Skoda Yeti

There is no mystery behind the appeal of this new Skoda, as the Yeti proved at 2005's Geneva Motor Show. The small SUV was the star of the annual expo, and provides a look at what the future holds for the now transformed Czech car builder.

The Yeti is more than a wild concept with a daft name. Skoda is seriously considering producing it - and we think the firm would be mad not to. The clever bike carrier and cabin would be real assets. With great visibility, long-travel suspension and a lofty stance, it's perfect for our crowded roads and more worthwhile than soft-roader rivals such as Citroen's C3 XTR.

There is no mystery behind the appeal of this new Skoda, as the Yeti proved at 2005's Geneva Motor Show. The small SUV was the star of the annual expo, and provides a look at what the future holds for the now transformed Czech car builder.

Hot on the heels of our first drive of the Skoda Octavia 4x4, Auto Express exclusively got behind the wheel of the funky mini off-roader to find out exactly what it is like.

But is not calling a two-wheel-drive car a mud-plugger a little misleading? We didn't actually take the Yeti into the rough, but it has been built with high ground clearance and long-travel suspension to prove that front-wheel drive with sufficient electronic traction aids is sufficient for most off-roading.

The name, too, is a slight misnomer, as you do not get much further from a Yeti than this Skoda. It is neither hairy, nor scary. In fact, in the metal it is a good-looking beast. The model uses the same Fabia-derived suspension, brakes and transmission as the Roomster mini-MPV that's due to hit the streets next year. It also shares that car's squared-off lines, which aren't dissimilar to those of the Fiat Panda 4x4. At the front, the foglights have been raised up and recessed to protect them. And having a white roof with A-pillars that extend into roof rails and then drop to the rear lights is a neat touch.

Although the Yeti has a lofty stance, it is easy to slip into the driver's seat because the chairs are set low into the wipe-clean plastic floor. The instruments are clearly laid out, with the rev counter in a pod between the trip calculator and speedometer. And the centre console features Audi TT-style struts, as well as a portable sat-nav unit.

From behind the wheel, visibility is excellent thanks to the thin A-pillars, and the Yeti feels like a typical Skoda with a good driving position and well placed controls. Engine choice will range from 1.6 to 2.0-litre petrols and include the VW Group's 1.9-litre turbodiesel. And while Skoda was cagey about which unit was in the prototype, we were able to tell that the Yeti rides bumps well thanks to that long-travel suspension.

There is also plenty of grip from the chunky tyres, along with excellent brakes. As you would expect for a concept, there are neat innovations, too. The windscreen wipers are housed SEAT-style in the windscreen pillars, and sweep by travelling on rails mounted at the top and bottom of the glass.

But while these are unlikely to make production, the clever bike carrier is a different matter. The tailgate's glass window hinges at the top, while the bottom section folds horizontally. At the push of a button, the number plate flips down and two struts for attaching a cycle to lift up from the lowered bottom half of the tailgate. Bikes can then rest on this. A cover also hinges up from the lower door to seal the boot area.

Skoda sources tell us they are on the verge of giving the Yeti the green light for production in 2007. If they do, we guarantee it will make as big an impact on the streets as it did on the show stand.

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