nm between 1750 and 2500 rpm.
Now let’s do a bit of comparison. The Fortuner, with its 3.0 liter diesel produces peak power rated at 171 PS at 3600 rpm and peak torque of 343 Nm at 1400rpm. That’s 22% more power and 7% more torque. But then, that little advantage comes with about 50% higher cubic capacity, and more importantly is nullified instantly with a whopping 26% (more than 400kg) extra weight. And it’s a full time 4×4, so you cannot even imagine how much more fuel it burns per km. The comparisons are even more dismal for the Ford Endeavour, so we won’t discuss it.
The Yeti weighs a featherweight 1543 kg for the top of the line 4×4 variant. And it shows in the way it moves. Without a doubt, the Yeti with its higher specific output and much better power to weight ratio can outrun any of its diesel burning SUV counterparts from a standstill. With a top speed of close to 190 km/h, it has enough spunk to keep the competitors as a diminishing spec in its RVM. Around a series of bends, the Yeti is so superior; it doesn’t even warrant a discussion.
The transmission is taken care of by a 6 speeder unit. Like most other Skoda cars, there aren’t any real problems with the smoothness or the shift action, but thanks to a clutch that has a proclivity to slip, ever time the rev needle drops below the 1000 mark, you’ll find the engine stalled. It’s quite funny, as above 1000 rpm, thanks to its low end torque, the engine seems to have enough juice stored in its reservoir. So you lift the left leg up in overconfidence, and embarrass yourself in the middle of a crawling jam. It takes a bit getting used to before you know just how low you can let the revs go.
Once above 1500 rpm, the sweet 2.0 liter motor has enough punch across the rev range to let you surge ahead of obstructive traffic in any gear. It’s a delightfully sorted out diesel mill, best experienced, as mentioned earlier in the Laura with the DSG Auto doing all the dirty work for you.
Is it cozy too, and spacious?
The cabin shares its layout and much of its parts with the Laura. Everything is very well put together, and quality abounds across the fuselage. Nothing on this car, except the battery and the tyres are from India, and the finish and quality bear testimony to the fact. The leather wrapped seats feel comfortable as soon as you sink in. There’s a coloured central touch screen for some controls, and there are buttons for the rest. To be frank, I didn’t quite like the whole mixed setup. It isn’t as intuitive as some other such systems, and having half the controls on the screen, and the rest as good old buttons makes it confusing. You’ll understand it alright, eventually, but you’ll understand quantum physics too if you put in enough effort. This one takes some learning and getting used to. And let me clarify here, I know all about the iPhone 4s, Ice Cream Sandwich and the Playbook, so I am most definitely not a technology dinosaur to feel uncomfortable around electronic gadgets.
At the backseat, there is enough shoulder, head and knee room for the occupants. The central passenger will have a bit of trouble as the rear AC vents do take away a bit of leg room. For the passengers flanking him, however, there shouldn’t be a problem. My wife has to be of the most demanding back benchers I have ever come across. She abhorred the X1’s backseat, she has abhorred the backseats of plenty of other cars, and she’d abhor me as well if I weren’t careful enough over bumps. And she was keeping shut with this one. Says volumes, doesn’t it. Though not as compliant as the Laura, thanks to a stiffer setup, the Yeti does provide a reasonably good ride quality. The higher ground clearance and more weight are balanced with a tighter suspension to keep the body roll in check.
The Skoda audio system sounds fab – no complaints, but the lack of a USB port really hurts. It’s a feature that people are ready to change their buying decision for. Skoda should do something about the odd slot, so conspicuous by its absence. You do, however, have an SD card reader as your option to hammer the last nail in music industry’s coffin. Kill piracy? Yeah, right!
The dual zone climate control works fantastically well. There are more than ample cubbyholes to store everything from your toll tickets to your wallet, coins, bottles, cans, coffee and everything else. It’s all very well thought out, and works very well in practice – especially when you are on a long trip with your family.
Rear seats are raised two centimeters higher than the front pair for a better road visibility to the back benchers. Incredibly flexible, they can be adjusted in more ways than all of Fardeen Khan and his late dad’s bombed movies put together, which, let me remind you, far outnumber your estimates. The VarioFlex concept allows the three separate rear seats to be individually folded or removed. The outer seats can be moved fore and aft, and with the middle seat removed sideways also by 80 millimetres. Incredible, isn’t it! The Yeti has 416 liters of boot space with all the seats in place, expandable to 1666 liters with both back seats flipped ahead. The boot itself is designed with smart solutions to save time while loading and prevent luggage from moving around during the journey.
What are the features? Do I get enough toys to play with?
Ample to keep you busy all day. The diminutive looking Yeti comes packed to the brim with features and technology. ESP, Traction Control, ASR, Parktronic, six airbags you name it and chances are that the unassuming looking Yeti would have the feature. Here’s the long list of features on the top of the line 4×4 Elegance variant for you to see and believe. Just to let you know, we have removed more than 60 percent of these to cut the list short. You’ll have to the Yeti’s official page for the entire list
So what’s the verdict?
The Yeti is one hell of an accomplished product. It’s such a well rounded package, so ambidextrous that nothing can replace it for the price if you wanted just one car for your garage. It’s packed to the gills with technology and features and delivers performance which is mighty impressive. Having said that, attuning myself with the typical Indian mindset of ‘bigger is better’, the Yeti does ‘look’ a bit overpriced for its size. At a little more than Rs 17 lakh ex-Delhi for the top of the line Elegance 4×4 variant, I would call it only a smidgeon expensive. If Skoda throws in a DSG, adds a USB port, and replaces the metal top with a panoramic sun / moon roof, it’ll suddenly be a deal! If that happens, this will be the car I’ll personally buy myself next.
Here’s some food for thought. The Fortuner, which retails for a little more than Rs 21 lakh ex-showroom costs more than 4 lakhs extra over the Yeti. Except for its size, and the two extra seats, what do you get as an advantage over the Yeti? The Yeti is faster, more frugal, better behaved and comes with technology much superior to that of the Fortuner. You don’t have any of the Yeti’s cutting edge electronics and long list of features (TC, ESP, 6 airbags, and much more) on the big Toyota. All you pay for is the size, the heft, the visual drama, and as I mentioned earlier, the evils that come free with size and weight. But then again, in our society, ego, in most cases prevails over wisdom. Size is perceived as value, while it isn’t actually.
The problem is, the Yeti comes in as a CBU, which means a very high duty is levied onto it, which in turn is passed on to the customers. Skoda does have plans to assemble the car here in its Aurangabad plant in due course. CKD assembly should bring down the cost to the company, and in turn, the price tag. We hope it happens soon.
And now we get back to where we started from. The name.
The Yeti, for whatever little knowledge we have about it, is perceived to be the closest to humans in terms of intelligence. So close, we chose to call it The Abominable Snowman. It’s known to be wild enough to brave the unrelenting Himalayan weather, yet smart enough to have eluded the humans for ages now. Undocumented as it may be, but Yeti is still the best known cross between the civilized, susceptible humans, and the wild, rugged apes. Much the way its mechanical namesake is one of the best crosses between a mud-plugging 4×4, suited for the wilderness and a refined sedan meant to roll gracefully on the well finished city streets.
Makes sense, doesn’t it? Unlike one Daihatsu Naked.
PS: Comments, feedback is valuable. Praises, profanities, throw them all at us – we’re listening!