first drive

Nissan Qashqai vs Skoda Yeti vs Vauxhall Mokka

Our winner needs to be practical, comfortable and good to drive. It also needs to be cheap to own – particularly for private buyers...

Nissan Qashqai vs Skoda Yeti vs Vauxhall Mokka
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Rory White
4 Oct 2014 14:00

No wonder small SUVs sell so well. They offer the tough looks, lofty driving position and practicality of a 4x4, while costing no more to buy and run than a traditional family hatch.

The new Nissan Qashqai (our 2014 Car of the Year) is a brilliant choice if you’re in the market for a diesel, but does the entry-level 1.2 petrol make sense for those with fewer miles to cover?

To find out, we’re testing it against the recently face-lifted Skoda Yeti 1.2 TSI. It’s cheaper to buy than the Qashqai (especially after discounts) and has even more space inside. It’s still one of the best-driving SUVs on sale, too.

Third contender the Vauxhall Mokka has failed to impress so far, but this new front-wheel-drive 1.4 turbo version has a lot more power and kit than both its rivals, despite its lower price.

What are they like to drive?

The previous Qashqai was all about comfort, sacrificing fun in the name of a supple ride. This new version is much less one-dimensional. It stays fairly upright through corners, with decent levels of grip and steering that weights up reassuringly as you turn the wheel.

Thankfully, comfort hasn’t suffered too much. True, things are a bit spiky at low speeds (especially with the optional 19-inch alloys on our test car), but the ride smoothes out nicely on motorways and A-roads.

The Mokka is much less relaxing. In town, it crashes over potholes, on the motorway it never really settles and twisty B-roads are no fun, because the inconsistently weighted steering inspires little confidence.

The Yeti gives the most driving pleasure by a stretch. Despite its van-like profile, it keeps its body neatly in check through corners and has the most accurate and natural-feeling steering. The trade-off is a choppy ride at all speeds, although it’s more comfy than the Vauxhall, and not that far behind the Nissan.

The Vauxhall might have the least impressive ride and handling balance, but it’s easily the fastest of the three, thanks to its larger, more powerful engine. You need to work it fairly hard to get the best from it, however, and it’s also decidedly boomy. Add to this lots of road and wind noise, and it's no surprise the Mokka is the most raucous cruiser here.

The Yeti is the least powerful of the three, but its turbocharger kicks in early to help it pull strongly enough from 1500rpm. A slight buzz through the pedals and some suspension noise are the only refinement issues.

The Qashqai has the least amount of low-rev torque, so unsurprisingly it’s the least flexible car here. You need to pile on lots of revs to get anywhere in a hurry – especially with a family and baggage on board. In reality, this isn’t a big issue, because the Nissan’s superb sound insulation means the engine never intrudes, while wind and road noise are well suppressed, too. 

What are they like inside?

All three cars offer plenty of seat and steering wheel adjustment, making it easy for drivers of all shapes and sizes to get settled. However, there’s no adjustable lumbar support on any of these cars – even as an option. 

Both the Qashqai and Mokka have thick rear pillars that hamper the rear view, while the Nissan’s thick windscreen supports can get in the way at junctions. All-round visibility is much better in the Yeti; its thin pillars and tall windows give you a great view out in all directions.

The Qashqai leads the way on perceived quality, with soft-touch materials throughout the cabin. The Skoda’s interior is almost as classy, with well-damped switchgear and a dash that’s solid, yet soft to the touch.

At first glance, the Mokka’s cabin appears smart enough, but the plastics are less appealing than in the other two cars, and the switchgear feels cheaper.

The Mokka also disappoints on useability. There are too many buttons crammed on to the dash, so it’s often hard to find the one you want while driving. The Qashqai and Yeti have much more user-friendly layouts. 

There’s plenty of headroom in the back of all three cars, but lanky adults will appreciate the Qashqai’s extra rear legroom. The Yeti and Mokka offer similar rear space, although the Skoda’s wider cabin means you’ll have a better chance of fitting three child seats side by side.

The Yeti’s real party piece, though, is its flexible seating; all three rear chairs slide back and forth, or recline independently of one another. You can even remove them completely.

Officially, the Qashqai has the biggest boot, but the Skoda’s load bay is taller and wider, so it’s easier to get things in and out. It’s just a shame neither car comes with a height-adjustable boot floor as standard, although you can add one to the Skoda for £195.

The Mokka has the smallest boot, but it is at least usefully square in shape. As with the other two cars, there’s no adjustable floor.

What will they cost me?

Our True MPG tests show that the Qashqai will cost you the least to fuel during the first three years, and its strong residuals mean you’ll get back a healthy amount when you decide to sell. The Nissan also emits the least CO2, so it qualifies for the lowest road tax and company car bills. 

Thanks to its lower list price and bigger discounts, the Yeti is a good deal cheaper to buy. It’s also more economic to insure and service than its Japanese rival, and is predicted to hang on to its value just as well, so over the first three years it’ll cost you the least to own.

The Mokka’s low price looks appealing, but a combination of the heaviest depreciation and the highest service bills results in a three-year cost that’s considerably higher than the other two cars'. 

It’s hard to argue with the Mokka’s standard kit, though. It gets 18-inch alloys, whereas the Yeti has smaller 16-inch rims. The Qashqai comes with no alloys at all, and if you want them, it’ll cost you an eye-watering £920.

The Nissan and Skoda do get air-conditioning and front and rear electric windows, while the Qashqai adds cruise control. However, the Mokka has all the above, plus automatic lights and wipers, climate control, front and rear parking sensors, and even a three-pin socket in the rear. 

Our verdict

We’ve already heaped praise on diesel-engined versions of the new Nissan Qashqai for their impressive refinement, comfortable ride and spacious, classy interiors – and the good news is that all of the above applies to this petrol model, too. 

True, the small engine needs to be worked hard to make decent progress – especially with lots of people and bags on board – and it’s a shame that Nissan charges so much extra for alloy wheels (they really should be standard). However, these are small issues for what’s otherwise a brilliant small SUV.

With its flexible seating and van-like load bay, the Skoda Yeti continues to lead the way on outright practically. It’s also the most fun of the three to drive, and it’s remarkably cheap if you’re prepared to haggle with your dealer. 

The Skoda isn’t without its failings, though. It’s short on standard equipment, has an unremarkable infotainment system and its comparatively poor Euro NCAP child and pedestrian safety scores are also disappointing. That’s why it comes second.

The Mokka finishes last, then, but with this engine and in this trim it’s not without merit. For a low price you get a powerful engine and loads of standard equipment, and good safety. 

Unfortunately, this isn’t enough to compensate for the poor ride, unruly handling and inferior interior quality. The Vauxhall is also the least practical car here and will cost the most to own over three years.

Nissan Qashqai 1.2 DIG-T Visia

For Great refinement; composed handling; comfy ride; high-quality cabin; good practicality

Against Most expensive to buy; alloy wheels cost extra; poor rear visibility

Verdict A fantastic family car that’s as comfortable and quiet as many executive saloons

Skoda Yeti 1.2 TSI 105 S

For Great fun to drive; most practical; smart cabin; good reliability

Against Not much equipment; poor safety scores

Verdict Still the benchmark for handling and practicality

Vauxhall Mokka 1.4T 140 Tech Line 2WD

For Low list price; loads of standard kit; strong engine; high safety scores 

Against Poor ride; noisy; so-so interior; depreciation

Verdict The best Mokka, but outclassed in this company