The Skoda Yeti has always been one of the best-kept secrets in its class — a critical darling yielding limited sales.
Of course, much of this is down to the fact that a lot of punters out there don’t know enough about Czech brand Skoda to have it on their purchasing short list.
It’s a little like that indie rock band that flies under the radar, but is followed with vim by a dedicated group of trendies that were into it before it was cool. And the Yeti is, in its own way, cool.
Consider this: In 2014, the small SUV segment was one of the fastest-growing in Australia, and yet Yeti sales dropped more than 20 per cent. In the first two months of 2015, sales remained steady, but its market share has fallen to just 1.0 per cent.
Skoda’s crossover is a much better car than that. The car you see here may date back to 2009 — though it was upgraded in 2014 — but it still ticks so many boxes.
Here we test the base variant, called the 77TSI Active, paired with the optional seven-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic gearbox that sends power to the front wheels. This variant has no 4x4 option.
The reason we’re testing it is simple: it may not have been tweaked since early 2014 (see full information on the car’s re-launch from that time here), but with a new troupe of rivals, it seemed time to re-assess our thoughts.
It costs $25,990 plus on-road costs, though you’ll do better than that. Skoda is currently offering the car for $26,290 driveaway. This makes the base Skoda $1000 more expensive than the base Honda HR-V VTi, and $1600 more than the mid-range Mazda CX-3 Maxx. See our comparison test between that Japanese pair here.
And before you wonder too much, at 4223mm long, the Yeti is about on par with the Honda and Mazda dimensionally.
You might also consider something like the equally venerable (to the Yeti) Mitsubishi ASX LS, which retails for $24,990 but is generally gettable for less. In addition, the better-equipped and more powerful 90TSI Yeti Ambition costs $28,290. It’s well worth a look if you can stretch.
The real selling point of the Yeti beyond its oddball outsider origins is its interior flexibility. And even though it loses the space race to the HR-V and its brilliant ‘Magic Seats’, the Yeti still has some tricks worth, erm, Czech-ing out.
The best party trick is the way you can turn the Skoda from a family crossover into a pseudo van. Inside 60 seconds, you can unclip and completely remove all three rear seats, revealing a tapered loading floor.
With these seats in place and deployed (perhaps with two ISOFIX baby seats), you only get 321 litres of storage above the hidden-away space-saver spare wheel (smaller than many), expanding to almost 1500L with the seats folded 40:20:40, and to 1665L when removed altogether.
You miss the upper-spec versions’ adjustable tie-down hooks though, as well as the storage box under the front passenger seat. The sweeteners include one litre door pockets up front, cargo nets in the back and a nifty large open storage area atop the instrument fascia.
Passenger space is also decent in the back, with good legroom and headroom, and those large and square side windows that give you able visibility outwards — important for bored kids. You also get a nice storage bin, cupholders on the back of the flip-down middle seat, and air vents.
Up front, it’s very much function over form. The layout is typical VW Group: easy to follow, lacking in flair. Given the Yeti is now pushing six years old, the design is looking a little dated now, and some of the plastics feel a little low-rent, though are well screwed together.
Standard features include a three-spoke steering wheel with buttons, trip computer with digital speedo, rear parking sensors, cruise control and a five-inch touchscreen with Bluetooth connectivity, USB input and four-speaker audio.
This unit feels a little over the hill next to some rivals, though it all works effectively enough. It comes standard with a reverse-view camera, which is good, though so do many rivals.
Behind the wheel, the Yeti remains right among the very best. Not only is it sporty, it’s also supple in its ride and a few decibels quieter on highways than most rivals — based on our internal testing, we add.
The electro-mechanical steering has decent weight, and abets the sharp turn-in and good body control. The Yeti feels every bit as nimble as a mid-range conventional hatchback.
Its good suspension travel and all-round independent suspension soak up urban and extra-urban bumps rather beautifully, and its 220/50 tyres (shod onto 17-inch wheels) let much less noise into the cabin than a number of its newer rivals.
The fact that the Yeti remains more nimble, yet also more compliant and quieter than almost anything else in the class after all this time is to Skoda’s credit. It’s up there with the Volkswagen Tiguan — similarly aged in its class — and frankly better to live with.
Under the bonnet is a diminutive 1.2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Once, people laughed at this idea, but in the age of downsizing, you ought to shelve that thought. Outputs of 77kW and 175Nm are meagre, but the presence of peak torque between 1550-4100rpm fills the gaps.
Despite the 1410kg kerb weight, the engine seldom feels stressed around town, and you can amble along at 100km/h with the engine ticking over at around 2000rpm. Load it up with five people and gear and it’s a little less refined, but it still takes care of business.
The seven-speed DSG on our test car is, like always, slick when flicking through gears on the move, but has some minor urban hesitancy and, combined with the small turbo’s inherent lag, renders the Yeti’s low-speed delivery less linear than it might otherwise be.
Skoda claims fuel use on the combined cycle of 6.7 litres per 100km, though we hovered about 7.5L/100km. This is still exceedingly good. Towing capacity is a 1200kg braked trailer.
From an ownership perspective, Skoda Australia offers a three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty and capped-price servicing for up to years, with intervals of 12 months/15,000km and pricing per visit that varies from $357, to $423, to $657 for the more major 60,000km service, based on current prices.
All this points to a car that remains an eminently sensible choice wearing a little-known face. Don’t be scared of the small engine or badge, the Skoda Yeti 77TSI Active remains the right sort of outsider choice.
Click the Photos tab for more images by Mike Costello