ASKED to name a popular 4x4 brand, I'd wager most people would say Land Rover or reach for its US contemporary, Jeep.
I'd be equally surprised if anyone answered with Skoda.
Yet the Czech company's first multi-axle drive systems were tested in the 1930s.
That is, in vehicle terms, ancient history but the first chapter of its modern 4x4 success story was written in 1999 with the market launch of its first all-wheel drive model - the Octavia Combi 4x4.
By the end of 2017, Skoda had delivered over 700,000 vehicles with 4×4-drive to customers.
In the last year alone, the brand sold more than 127,0004×4 versions of the Yeti, Karoq, Octavia, Kodiaq and Superb worldwide.
A total of 13 model variants are currently available with all-wheel drive. At present, the Kodiaq is by far its most popular.
All of its current 4×4 models come equipped with all-wheel-drive technology based on the latest generation of the electronically controlled multi-plate clutch.
The all-wheel-drive system works electronically, precisely and quickly. The control unit constantly calculates the ideal distribution ofpower between the front and rear axle. Loss of traction is therefore virtually eliminated. When coasting or at low load, drive is via the front axle, which saves fuel.
An ace in the hole for Skoda is that its 4x4 models cover the industry's three main segments - compact car, compact SUV and mid-size car.
Another factor in its success is all-wheel drive can be combined with petrol or diesel engines, manual or direct-shift transmission, and with a variety of equipment.
The centrepiece of the Skoda all-wheel drive system is a fifth-generation electronically controlled multi-plate clutch. Without getting too technical, it interacts with the vehicle's electronics and assistance systems and reacts to every change in the driving situation immediately.
Just as in its front-wheel drive siblings, under normal conditions, engine torque in all-wheel-drive models is transferred to the front wheels. Assoon as sensors and control units engage the rear axle due to the driving conditions - because the front wheels are losing traction, for example - the control unit alters the pressure on the plates. The torque is then transferred in the ideal ratio to the rear wheels, too. The system can transfer a driving torque of up to 3,200Nm to the rear axle if necessary.
At the same time, the Electronic Differential Lock (EDL), which is active on both axles on Škoda 4Ã4 models, also prevents individual wheels on the same axle from spinning. The spinning wheel is slowed down and more torque transmitted to the wheel with better traction.
Its XDS+ system, an extension of the EDL,reacts when the load on the inner wheel is reduced when cornering, automatically applying the brakes to prevent the wheel from spinning. As a result, the vehicle holds its line noticeably better on bends.
For more difficult driving situations on rough terrain, the Karoq, Kodiaq and Octavia Scout 4x4 models are optionally available with ‘Off-Road' mode.
When activated, all relevant assistance systems are tweaked and the settings are optimised for off-road driving. Active up to speeds of 19mph it provides assistance when pulling away and managing steep descents as well as supporting traction and braking.
Many of the 4x4 models also now come with a useful ‘Snow' mode which can be selected when driving on slippery surfaces. Under this, the Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS) allows slightly more wheelspin.
As a result, snow accumulates in front of the tyres and the braking effect is increased. Traction control (TCS) allows more wheelspin so the tyre tread grips more effectively and the gearbox selects higher gears than it normally would in the lower speed range. The accelerator reacts more smoothly and thereby prevents an undesirable increase in the amount of torque. Thisprevents the wheels from spinning.
There aren't many better places to try out this technology at this time of year than at the Lapland Driving Centre just outside of the Arctice Circle near Rovaniemi, Finland. Here a number of circuits have been carved out of the winter snow and ice so cars and their drivers can be put to the test in some extremely challenging conditions.
There are a number of handling course, a reasonably challenging off-road course and, if you just want to switch all systems off and put a huge smile on your face, a drifting circle.
Probably the only place in the world where you can try and drift a seven-seater Kodiaq SUV! And yes, you can.
I tried the Kodiaq, Karoq, Octavia and Superb estate around the handling courses, starting out with all the assistance systems off and then gradually increasing their role.
The difference was huge. Instead of tip-toeing gently around like Bambi on ice, with the 4x4 drive introduced, grip - and therefore my confidence and speed - was massively higher.
A simple drag race between two-wheel drive models and their 4x4 siblings also showed the huge increase in traction. The 4x4s were quite simply streets ahead.
With its off-road mode engaged, the Kodiaq also made mincemeat of the off-road track which wound its way trickily through the Finnish forest before ending with a steep, challenging hillock. Dispatched in a powerful leap by the Kodiaq.
Of course, all-wheel drive doesn't only provide benefits in winter on snow-covered or icy roads. All-wheel-drive technology improves active safety all year round.
As soon as the electronics deem it to be sensible, all-wheel drive is automatically activated - without the driver having to intervene. One example would be pulling away from traffic lights in urban traffic. Irrespective of the road surface, the multi-plate clutch recruits the rear wheels to aid inthe transfer of tractive power. This prevents wheelspin at the front axle.
Even during further acceleration, a small portion of the torque is automatically transferred to the rear wheels, thereby increasing vehicle stability. Other advantages include considerably better traction on wet and unsealed roads.
Theelectronically controlled all-wheel-drive system, in conjunction with the active driver assistance systems, is also used when passing through corners on dry roads. Here, the control units monitor the speed of the individual wheels and prevent the unloaded inner wheel from spinning by transferring torque to the wheel with better traction.
Customers are also using their cars to tow caravans, horseboxes or trailers. The all-wheel-drive system used in Skodas adds value through reliable traction and a higher towing capacity.
In comparison to front-wheel-drive vehicles, the 4×4 variants can tow up to 25percent more weight. The Octavia Combi 4×4 with a148bhp, 2.0TDI engine can, for example, tow a braked trailer with a weight of up to 2,000kg, compared to a maximum towing capacity of 1,600kg for the models with front-wheel drive.
But you don't need to travel to the Arctic Circle to discover that.