The Skoda Yeti has been around for six years already, during which time it’s more than proved itself with the public. It’s a direct challenge to the Nissan Qashqai, Peugeot 2008 and Kia Soul – but while most of its rivals are best described as soft-roaders, the Yeti has serious off-road capabilities. Its rival, the Dacia Duster, was an immediate hit when it went on sale in 2012, despite the jibes the brand received on a certain BBC motoring show. It put crossover practicality and SUV style within reach of those of us living on a supermini budget. Some consider the Skoda superior thanks to its Volkswagen lineage, but we’re left wondering: does the Dacia’s low price help it make a more compelling case? Let’s find out.
Neither of these is going to win too many beauty contests. In the Yeti, Skoda has resisted the temptation to follow the homogeneous lead of rivals – like the Qashqai – with its smooth lines and conservative styling. Although Skoda usually chooses substance over style, the Yeti borrows most of its rugged cues from the world of the 4×4. Its upright body, high roof, macho roof rails and vertical tailgate make the Yeti taller and boxier than its rivals, which helps it stand out in a crowd. There’s nothing breathtaking about the Duster. It does have back-to-basics charm, though, and it’s easy to warm to its utilitarian personality. If you want luxury, creature comforts and cutting-edge technology, you need to look elsewhere. The Yeti is the more attractive of the two, but perhaps that’s to be expected. The Dacia starts at less than £10,000, after all, which isn’t much more than half the price of the Skoda.
The Dacia Duster comes in a choice of three trim levels, which keeps things nice and simple. The basic trim is called Access, and it is basic. It’s only available in white and you can forget about such luxuries as split-folding rear seats, Bluetooth or even a radio. The mid-trim level is Ambiance, and it’s well-worth the modest extra outlay to plug the obvious gaps. Going one stage further – to Laureate – buys you alloy wheels, air-conditioning and even rear electric windows. There are three trim levels for the Skoda Yeti, too, supplemented by off-road-focused Outdoor versions of each. The Skoda’s Volkswagen heritage becomes more obvious when you’re inside it, with high-quality materials, a reassuringly good finish and slick switchgear in evidence throughout. It’s definitely a case of getting what you pay for here, and you couldn’t really expect Dacia to match the Yeti for quality and equipment at the Duster’s price. So, it’s hard to criticise the Duster for doing what it does in delivering the practicality of a crossover at such a low cost. It’s certainly cheerful, and cheap to boot.
The basic Duster Access comes with a single, Renault-sourced 104hp 1.6-litre petrol engine. It’s powerful enough to keep up with traffic but isn’t particularly efficient and has little-else going for it. The Ambiance and Laureate models share a rather decent 109hp 1.5 dCi diesel, once again lifted from the Renault line-up. It’s pleasantly responsive and gives the Duster decent pace, and is easily the better engine of the two. It’s also fairly economical thanks to the six-speed manual gearbox to which it’s paired. Unlike many of its rivals, the Yeti’s 1.2-litre TSI turbo petrol engine is about more than just chasing a low base price. It’s a decent performer that doesn’t feel out of place in a car of this size, and good levels of mid-range torque give you plenty of pulling power when it’s required. If you want close-to hot-hatch performance, upgrade to the impressive 1.8-litre petrol, which negates the need for the more expensive diesels unless you do some really serious mileage. The 1.6-litre TDI diesel engine is exclusive to the eco-friendly Greenline models, delivering excellent fuel economy for such a big car. However, it does feel underpowered at times and can sound rough under heavy acceleration. The more conventional 2.0-litre TDI diesel is a better option, and comes in 109hp, 138hp and 168hp versions in top-of-the-range models.
The Yeti drives more like a car than an SUV – and that’s one of the biggest complements you can pay a crossover. It’s always had that bit of an edge when it comes to driving dynamics, and this new build maintains that advantage over its rivals. There’s plenty of grip, sharp and focused steering, and considerably less body roll than you get in the Nissan Qashqai. The Yeti’s lively feel means it’s a lot more fun in corners than any crossover should be. It does have a firmer ride than most of its rivals, but it’s certainly not what you would consider uncomfortable. It’s as good on the motorway as it is around town, and if you choose the Outdoor 4×4 route, it’s a capable off-roader as well. If you’re going to be spending a lot of time on the motorway, the Dacia Duster may not be the car for you. There’s a fair amount of road and wind noise, which is further compounded by noise from the engine if you have the base petrol unit. The Duster isn’t much fun in bends and corners, either. The suspension is pretty capable when it comes to soaking up the bumps, but there’s an awful lot of unwanted body-roll to contend with. If driving dynamics and a comfortable ride are important factors, it would be best to look elsewhere.
Value for money
If there’s one area where you would expect the Dacia Duster to excel, it’s in value for money. With the base model starting at around £9,500, it costs less than the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo. Stump up an extra £2,000, you can upgrade to four-wheel drive, making the Duster the cheapest off-roader you can buy right now. You’ll also get a pleasant surprise when it comes to fuel economy, with the 1.5 litre two-wheel drive diesel delivering an impressive 56.5mpg. If you go for four-wheel drive, the figure drops only slightly to 53.3mpg, which is outstanding for an off-roader. The Yeti is no slouch when it comes to economy, either, with the base 1.2-litre petrol engine giving an impressive 44mpg. In its most economical form, a Greenline model with the 1.6-litre diesel will see that figure go as high as 61.4mpg. The Yeti costs considerably more the Duster, but all of its variants benefit from outstanding resale values, and in real terms there’s not much separating these two when judging them on value for money.
The cheapest Skoda Yeti costs over £7,000 more than an entry-level Dacia Duster. That would be a lot when comparing a BMW with a Mercedes, but it’s heading towards 70 percent with these two. The Duster is a very cheap way to get yourself a brand-new crossover. However, the Skoda Yeti is a better vehicle in every way and, although it’s a lot more expensive, it’s just as good value for money.