Hand up: I won’t pretend that I wasn’t disappointed when Skoda announced it was to give the Yeti a facelift in 2013. Whilst understanding the desire to give the Yeti a more corporate look, I always loved the characterful and cheery face of the original car.
In an instant, Skoda stripped away some of its charm, another victim of the Volkswagen Group’s quest for uniformity and order.
Skoda Yeti originally appeared in 2005
Not that my love of the Skoda Yeti has in any way waned. And I suspect I’m not alone in my feelings for Skoda’s slightly quirky crossover. The pint-sized Yeti has come a long way since it originally appeared as a design study at the 2005 Geneva Motor Show.
That the original Skoda Yeti looked so good should come as no surprise. It was the work of Thomas Ingenlath, a designer who, having been appointed senior vice-president of design at Volvo in 2012, went on to delver a trio of stunning Volvo concept cars, culminating with the achingly beautiful Concept Estate at this year’s Geneva show.
Looking at the Yeti’s original design study today, the resemblance to the American Honda Element is quite startling. The Ohio-built compact crossover is a good example of a car available ‘over there’, that you’d expect would do well ‘over here’.
Cast your mind back to 2005 for a moment and consider Skoda’s model range of the time. The first generation Fabia was in the twilight of its production life, the Octavia was migrating from MK1 to MK2 and the Superb was an unfashionable Passat long wheelbase affair.
Production version unveiled in 2009
It would be another four years before the production-ready Skoda Yeti would arrive, by which time Skoda had launched the credible, but generally unlovable Roomster. So nobody could have predicted the impact the Yeti would have.
I distinctly remember seeing a Yeti TV ad for the first time. I received a text message from a friend, loaded with profanity and suggesting that – with some paraphrasing here to avoid offence – it was a car that had been involved with an unfortunate incident with an ugly stick.
I couldn’t agree. I saw it more as a car that could follow in the footsteps of cars like the Matra Rancho and Fiat Multipla, both of which dared to offer bold, potentially divisive styling. The Skoda Yeti was an instant hit.
Contemporary reviews praised its on-road manners, some of which included favourable comparisons with the Golf GTi. It was also neatly packaged, easy to drive and – in four-wheel drive guise – a bit handy off road.
Skoda Yeti becomes a cult hero
It became something of a cult hero, loved by motoring journalists, who were all too keen to spread the good word about Skoda’s surprise package. Sales soon followed, with a number of enlightened and well informed individuals looking beyond the badge and discovering the joys of Yeti ownership.
But it wouldn’t be until 2011 before the Skoda Yeti received mass market attention. Thanks to 20 minutes of Sunday night television, the Yeti’s reputation hit stratospheric proportions. An extended feature on a little known programme called Top Gear helped to propel Skoda’s crossover into millions of living rooms around the world.
The Yeti was trending on Twitter and the Skoda website crashed under the sheer strain of people wishing to find out more about this car that had a) ‘beaten’ a Ferrari on track, b) survived being used as a helicopter landing pad, c) been subjected to attempted murder by dogs and firefighters, d) been exposed to extreme heat and e) managed to survive ‘death by Clarkson’.
Suddenly the internet was awash with tales of lengthy waiting lists and demand far outstripping supply.
By June 2011, sales of the Skoda Yeti had exceeded 100,000 units and its journey from obscurity to the mainstream had been completed.
Skoda Yeti Xtreme concept set for Wörthersee
And if you needed further evidence of the world’s acceptance of the Skoda Yeti, you only need look at this – the Skoda Yeti Xtreme. Put aside the concept for a moment and consider the fact its appearing at Wörthersee, the home of all things cool in the Volkswagen arena. A Skoda crossover appearing at such an event wouldn’t haven possible a few years ago.
The rally-inspired concept – which looks like the world’s angriest Yeti – features an aluminium floor panel, Recaro sports seats, carbonfibre trim, a ‘Super Sports’ steering wheel and a host of rally features.
It’s powered by Skoda’s 150hp, 1.8-litre TSI engine, which is enough to propel the wannabe rally car to a top speed of 120mph. Stopping power comes courtesy of brakes stolen from the Octavia vRS.
The Skoda Yeti Xtreme also sits on 17-inch alloy wheels, wrapped in off-road tyres. The wheel arches have been extended to give the Yeti a more muscular stance, whilst the back features two tailpipes, which sit on the end of an exhaust system that does without silencers.
Inside there are four individual Recaro racing seats, each one featuring four-point safety belts.
Skoda says the Yeti Xtreme demonstrates the brand’s expertise in four-wheel drive technology and its “know-how” when it comes to rallying.
Gauging the response of the passionate crowds in Austria should prove interesting. But don’t be surprised if Skoda Yeti picks up even more loving fans.