The Wild Man of Kvasiny

Not abominable – in fact really rather good. In praise of Yeti.

Image: maxabout.com

Editor’s note: This article first appeared on Driven to Write on 23 August 2019.

The product planner’s art has never been a particularly easy one, even less so when one is dealing with a brand portfolio the size and scope of that of the VW Group. Nevertheless, during the immediate post-millennium at least, the individual business units contained within the sprawling Grouping were allowed to exhibit a certain autonomy – especially it would appear, their Mladá Boleslav outpost in the Czech Republic.

During this period the once bargain-basement Škoda brand successfully carved itself a niche as a smart, slightly left of field choice for those who valued sound engineering, unpretentious styling and solid quality over the lure of an upmarket badge.

Under the leadership of Thomas Ingenlath, Škoda’s design studios produced a series of well crafted, soft-formed shapes which varied from the studied pragmatism of the Octavia C-segment hatchback to the innovative (some might say daring) in the Roomster multispace. In 2005, the same year Ingenlath departed for Wolfsburg, Škoda debuted a compact CUV concept at the Geneva motor show, named Yeti.

Image: Skoda Storyboard

Combining concurrent Škoda design traits with the visual robustness required of a part-time off-roader, the well realised Yeti concept was warmly received, but it would be another four years before it was seen 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 of the more stylish and unusual details would be toned down somewhat.

Based on a broadly similar platform to that of the in-house VW Tiguan, 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 Boleslav charging Ingolstadt prices.

Image: carinpicture

It all added up to a highly attractive, and for a soporifically normative class, distinctive looking vehicle for those who needed (or simply wanted) a compact crossover, with the option of some limited off-road capability. 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 European motor press.

Despite this warm endorsement however, there was some buyer resistance, potential customers not wholly convinced that its appearance elicited the requisite assertive stylistic tropes. Furthermore, others (notably female customers, it is believed) baulked at the name. However, demand for the Yeti allegedly remained well in advance of the available production capacity at Škoda’s Kvasiny plant, a factor which is believed to have put the biggest brake on the model’s sales success.

Image: skoda storyboard

2013 saw the Yeti receive its first and only facelift. Visual changes were mostly confined to the nose, with an entirely new treatment to the front facia and headlamps – the most obvious change being the removal of the separate circular spot lamps – a clear reference to the 2005 concept and one of the car’s more distinctive visual characteristics. At the rear, the tail lamp graphics were altered. Inside, the cabin received some minor titivation and powertrains were also revised. While it was by no means a wholly retrograde set of revisions, the new, more assertive corporate nose lent the car a less friendly, less characterful mien. However, it would appear that normalising the Yeti tied in, not only with a wholesale move to aim further upmarket at Mladá Boleslav but also to broaden the car’s appeal amid SUV buyers.

Production ceased in the Czech Republic in 2017, the Yeti’s commercial prospects having already been eroded by the larger and more normative looking Kodiaq model launched the previous year. The Yeti’s direct replacement, a model very much in the same stultifyingly iterative 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.

Image: autogaleria.hu

The Yeti is unlikely to be recalled for its ability to cut a swathe through the Nordschlife (although its dynamics were reputedly better than most), nor will it be viewed as any changer of games, but the Czech CUV is likely to be best remembered as the nicest and most distinctive of the decade’s European compact crossover offerings. It might sound a clichéd note to say so, but that doesn’t make it any the less true – we won’t be seeing its like again – certainly not from the banks of the Jizera.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

17 thoughts on “The Wild Man of Kvasiny”

  1. That’s the first picture of the Yeti concept I’ve seen. Very Tonka truck with inherent robustness yet playful character. The real Yeti seems a bit more Playdoh but what would I know? The local dealers couldn’t sell them fast enough. The final iterations looking very pleasant in dark green or even chocolate tones. Have to agree with Eoin on the soap factory image of VAG products now: there was a hullabaloo over the launch of the new Scala – yet to see one on the mean streets of suburbia

    1. The concept has more than a little hint of the Matra Rancho to it, including those extra lights sunk into the bumper. Odd sighting earlier this year: A Roomster followed by a Yeti going round the same suburban back-road roundabout, both in silver.

    2. Hi Bernard, I hadn’t thought about it, but you’re right: the Matra-Simca Rancho anticipated both the Yeti (tall, compact crossover) and Roomster (enlarged and tall rear cabin) in different respects. It really was ahead of its time when launched in 1977 . Here it is for anyone too young (or old and forgetful) to remember it:

      Unlike the original Espace, another Matra product, albeit with Renault branding, the Rancho probably was just too early for the market to understand and buy into.

