Few people laugh at Skodas these days. The car brand that was as often the butt of cruel jokes in the 1980s – as with Lada and other Eastern Bloc makers renowned for disintegrating vehicles - has already been successful in Europe for many years since being taken under Volkswagen’s welcoming wing.
You might have a chuckle at the name of its compact SUV, though, even if the Yeti has a serious role of helping to further restore Skoda’s reputation in Australia since the brand returned in 2007.
Despite the name, the Skoda Yeti doesn’t leave a big footprint on the road. At just 4233mm long, it’s about the same size as the car from which it borrows its platform – the VW Golf.
We tested the most affordable Skoda Yeti – the 77TSI manual that asks $26,290 before on-road costs are added. That makes it a direct competitor for 2WD versions of compact SUVs such as the Kia Sportage, Hyundai ix35, Nissan Dualis and Mitsubishi ASX - all of which start at a similar price.
Inclusive features include 16-inch alloys (with full-size steel spare), cruise control, four-way adjustable leather steering wheel with controls, Bluetooth connectivity, trip computer, roof rails, seven airbags and stability control.
Metallic paint adds an extra $490, however, while other options that are likely to appeal to many buyers are a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox ($2300) and rear parking sensors ($640).
There are a few other features for those looking to indulge, though if you want all-wheel drive rather than front-wheel drive, you’ll need to make a notable financial jump to $35,690 for the diesel 103TDI model.
The 77TSI badge denotes a 77kW 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol four-cylinder under this Yeti’s bonnet.
The engine isn’t as great as it is in the lighter Volkswagen Polo city car because acceleration is never remarkable. Volkswagen doesn’t claim otherwise, either, listing the Yeti 77TSI’s 0-100km/h time as 11.8 seconds (12.0sec with the DSG auto).
Its smooth, easy-revving nature appeals hugely, however, with a light-to-hand six-speed manual – and those small dimensions - combining to make driving around town an easy task.
Freeway cruising isn’t exactly effortless, but the Yeti 77TSI just about has sufficient torque to hold the legal speed limit in top gear up inclines. A couple of downshifts will be needed for more urgent overtaking manoeuvres.
It’s only here where we found the Yeti 77TSI’s trip computer provided a read-out in keeping with the official combined fuel consumption of 6.6 litres (of premium unleaded) per 100km. As we added more city kilometres, the trip average spiralled into the teens.
Good seats and a supple ride help to reel off the kays over long distances, and the suspension continues to provide sufficient comfort over poorer surfaces, though its composure gets temporarily ruffled by bigger bumps.
For buyers looking for a compact SUV that’s more than just A-to-B transport, the Yeti is as fun to drive, perhaps not surprisingly, as its cousin, the Volkswagen Tiguan.
The steering shares similar traits – lack of feel but consistently weighted – and turning it through tighter corners finds a vehicle that is nicely balanced and not prone to excessive body roll.
That taller roofline contributes to a feeling of spaciousness in the Yeti’s cabin.
So headroom is taken for granted, but there’s also good knee room behind the front seats.
The Yeti also shares one of the Tiguan’s key weaknesses – a relatively small boot that’s a maximum of 415 litres – but unlike the VW the Skoda compensates with a cleverly flexible rear seating set-up.
Called VarioFlex, the system comprises three rear seats that can be individually folded down, adjusted for inclination or removed from the car completely.
The narrower middle seat acts as an armrest – with cupholders – when folded down.The outer rear seats also slide forwards/backwards.
The seatbacks don’t fold entirely flat, but a mountain bike is still comfortably accommodated even without the need to remove the front wheel. Remove all the rear seats and the Yeti becomes van-like in terms of practicality.
There’s also ample storage for smaller items and, although Skoda is essentially the budget brand of the VW Group, interior quality is of the standard consistent with what has come to be expected from the German automotive manufacturing giant.
A couple of gripes includes a lack of soft-touch plastics on the doors and, most unexpected for a VW Group product, grab-handles that aren’t damped.
These can be easily ignored in the context of the 77TSI manual’s $26,290 price tag, and the dash presentation is both logical and smart in presentation – with some obvious VW parts offset by unique Skoda fonts and touches.
Skoda continues to have a bolder approach than VW to the styling of its vehicles, though Australian buyers will determine whether that’s a good or bad thing.
The blocky Yeti isn’t quite as aesthetically quirky as the Roomster MPV – though sharing a similar upwards-curving window line on the front doors – but it’s still left of centre compared to the usual fare in the compact–SUV category.
With styling such a major influence on car purchases, it remains to be seen how the Yeti progresses in bolstering Skoda’s local sales. But for buyers looking for a practical, compact vehicle for use in the ‘burbs rather than the bush, the Skoda Yeti 77TSI is worth taking seriously.