Bernd Felsche spent some time at the helm of a Bohemian VW cousin; a Škoda Yeti powered by the 1.2 litre TSI engine driving only the front wheels via a DSG automatic transmission.
Czechoslovakia was one of the many countries that had a lot of catching up to do. Unlike the former East Germany, it didn't have a rich cousin to pay to "immediately" replace all the old machinery, roads, rail, etc. The Pilsen-based Škoda engineering conglomerate, which had acquired car maker Laurin & Klement in 1925, was split shortly after World War 2, leaving the car manufacturing branch as a separate entity. Škoda Auto based in Mladá Boleslav was to make arguably some of the best cars produced behind the iron curtain. They were good enough to export to "the West" (even to Australia) to earn hard currency, but quality was compromised by the need to conform to the planned economy.
In 1990, VW spotted the opportunity to adopt the privatised Škoda Automobile company, giving VW access to another automotive heritage dating back a century, to the 1890's via Laurin & Klement; a favourable investment climate, a technically skilled and ambitious workforce and a fresh market, hungry for modern cars. By the end of the 1990's, a decade that included the amicable dissolution of Czechoslovakia into the Czech and Slovak Republics, VW had not only increased its shareholding of Škoda Auto, it'd infused vast amounts of technical DNA into new models produced by Škoda, in models developed from times under communism, but also fresh ones developed in the basis of VW platforms.
Škoda Auto honour the Laurin & Klement heritage by assigning it to the luxury trim level of most of their models in Europe. Which doesn't exactly endear them to Audi, as Audi is supposed to be the everyman-luxury brand within the VW group. If you think that Audi are over-reacting, take a drive in a Škoda Superb wagon and compare it to an Audi of equivalent quality, size and features.
The shape of the car is quite deceptive. It's smaller than it looks and it doesn't take up more garage floor space than a Golf. And the Golf is appropriate to mention here because the Yeti borrows not only mechanical components from the VW goodies box, but also some of the interior trim. Which is certainly not to the detriment of the Yeti.
The vertical rear hatch is wide, providing good access to the interior. A number of hooks are provided, along with a net, to stop your precious cargo going its own way around the capacious and variable compartment. Rear seats are individually foldable, moveable and removable, allowing the owner to adapt the vehicle's capacity to best suit their individual needs. Due to the strength needed in modern car seats to satisfy crashworthiness requirements, the seats are however heavy; so you'll not want to lift them out and in too often — except perhaps to save on gymn costs.
Thanks to the upright sitting position in both the front and the back seats, there's room for adults in every seat. Removing the centre seat in the back row allows the outer seats to be slid towards the centre, providing plenty of elbow-room in the back. That is however at the expense of the tray integrated into the back of the centre seat.
Getting in and out of the car is a doddle thanks to the height of the car and the wide-opening doors. That's appreciated especially by those whose joints and bones aren't as flexible as they might wish.
Once moving, the light, yet positive steering impresses with accuracy, blemished by a total lack of feedback from the wheels on the ground; now seemingly par for the course for the electro-mechanically assisted steering setups in VW group vehicles. Brake and accelerator pedals are also light to operate. Brakes work well even with the light pedal. The car stops well. Anti-lock brakes mean that the car can still be steered while slowing the car as quickly as possible, even on tricky surfaces.
The accelerator is a good drive-by-wire job, the engine throttle responds quickly but the action of the automatic gear change sometimes frustrates being able to do exactly what one wants with the car. A pregnant pause, seemingly euivalent to an elephant's gestation period, can leave the car breathless" at suburban speeds when a burst of acceleration is needed for e.g. a safe lane change on a busy road.
Manual, sequential gear selection is also available by moving the selector lever to the left. A push back changes down one gear and a push forward changes up. Although the changes aren't instantaneous, they're at least as fast as a change with a manual gearbox with one difference; you don't have to take your foot off the throttle when changing up or down. The brains of the DSG prevents sequential changes that are impossible or which would damage the engine or the gearbox. Such changes are simply delayed until they are possible.
First gear of the seven is very low, perhaps in deference to the off-road looks. Locked into first or even in sports mode, dropping the lead foot can produce not only breaking of traction, but axle tramp of sorts. The driver has to be sufficiently coherent to lift the foot because the car isn't going to make it look elegant from any perspective.