    3. Eóin, that’s the beauty of discovering a different automotive history site – lots and lots of reading matter to discover and digest. I only found DTW late last year. Now to read up on the Rancho, and….. 🙂

  2. The Yeti and Roomster were by a large margin the most distinctive mainstream VW Group designs in recent years. I really regret the loss of the creative independence that allowed Skoda to produce them. The Roomster was meant to be replaced by a derivative of the VW Caddy van, but that never made it to production:

    The Karoq/Ateca/Tiguan siblings are so similar as to be entirely interchangeable: swap the badges around and each would make a perfectly plausible mid-sized crossover for any of the three brands, since their mid-sections are virtually identical. (Strangely, the Tiguan, although having apparently identical doors, has a fixed rear quarter light not featured on the other two.) Audi made more of an effort to distinguish the fourth sibling, the Q3, but it really shouldn’t have bothered, as the result is a fussy, overwrought mess:

    Returning to the Yeti, it was subjected to the indignity of an unfortunate makeover that attempted to apply Skoda’s newer, geometric style front end to the rounded form of the original design. Although not in the Jocelyn Wildenstein league of misbegotten facelifts, it merely served to rob the Yeti of some of its design coherence and distinctive personality:

    1. Thanks Daniel for embedding this pre-after picture. It helped me finally understand what was bothering me so much with the facelift’s “geometric style front end”, as you describe it.
      It is the lower part of the front bumper which has an inverted “π” shape. Before the facelift it was a coherent part of the upper section of the bumper, and with a stretch of imagination it formed a trapezoid shape if you included the bonnet lip with the badge! It was a well thought after whole!
      In contrast, with the facelift, the inverted “π” was still there but solo! It served just to remind you of the previous model but actually, if you cleared your mind of everything, it didn’t justify its existence. It was a lie!

  3. Back in 2014, my partner and I considered buying a Yeti as our everyday car. Unfortunately, it had become wildly popular around these parts with the “beige cardigan brigade”, presumably because of its high H point, which facilitates easier entry and egress. Instead, we bought a Mini hatch. I guess that must mean we’re more insecure about our ages than our masculinity!

  4. The Yeti is clearly one of the VERY few SUVs/CUVs I’d ever consider buying, if it wasn’t for its ties to the Wolfsburg syndicate. Rugged looking, but not aggressive, and with some playfulness added in the round headlights. The facelifted version is out of the question, obviously. Of Škoda’s current offering, I don’t even bother remembering the stupid names any more…

    1. Your beige cardie is in the post…

      Make sure you get some elasticated waist slacks to match.

  5. I am also one who finds this the only acceptable SUV, Jimny aside. It’s such a ‘just so’ design, with great stance, proportions, dimensions and little bullshit. The interior is practical and airy. It’s it my wife’s extreme aversion to things SUV like that put us in an Octavia Estate instead, which I only regret on the basis that it’s a bit bigger than I had wanted, and a little too strait laced. Skoda looks to be becoming more mainstream and less characterful, which is a loss.

  6. The Yeti (with its Roomster sibling) was absolute peak Škoda, and I’m sorry it’s gone. One of those incredibly rare cars, a CUV I likely like and would even consider owning.

    But now it’s all…I can’t even bother posting the current car’s name, it’s all dull nonsense.

    And when you put the four badges together they’re all so faceless and interchangeable. This is almost BMC levels of model redundancy.

  7. I would have bought a Yeti (1st gen.) except that it was a little too small. There are almost no modern cars that I really like: excluding on the basis of the style of other customers would mean that there were virtually none. I note a certain beige/greyness about fellow Kia customers when my Stinger is serviced but my only reaction is embarrassment when my car is delivered to the showroom door – everyone else is handed their key and left to search the car park.

  8. I’m worried about Daniel today and feel obliged to offer a little therapy. Daniel, this age-related insecurity is merely a phase you are going through; it will pass. Very soon from now you won’t give a damn about it and will revel in being able to get away with saying and doing things which you’d never have got away with once upon a time. And you, of all people, will never be beige! (That’s just a state of mind). As for being grey – it suddenly seems to be the trendy colour of choice for new cars – I’ve seen numerous examples lately, all non-metallic.

    Back to the Yeti – we were about to acquire one when I discovered that they were no longer available. Disgraceful! SWMBO (it’s her car really, mine are the very old ones) downsized to a Panda Cross instead and I now realise, having been held up by them on numerous occasions, that the Yeti, far from being small, is just a little too wide for our local roads. Not so the Panda….

    1. Good evening John. Nothing to be concerned about: since I wrote the comments above (three and a half years ago!) I have moved into another decade of my life and embraced the freedoms you describe. Now, if I could only remember where I left my keys…

    2. Same with the 1800+mm wide Jeep Avenger, which may turn out to set the keel of the next AWD Panda. The other scenario is that the present Panda 4×4 will be built in small numbers in Serbia, but not necessarily for C02-punitive northern Europe.

      In the last few sub-zero days I’ve been (2WD) Panda-ing quite a lot, and enjoying the narrowness, brilliant visibility and sure-footedness. Despite previous ‘locomotive footplatemen’ remarks, I’m even enjoying the clutch and gears like a kid with a new toy.

  9. An incredibly fresh design – I think they could launch it now and it would look futuristic. That said, that’s an interesting observation about the front bumper, Constantinos.

    Here’s a short video of it going through its paces off-road.

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