FIRST DRIVE: SKODA YETI UPGRADE
IT’S been said VW employs a bloke to loom over the Skoda designer’s easel as he draws the latest model. If the form on the pad before him begins to look too enticing, the VW operative jerks it away. Another version of this yarn has him blunting all the pencils before use.
Corporate philosophy dictates that Skoda must be visually distinctive and it’s a testament to the brand’s unique look that the Yeti stands out boldly among rows of identikit rival compact SUVs. Not that this has endeared it to any but a comparative handful of buyers.
There’s a reason why all compact SUVs look more or less alike. In this most conformist market segment, unique looks — much less “quirky” as they’re inevitably described — are as desirable as a carbuncle on your nose.
VW has always let Skoda do its own thing on the inside, however, which is smart given how clever its Czech mates are with use of space.
Even the little Skoda Fabia has the aspect of a Tardis, with eye-widening volume within what appears to be a normal city car.
The tall Yeti takes this still further with its ingenious Varioflex seating that allows the moving, flattening or complete removal of the back seats. Not for nothing is the Yeti called the “Karma Seater”.
Still, singular exterior looks might help in a crowded car park. In the showroom stakes? Not so much.
Released this week, the renewed Yeti loses its bugeyed lights for a more conventional, chiselled look. The new visuals are telling, reflecting its new place in the scheme of the relentlessly growing SUV market.
There are now essentially two types of Yeti: the elevated hatches for urban warfare and the all-wheel-drive diesel for those venturing off the bitumen.
Starting from $23,490 for the token manual in the range (auto adds $2300), the Yeti 77 TSI Active is no bare-bones stripper. it comes with seven airbags, standard rear-view camera, 17-inch alloys and keyless entry. It’s more snail than hare — the tiny 1.2-litre turbo engine is more commonly found in city cars like the Fabia and VW’s Polo.
This makes the next one up — the 90 TSI Active — pretty much the default choice. It shares its 1.4 turbo engine with the reigning Car of the Year Golf and comes standard with seven-speed DSG auto and a few more visual refinements than the entry car.
On a freeway haul between Coolangatta and Byron Bay this week, the Yeti is every bit as capable as its Golf cousin. As is often so with Skoda, it is not so refined as the VW. It also rides on an older platform than the latest in the respective ranges.
You might think about the Tech Pack, which for $2900 adds satnav and literally brilliant bi-xenon headlights.
That extra spend brings you in sight of the top model. At $33,590 the off-road capable 103 TDI 4x4 Outdoor (never recite Skoda variant names with a mouthful of mashed potato) packs a turbo diesel and newest Haldex all-wheel-drive.
If it’s hard to see that version having much appeal to those who do not dwell in the country, the Yeti’s new look might compel more to look twice at one of the best poorselling models on the market.