That rare thing: a desirable crossover.
The product planner’s art has never been a particularly straightforward one, even less so when one is dealing with a brand portfolio the size and scope of the VW Group. Nevertheless, during the previous decade at least, the individual business units contained within the sprawling VW Group were allowed to exhibit a certain autonomy – especially it would seem, their Czech Republic outpost.
During the previous decade the once bargain-basement Škoda brand had successfully carved itself a niche as a smart, slightly left of field choice for those who valued sound engineering, unpretentious style and solid quality over the lure of an upmarket badge.
Under the design leadership of Thomas Ingenlath, Škoda produced a series of well crafted, soft-formed shapes which varied from the pragmatism of the Octavia C-segment hatchback to the innovative (some might say daring) in the Roomster MPV. In 2005, the same year Ingenlath departed for Wolfsburg, Škoda debuted a compact CUV concept at Geneva, called Yeti.
Combining concurrent Škoda design traits with the visual (and mechanical) toughness required of a part-time off-roader, the Yeti concept was warmly received, but it would be another four years before it was realised in production form. First revealed at the 2009 Geneva show, the production Yeti, ascribed stylistically to Škoda designer, Peter Kukorelli, remained faithful to the broad brush of the concept’s style, although, if anything the latter’s proportions were better resolved, even if some details were toned down somewhat.
Based on a broadly similar platform to that of the in-house VW Tiguan/Audi A3, Škoda’s crossover came with either front, or all-wheel drive, with the usual array of VW group powertrains in both petrol and diesel form. Suspension was similar to that of the Mark V Golf, utilising a variant of that car’s multi-link independent rear suspension and where fitted, its Haldex 4WD system.
The Yeti’s interior borrowed from its Roomster sibling its variable layout seating – the front passenger seat being capable of being folded down, while the rear passenger Varioflex seats could be slid forward, reclined, or with the centre section removed, slid inwards. The cabin itself was hardly penitential, and while the touch-feel of the interior plastics was probably not to Audi standards, they neither needed to be, nor was Mladá Bolaslav charging Ingolstadt prices.
It all added up to a highly attractive, and for a soporifically normative class, quite distinctive looking vehicle for those who needed (or simply wanted) a compact all-road option. Britain’s Top Gear magazine nominated the Yeti as its ‘family car of the year’ in 2009 and throughout its life, it was hailed as a recommended purchase by large swathes of the motor press.
Despite this, there was some resistance to its appearance, some not believing its appearance emitted the requisite assertive tropes. Furthermore, others baulked at its name. However, demand for the Yeti allegedly remained well in advance of the production capacity at Škoda’s Kvasiny plant – a factor which perhaps put the biggest brake on the model’s sales success.
2013 saw the Yeti receive its first and only facelift. Visual changes were confined to details, but the most noticeable being the removal of the separate circular spot lamps from the nose – a clear reference to the 2005 concept and one of the car’s more distinctive visual characteristics. However, normalising Yeti tied in it seems with moves at Mladá Boleslav to distance themselves from their value-brand past.
Production ceased in the Czech Republic in 2017, the now dating Yeti’s prospects having already been eroded by the larger and more conservative looking Kodiaq model launched the previous year. It’s direct replacement, a model very much in the same stultifyingly normative idiom to that of its larger sibling was introduced the same year and is as difficult to tell apart as any replicant bar that emerges from the VW group soap factory nowadays.
The Yeti is unlikely to be recalled for its driving dynamics (although they were reputedly better than many), nor will it be viewed as any changer of games, but it is likely to be best remembered as the nicest and most distinctive of last decade’s European compact crossover offerings. It might be cliché to say so, but that doesn’t make it any the less true: we won’t see its like again – certainly not from the banks of the Jizera.