Škoda is said to have driven the development of the 1.2 TSI, using the 16-valve 1.4 TSI as a base. Development shed about 24 kg; by simplification and other means, bringing the engine mass down to about 89 kg. The result is used in a number of small to medium cars produced by the VW group.
1.2 litres doesn't sound like a big engine, but this one is direct-injected and turbocharged. An alloy block is used with cast iron cylinder liners and a chain-driven overhead camshaft. The 8-valve cross-flow head has an air-liquid "intercooler" mounted at the back to cool the intake air after it's compressed by the turbocharger at the front of the engine. Thanks largely to the small, variable geometry turbocharger, the engine develops maximum torque of 175 Nm from about 1500 rpm to beyond 4000 rpm. Maximum power is 77 kW, produced at 5000 rpm.
The engine draws fresh air from above the radiator, behind the
chrome moustache above the vertically-slatted, black grille.
It's a little engine but the power characteristic is more like that of a big four. Which is not bad news as the low engine speeds not only mean potentially better combustion and therefore better use of fuel, but also a longer life because the pistons don't have to move as far per kilometre driven.
The small engine warms up quickly, but it also cools down more quickly than the bigger-block engines. You'll notice that in winter.
The view inside is made imperfect by two problems evident from the author's favoured driving position; the speedometer and the view of the road through the windscreen. With the seat positioned to give a high driving position, the author found that the numbers on the left side of the speedometer scale were unreadable — no numbers from 20 to 80 km/h — because the speedometer's bezel is not angled towards the driver.
From the same driving position, the rear view mirror on the windscreen often obscures part of the view of the road across the corner when turning left. It can also create a blind spot for a car on an on-ramp to the freeway. The mirror seems to be a too low on the windscreen; about 20 centimetres from the top; almost in the centre of the screen.
Flipping down the sun visor on the driver's side can be a pain as the recess in the (plush) headliner that allows for a proper grip on the visor, is well to the left of the visor. Drivers with long fingernails may have problems.
The author wondered why he couldn't play the music stored on his mobile phone, using the Bluetooth connection.
The Swing audio system can play CDs loaded with MP3 tracks providing many hours of Mahler, Wagner, Beethoven and Verdi to keep the kids entertained on a long drive, all from the one disc. There's an auxiliary audio input socket in the centre console, providing basic connectivity for other player devices; not the ability to e.g. skip tracks, but at least the volume can controlled.
Refuelling shouldn't happen too often. The little TSI goes about 600 km on a tankfull, depending on how you drive and the quality of the fuel, you might exceed 700 km. But not likely with lots of suburban driving. Although the engine will run on premium unleaded petrol (PULP) with 95 octane rating, it works better on 98 RON, providing a sharper response and lower fuel consumption. People will have to work it out for themselves which fuel works best for their life.
Europeans have the option of a Yeti Greenline with 1.6-litre TDI engine, driving the front wheels through a 5-speed manual transmission. That uses quite a bit less fuel; expect more than 1000 km when cruising; but isn't available with a DSG transmission; perhaps to help save the planet.
Australian may rejoice that they can also buy a diesel Yeti, the 2.0-litre TDI developing 103kW and gobs of torque, with either manual and DSG 6-speed transmission, driving all 4 wheels. Even that model's fuel consumption is lower than the TSI's. But there are still good reasons for people to buy a petrol engined car than a diesel; one of them being the price difference (in this case, unfair to compare because of the power and drivetrain differences) and that the fuel savings for a few short trips simply don't add up. Besides; when it's cold, you appreciate that the petrol engine is less efficient because the inefficiency means more heat for the car's interior.
Ride is smooth. The suspension, while supple, keeps body roll to a minimum while cornering.
This particular Yeti is only front-wheel drive making it little more suitable for off-road use than any other front-wheel drive car. Ground clearance and short overhangs will help when negotiating rougher tracks and getting over those pesky kerbs.
Even the four-wheel drive Yeti probably shouldn't be considered a serious off-roader. Slowly reversing the Yeti diagonally down a mountable kerb reveals movement at the door rubbers, so the large body shell probably doesn't have the structural rigidity for heavy duty off-roading. Nevertheless, the Internet abounds with videos of people successfully negotiating dirt, sand and mud tracks in 4WD Yetis.
With current pricing (mid-2013), the Yeti discount packages offer excellent value, competitive with brands from Asia.