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Skoda Yeti AWD 2011 review

EXPERT RATING
8
Dreams of touring the Outback with your family may be just that - dreams. But at least there is a growing batch of affordable SUVs that could make the wish come true.
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  • Space efficiency
  • Economy
  • Fun factor
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  • Could be cheaper

Dreams of touring the Outback with your family may be just that - dreams. But at least there is a growing batch of affordable SUVs that could make the wish come true.

Skoda this week untethered its new Yeti SUV from the city and let it loose on Australia's harsh Red Centre, tracking from Alice Springs down the Finke River to the well-named Boggy Hole campsite. It's not a route that welcomes many 4WDs, let alone a city-bred SUVs. But it shows how serious and confident Skoda is about the Yeti. The fact it did it - perhaps not easily but it came out unscathed - augers well for its future both on and off the road.

Skoda Australia boss Matthew Wiesner says the Yeti - officially launched this week - will overtake the Octavia models to become the brand's volume seller here.

Off-road excursions aside, the wagon has significantly more potential as a very versatile, well built and comprehensively kitted out family wagon. Features such as the Varioflex seating - which at the flick of a few levers reconfigures the roomy cabin from a five-seater to a van and everything in between - holds appeal with Mums and surfers, cyclists and advanced shoppers.

VALUE

Previously there has been a reasonable price discount between Skodas and models from its parent company, Volkswagen. Now, however, the Yeti and Tiguan diesel autos are separated by a mere $500. At least that's the sticker price difference.

There are two models at launch - a $26,290 two-wheel drive petrol version that will find happy homes in the suburbs and the $35,690 all-wheel drive that takes on the Korean SUVs, the Subaru Forester and a couple of others. Against the Tiguan, the Yeti has more features but buyers may prefer to pay the small premium for the VW name and the Tiguan's less arresting styling.

But there are no doubts about the 2WD model that - for its price - has a hell of a lot of appeal and is likely to even take big sales from conventional hatchbacks and sedans. A 1.8-litre turbo-petrol joins the Yeti range early in 2012.

DESIGN

The tough wagon - built on the bigger Octavia's platform and sharing the wheelbase - is also a close cousin of the Volkswagen Tiguan. It uses many Volkswagen components and competes on the market with the Tiguan. Face to face, the Yeti is 200mm shorter than the Tiguan, sits on a 26mm shorter wheelbase but has a bigger load capacity and is up to 250kg lighter.

The guy who penned the awkward Roomster - off the market now but back early next year - obviously had some input into styling the Yeti but was clearly told to tone it down. The Yeti is distinctive - a good thing given the cookie-cutter parade of many SUVs today - but functional.

The seating is excellent and the ability to rearrange the cabin so quickly and easily makes it very flexible for different motoring tasks. The dashboard is heavily influenced by Volkswagen - notably Golf and Polo - which is a good thing. Options include a different colour paint for the roof (add $390).

TECHNOLOGY

Most components are borrowed from Volkswagen, including the 77kW 1.2-litre turbo-petrol engine in the 2WD. The 103kW/320Nm 2-litre turbo-diesel is common to most Audi and VW models - it's identical to the Tiguan - and has a strong reputation for durability. The DSG auto is a $2300 option, with the 2WD getting a seven-speed unit and the 4WD gets the six-speed version.

The Haldex drivetrain system on the AWD is a fourth generation unit and is a top-notch device that quickly moves torque to the required wheel. The system goes under the name of 4Motion by Volkswagen. The Yeti is a simple car with no radical engineering and so should be easy and hopefully inexpensive to service and repair.

SAFETY

Skoda announces a five-star crash rating. The Yeti comes standard with loads of safety it as standard, including seven airbags, electronic stability control, brake assist and hill start assist. The AWD gets a $290 optional off-road package with specially tuned ABS brakes and ESC for dirt roads, plus hill descent and a refined hill holder system.

DRIVING

Skoda launched the Yeti rage AWD version with a brisk bitumen run followed by a difficult 30km drive along the Northern Territory's Finke River which, fortunately or not, was mostly dry. This is a mix of riverstones and very soft white sand and not the place for an AWD with no low-range gearing, low-profile road tyres and a measly 180mm of ground clearance.

A few became bogged due to a loss of momentum but most kindled respect for the compact wagon for its strength during the pounding over the rocks and the ability of the 2-litre turbo-diesel engine to keep the torque on stream. The key to clearing long sections of soft sand was momentum and here the DSG models outran those with manual transmissions.

The uneven terrain also proved the rigidity of the body. There's more respect for its on-road manners. The car is impressively quiet on the open road - despite the coarse bitumen - and is devoid of any wind noise that normally is the bugbear of SUVs.

The compliant ride was also a surprise, as was the road handling and the pep of the engine when mated to the six-speed DSG auto (a $2300 option). Though borrowing a lot of gear from the VW Tiguan, the Yeti has a less firm ride and may better suit seekers of comfort rath er than performance handling.

VERDICT

Its an excellent effort from Skoda and one worth a solid look. Skoda's expanding dealer network means better choices and deals. The 2WD version was unavailable this week but will be tested soon.

RATING

4 stars

Pricing guides

$12,495
Based on 10 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$8,980
Highest Price
$14,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
103 TDI (4X4) 2.0L, Diesel, 6 SP MAN $9,200 – 13,860 2011 Skoda Yeti 2011 103 TDI (4X4) Pricing and Specs
77 TSI (4X2) 1.2L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $6,000 – 9,240 2011 Skoda Yeti 2011 77 TSI (4X2) Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8
Neil Dowling
Contributing Journalist

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Pricing Guide

$8,980

Lowest price, based on 8 car listings in the last 6 months

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