The name Skoda Yeti probably means very little to most Australians in the market for a new compact SUV.
The quirky soft-roader from the Czech Republic has been thrown in the deep end of one of the country’s most competitive markets against infinitely better-established vehicles like the Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forester and Nissan X-Trail.
But Skoda Australia has high hopes for its latest active family machine, which is based on the same underpinnings as the rugged Skoda Octavia Scout 4x4.
Head of Skoda Australia, Matthew Wiesner, says the Yeti is Skoda’s “most important model from a value perspective” and “definitely” the brand’s volume product for 2012.
After spending close to 10 hours in the Yeti taking on the bitumen and riverbeds between Alice Springs and the delightfully named Boggy Hole, it’s clear Skoda’s versatile little crossover has what it takes to put an Abominable Snowman-sized footprint on the compact SUV segment.
The Skoda Yeti will initially be available in two very distinct trim levels: the urban-focused, front-wheel drive, petrol-powered 77TSI; and the off-road-ready, all-wheel drive, diesel-powered 103TDI.
At $26,290 for the six-speed manual and $28,590 for the seven speed dual-clutch automatic DSG (before on-roads), the Yeti 77TSI is priced to take on the likes of the Nissan Dualis, Kia Sportage and Hyundai ix35.
The 77TSI is well equipped for a base model. It features 16-inch alloy wheels, black roof rails, interior leather package (steering wheel, gearstick, handbrake), height-adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support, manual air conditioner, cruise control, multi-function trip computer, and an eight-speaker audio system with single CD player, auxiliary input, and Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming.
The standard safety package includes seven airbags and electronic stability control with ABS, EBD, traction control and Hill Hold Control.
Demanding a $9400 premium, the 103TDI is available with the choice of a six-speed manual ($35,690) or six-speed DSG ($38,990), and is poised to go head-to-head with its sister car, the Volkswagen Tiguan, as well as the Subaru Forester and Hyundai ix35.
Outside, the top-spec model adds 17-inch alloys, front fog lights, silver roof rails and underbody protection (and trust me, it works).
Cabin comfort and convenience features include dual-zone climate control, auto lights and wipers, height-adjustable passenger seat with lumbar support, additional storage spaces and adjustable boot hooks, and an upgraded audio system with six-stack CD player, SD memory card slot and 6.5-inch colour touchscreen display. Unfortunately, a USB port is only available as an optional extra.
Skoda Australia also plans to launch the Yeti 118TSI all-wheel drive petrol model in the first half of 2012 to fill the gap with a low-$30,000 price tag.
Both current models can be optioned with the Park Assist 2 system, which, for $1390, helps guide you into and out of parallel and reverse 90-degree parking spaces. Other major options include bi-xenon headlights ($1490) and panoramic glass roof ($1990), while the 103TDI can be exclusively optioned with leather upholstery ($2830) and voice-controlled satellite navigation with 30GB hard drive ($2890).
Skoda didn’t have any of the Yeti 77TSI models at the launch, so we can’t give you drive impressions of this model just yet. Given that it’s powered by a proven drivetrain from the Volkswagen Polo and Volkswagen Golf however, we’re confident it will be smooth and satisfying for everyday use.
The 1.2-litre turbocharged 77TSI produces 77kW of power (5000rpm) and 175Nm of torque (1550-4100rpm). It drinks premium unleaded at a rate of 6.6 litres/100km (7.0 litres/100km for the DSG) and accelerates from 0-100km/h in 11.8 seconds (12.0 seconds DSG). It may not be a speed demon, but the Yeti 77TSI’s fuel economy makes it one of the most efficient vehicles in its class.
Then there’s the 103TDI, which despite weighing an extra 185-190kg, is around 10 per cent more fuel efficient than the petrol. The 103kW/320Nm 2.0-litre diesel powerplant (again familiar from a number of other Volkswagen Group vehicles) sips just 6.2 litres/100km on the combined cycle, and 6.7 litres/100km with the six-speed DSG. Acceleration is sharper at 9.9 and 10.2 seconds respectively, while the 103TDI also has an additional 800kg braked towing capacity (2000kg vs 1200kg).
