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Car reviews - Skoda - Yeti - 77TSI 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Practicality, space, styling, versatility, lusty 1.2 turbo, slick gear change, sharp dynamics, refined drivetrain
Room for improvement
Hard ride, constant revving needed in heavy traffic, turbulence from just one open front window, disappointing fuel economy, some road noise intrusion

Skoda logo6 Jan 2012

A MISS is as good as a mile, they say, yet the oh-so-likeable Skoda Yeti comes tantalisingly close to being one of our favourite new cars of 2011 anyway, so please consider whether our concerns would be yours as well.

Released late last year as the Czech brand’s first crossover, the five-seater wagon ought to better establish Skoda in SUV-crazy Oz than the Fabia, Octavia, Superb and (soon to be re-released) Roomster have variously managed since the marque’s 2007 return.

And as even a brief dalliance with one in a dealership showroom will reveal, there’s plenty to draw in buyers: quirky yet handsome styling that goes beyond the box, encapsulating a spacious and versatile cabin, up-to-the-minute Volkswagen Group technology for engaging and efficient motoring, and competitive pricing that positions the base Yeti 77TSI tested here right down to the price-leading Asian SUVs such as the Nissan Dualis, Kia Sportage, Mitsubishi ASX and Hyundai ix35.

Having driven all of the above, we would go the Skoda in a second.

Built on the same modified Golf platform that underpins the mechanically similar VW Tiguan, the Yeti undercuts its recently facelifted (and newly repositioned in entry level front-drive 118TSI guise) German cousin by $2200, even though both enjoy advanced tech such as direct-injection turbo four-pot petrol engines, six-speed gearboxes and multi-link rear suspension systems.

Furthermore, along with seven airbags and a full array of active electronic driver aids for a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating, the 77TSI includes a handsome set of alloys, air-conditioning with rear-seat vents, cruise control, lumbar support on both front seats, electric windows, Bluetooth MP3/CD/radio audio and phone streaming, leather-lining for the steering wheel, gear lever and handbrake, a cooled glovebox, a reach- and height-adjustable front centre armrest, front and rear 12V outlets, and roof racks.

And, indeed, the good news keeps racking when living with the Yeti, as we did for two weeks.

There’s great access to the airy and inviting cabin, thanks to a high ride height and wide opening doors, with a VW-like interior ambience awaiting unsuspecting Yeti virgins.

Yes, you’ll find a lot of black plastic trim (albeit of a higher quality than many other vehicles in this class), but everything the driver touches has that upmarket Germanic feel.

Consider the (weirdly melancholic looking) steering wheel, with its satin-like finish the way the stalks operate with Teutonic precision the classy instrument markings and the attractive night illumination. The Yeti’s fascia is every bit as technical and precise a contemporary Golf’s.

Except for the curiously wide B-pillar, all round vision is exceptional, thanks to commanding seating positions and deep side and rear windows.

Further plus points include firm yet supportive front seats, heaps of space for splaying legs, tons of headroom (front and back), and a driving position that should suit most people.

And the rear seat area simply underlines how functional a family car the Yeti is.

Even the base model’s rear bench is divided in three (dubbed Varioflex in Skoda speak), so the two adults and quite small child sitting there will be able to adjust the backrest rake to suit.

Plus, the middle pew can either be folded down as a makeshift armrest or removed all together, allowing the other seats to be brought inboard a little closer to accommodate larger folk. Brilliant!

Additionally, they can be slid forwards or tumbled to increase cargo space, from 310 to 415 litres, or completely removed easily and quickly as well, to turn the Yeti into a pseudo panel van with 1665 litres of luggage capacity – although the 16-inch space-saver spare wheel and its compartment also needs to be removed for a completely flat floor.

Passengers are also likely to rate the rear air vents, plentiful storage facilities and ample space for feet beneath the front seats.

So far, so good then for the Yeti.

But what’s this under the bonnet … a 77kW/175Nm 1.2-litre turbo engine as per the VW Polo supermini, but in a car as big as capacious as the Yeti? In a class teaming with 2.0-litre plus SUVs, is Skoda having a laugh?

The answer depends on exactly how and where you drive your vehicle.

If you live in the ‘burbs, spend most of your time in slow stop-start traffic and have big hills to contend with on a regular basis, you will soon tire of all the downshifting and heavy pedalling necessary to keep up with the flow. This Yeti is a never-ending rev-fest.

In most other scenarios, however, most people will never guess such a puny capacity resides beneath that big old bonnet, for the 77TSI is as lusty as it is refined. Cleverly geared for quick takeoffs, the turbo kicks in early to really pull the car along at a surprising rate of knots, right up past the 6300rpm red line rev limiter. And shifting ratios is not so bad because the lever is slick and quick.

But shift you must, and regularly, in built up areas. We loaded ours up with four adults, a dog, and a boot full of beach gear on a sweltering hot day with the air-con on constantly the left foot and arm muscle workout left us feeling tired after a couple of hours.

Out on the open road, however, with the tacho hovering around 2200rpm in sixth, the 77TSI cruises serenely. Only inclines and overtaking necessitate a downshift or three but across flat terrain there is sufficient performance for the Yeti to feel sprightly and alive, even when fully laden.

But we could not better 9.0L/100km. The official average of 6.6L/100km may be achievable in VW laboratories, but in the real world, all that right-foot flexing takes a toll.

So here’s the 77TSI bottom line. With light loads, away from heavy traffic scenarios, there is no reason why you’d need a larger or more powerful engine than the 1.2 turbo.

As a family conveyance, however, you would be better off with the 103TDI diesel that kicks off from a smidgen below $36K – but that’s a massive price gap.

Skoda needs to import one of the more powerful (1.4 or 1.8-litre) petrol engine options offered abroad. The 90TSI would fit nicely while the 118TSI version might just blow us away.

Nevertheless, as it stands, the 77TSI is still cracking behind the wheel.

With a much lighter engine up front than the heavy 103TDI we also had on hand, its steering feels sharper and the handling more responsive, for controlled and balanced dynamic. There’s not much body roll despite the height, so it is easy as well as a pleasure to position the Skoda exactly where you want it through faster corners. And not too many SUVs can boast that.

But ride comfort seriously suffers as a result, with the Yeti feeling unnecessarily hard under too many normal situations (such as over train tracks) for our liking. Funnily enough it is the smaller-frequency bumps and irregularities that are most obvious, since there seems to be enough wheel travel to absorb larger potholes and speed humps.

This is the Skoda’s biggest single failing, and the main reason why the 77TSI doesn’t quite scale the heights of greatness.

We can live with all the revving and gear changing the occasional road noise intrusion is something we’d put up with and we feel that the unknown resale value will sort itself out once SUV buyers learn how good an overall package the Yeti is.

The needling, busy ride though … we wonder why Skoda has sacrificed comfort in the name of steering and roadholding.

This is a shame, for the Yeti’s function-over-form utilitarianism and no-nonsense image are big drawcards. We’re sure there are plenty of older-style Volvo owners who would appreciate the Yeti’s many charms. Sadly a supple ride isn’t one of them.

With this – and the extra oomph provided as well – the $2200 premium for the Tiguan 118TSI is worth it.

So that’s the 77TSI state of play – a compact SUV of tremendous appeal and ability, blighted by a hard ride and – to a lesser extent – somewhat breathless performance.

Still, even with the VW acting as its worst enemy, for under $30,000 driveaway, the base Yeti is hard to miss and easy to like.

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