Skoda’s urban SUV is back with a cleaner look and a bit more equipment.
What is it?
Under the skin, it’s the same, solidly built, robustly engineered, fun-to-drive Yeti that we all know so well. That is to say it is mechanically identical to the old car – built on the same platform as the Laura, using the same 2.0-litre diesel engine in one of two power outputs (109bhp or 138bhp) depending on whether you opt for the 4x2 or 4x4 version. Also as before, there’s no petrol engine option and it’s still available only with manual gearboxes (a five-speed for the 4x2 and a six-speed for the 4x4), with no option of an automatic. The Haldex 4x4 system is, however, a newer version that’s a few kilograms lighter and comes with an optimised off-road software programme, which we’ll get to in a bit.
The big change is to the skin itself. Skoda has ditched the original car’s quirky, rounded, quad-headlamp look – which, frankly, we thought was quite unique and had a lot of character. In its place is a face that’s more in line with Skoda’s new square-jawed corporate look; full of straight lines and sharp angles. It may be missing some of the charm of the old SUV’s nose, but the new one does look neater and it’s likely to be more appealing to more people. The new, rectangular headlamps have bi-xenon beams and integrated LED running lamps, and the fog lamps and cornering lights are more conventionally sited in the front bumper.
There are more subtle styling changes too. The tail-lamps now have LEDs in Skoda’s signature ‘C’ pattern, the rear bumper and tailgate have been ever so slightly re-profiled, and there are slim strips of chrome along the doors. The alloy wheels come in two new designs – one each for the 4x2 and 4x4 to give them a bit more differentiation, but they’re still 16-inchers. And finally, you can now have the roof painted silver or white on certain colour options. Little things, but they help give the car a bit more personality.
On the inside, you’ll notice that the steering wheel is the three-spoke design you now find on all of the carmaker’s other cars, that there’s a starter button where the keyhole used to be, and that the driver’s seat is now electrically operated, with memory settings too. The audio system has also been updated and now features Bluetooth connectivity as well, but it’s not the high-res touchscreen that was introduced with the Octavia, but rather the previous-generation touchscreen unit from the carmaker.
What is it like to drive?
Unsurprisingly, it’s pretty much the same as the old car, but that’s no bad thing. We’ve always loved the way this SUV felt from behind the wheel, 4x4 or 4x2, and it’s just as good as it ever was. The company says it has worked on the clutch to make it lighter and less prone to stalling, and you can see the effects of that to some extent when you set off. We did still manage to stall it on a couple of occasions when we weren’t being careful though.
The 4x2’s 109bhp engine has been tuned for better bottom-end grunt, and it has a pretty good mid-range as well, though it runs out of puff towards the top of the rev range. It’s hardly an issue in practice, however, particularly given this car’s more urban intentions. The 138bhp engine in the 4x4 version has a much better top end, which is welcome, but here too it’s the powerful mid-range that’s the highlight of this engine. Overtaking, even on the highway, is an absolute breeze.
We haven’t yet had the chance to test out the new ‘off road’ button on the dashboard of the 4x4, version, but what it’s meant to do in effect is change the way the car behaves via the ECU. The engine sticks to lower revs, the 4x4 system is primed for off-road use and even the ABS and ESP behave differently.
Another highlight that’s been retained is its ride and handling package, thanks largely to its all-independent suspension setup. Granted, it’s not as good as a Honda CR-V through a string of corners, and the suspension errs a little on the firm side, but it does rather well for what feels like a solid and heavy SUV. You get the sense that it has a lower centre of gravity than its tall dimensions would suggest when you take it through corners, and the steering feels pretty good in your hands. As for the ride, the firmness means that at lower speeds, it does crash a bit through ruts and potholes. However, pick the pace up even just a little bit and it starts to pound away road imperfections superbly. It is also unflinchingly stable at highway speeds with hardly any body movement.
Should I buy one?
With bringing this updated SUV to the Indian market, its intention is not to create a sales phenomenon or the next big thing in urban SUVs. In fact, its sales target for this car is just a couple of hundred units per month. No, the intention is to show that the company’s product line is strong and up to date, and by that measure, bringing in the latest version from Europe does fit the bill.
The old SUV's shortcoming in India was that it didn’t fit with the mindset of the typical SUV buyer. Its lack of a third row of seats, and a size and look that wasn’t as tough or imposing as buyers would have liked at that price point are what let it down. Though it looks a bit sharper now, it’s still a five-seater, and with the added equipment, that price is only going to go up. In fact, the facelift is only being launched in the top-end Elegance trim. What’s more, though it can hold its own on a mud trail, this is ultimately still an urban SUV, and that the facelift has come without an entry-level petrol engine option or an automatic gearbox – two things that would have enhanced its city-slicking appeal – is a bit disappointing.
However, for a certain few, it’s the premium feel, the strong engine and those solid mechanicals under the skin that make it worth its price tag. The company is aware that this audience is small, but it wants to give them exactly what they want, and if you are one of those people, it is a fantastically capable urban SUV.