The first leg of our drive in the Yeti comprised 120km on a highway, throughout which the 103TDI 4x4 was confident, composed and quiet. It predominantly drives like a small car. The only time the dynamics drop off is through corners, where its height leads to a bit of body roll. Steering and pedal inputs are well weighted and responsive, and it absorbs the bumps without drama.
The view from the driver’s seat is commanding – and can be made more so by pumping the standard height-adjustable seat. Despite the height, it’s not an effort to get into the Yeti – you still walk in, rather than climb up into it. With glass all around the visibility is excellent, especially to the rear thanks to the Yeti’s squared-off design.
Perhaps the highlight of the Yeti is its ‘VarioFlex’ rear seating system. Each seat can be folded down individually, flipped forwards to rest against the front seatbacks, or removed completely to turn the Yeti into a quasi-van. Luggage capacity ranges from 310 litres to 1665 litres depending on the position of the rear seats.
If you’re just riding with two in the back, you can fold down the middle seat to create an armrest with drink holders, or you can remove it altogether and slide the two outer rear seats inwards to give both passengers more shoulder room. Finally, the two outer seats also slide forwards to increase the surface area of the boot floor. No car in its class comes close to this kind of interior versatility.
Back-seat passengers sit higher than those in the front, giving them the ideal vantage point to take in the view. Even so, there’s acres of headroom and enough legroom to ensure you’ll fit no matter how tall you are.
The interior practicality extends to the myriad stowage bins, cup holders and hooks. One of the few disappointments is the centre cup holders, which are slightly too skinny to fit standard 600ml water bottles, and might be a stretch for regular coffee cups (so best go for the macchiato instead).
The dashboard is finished with soft-touch plastic, although there are still quite a few hard surfaces. I have always found Skoda interiors a little plasticy and dated, and while the Yeti isn’t quite as refined as the Tiguan, it has a classier feel than other models in Skoda’s line-up.
Before you jump in the cabin, however, you’re probably going to look at the outside. Certainly, the Yeti is one of the most distinctive designs in the compact SUV class, if not the entire market. Crawling through the red desert in central Australia, the boxy dimensions, rugged black plastic bumpers and skirting panels and the gaping wheel arches look right at home. Those city-based shoppers after a more conservative design might find the Yeti a little too in your face.
Despite this, Skoda Australia says it believes the Yeti will appeal to singles, young families and women, and has launched the range with a diverse colour pallet to ensure it can be personalised to suit your taste. There are 13 paint colours (including three blues, two reds, a bright green and orange) and four roof colours (black, white, silver and beige), taking the total number of exterior paint combinations to 61. Metallic/pearl effect paints cost $490 and contrast roofs add $390.
The urban side of it is one thing, but Boggy Hole is about as far from urban as it gets in Australia. Other than the $290 off-road technology package – which adds Hill Start Assist, Hill Descent Assist, and sharpens the electronics of the ABS, traction control and electronic differential lock – our cars were completely standard. That meant low profile 17-inch wheels and the standard 180mm ground clearance. Short front and rear overhangs make it a handy hill climber when you run out of flat stuff.
The Skoda Yeti was never intended to take on the terrain we threw at it. Rocks, river crossings and deep, soft sand. Plenty of us bottomed out (including yours truly) in sand that was simply too deep for the car’s ground clearance. The support team’s Volkswagen Amaroks (and when they too failed, the support team’s support team’s Toyota LandCruiser) got a decent workout. Incredibly however, some of the little Yetis made it through unflustered from start to finish, proving driving skill was the key limiting factor. At the end of the first day, the casualty list included just one flat tyre, a couple of numberplates lost in the creek, and some twisted plastic underbody protectors.
The Skoda Yeti is certainly not the kind of car you would take on a serious four-wheel drive adventure holiday, but it’s impressive to know there’s plenty more to the 103TDI than the soft-roader tag suggests. The Yeti is perfectly suited to the person who wants a unique, versatile, efficient and dynamically strong compact SUV at a competitive price.
Skoda Yeti manufacturer’s list prices (excluding government and dealer charges):
- 77TSI FWD six-speed manual – $26,290
- 77TSI FWD seven-speed DSG – $28,590
- 103TDI AWD six-speed manual – $35,690
- 103TDI AWD six-speed DSG – $38,990
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