First drive: Skoda Yeti

Skoda's Yeti – the little car that genuinely can climb big mountains, at a small price – has been relaunched with a facelift, more gear, a new engine that fills the (torque) hole the base model always suffered from, and even sharper pricing.

It's just the latest example of Skoda – Volkswagen's slightly less well dressed little brother – refusing to give up on the Australian market, despite the kind of sales that's seen other brands, such as Opel, taken out the back and shot.

But the cheerful Czechs really do have something to sell, particularly in the case of the Yeti, which did very well at Wheels COTY in 2011 and has now fixed some of the areas in which it fell down.

The facelift starts, appropriately, in the looks department, where new Skoda design DNA has been sprayed around, including the new badge, different headlight shape and new bumpers.

The front-wheel-drive models, which have been the volume sellers, have also been differentiated from the range-topping 4x4 Outdoor model in an effort to make the bush-bashing variant look as tough as it actually is (the original Yeti was launched at Boggy Hole, outside Alice Springs, where it performed feats of genuine off-road derring do).

The updated model now gets a leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, a touchscreen stereo system (which looks like the one in a Golf V) and a reversing camera as standard.

The Outdoor also has an upgraded fifth-generation Haldex all-wheel-drive system, the same one found in the awesome new Golf R.

And all this extra kit will cost you... less than it used to.

The diesel-powered mud plugger, with a carryover engine with 103kW and 350Nm, is now a value-bone-vibrating $33,590, which is $4400 less than the old one. You'd be right in thinking that this reflects the fact that not many people thought the old price was worth paying, but that doesn't take away from it being a bargain now.

The base model Active, with the familiar 77 TSI engine, is now just $23,490 as a manual ($25,790 with DSG), which Skoda says is $2800 cheaper than the outgoing model, though it was sold at a driveaway price of just $21,990 last year.

That kind of value has attracted plenty of buyers who don't mind struggling a bit to get over inner-city speed humps, but the real bait for those who like a bit more poke is the newly arrived mid-range filler, the Ambition model, with the 90 TSI engine we know and love from the Golf, offering 200Nm and 90kW. It's DSG-only, comes with slightly more fruit and is priced at a tempting $28,290.

It's also definitely the choice for drivers, making the most of the Golf V platform dynamics and, while less grunty than in the lighter Golf, still enough to enjoy. By comparison, the base model 77 feels seriously lacking in torque and somewhat challenged by hills.

The diesel is not a bad bus, for those rare buyers who want to take a car this small to the back of beyond.

Overall, the Yeti is still a wonderfully capable little car, slightly lacking in the NVH stakes and just a smidgen below Volkswagen fit, finish and quality, but at the price, and with its raised seating position and excellent visibility, it will be a real tempter for some buyers, particularly with its new face.

A more attractive Yeti all round.

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