The Fiat Panda Trekking offers 4x4 looks in a more affordable guise. Jonathan Crouch takes a look at the latest generation model.
Ten Second Review
Although it could be accused of being all show and no go, the front-wheel drive Fiat Panda Trekking actually has a reasonable degree of off-tarmac ability and is too likeable to damn with such a verdict. It emerges as something surprisingly sensible.
The Fiat Panda 4x4 you've probably heard of. It's a bit of a minor cult car. The Fiat Panda Trekking? This one's a bit more of an unknown quantity, but stick with us because it's a good 'un. The elephant in the room first. Despite looking ostensibly similar to the Panda 4x4, the Trekking only directs drive to its front wheels. That might well be enough to deter a few people who will immediately label it inauthentic, but those of you with less dogmatic standpoints might like to give it a chance. It almost seems a model out of time. A few years ago there was a big boom in this sort of car. We had the Rover Streetwise, the Volkswagen Polo Dune and the Citroen C3 XTR to name but a few. These have all proved to be an evolutionary dead end for their manufacturers yet if anyone could be relied on to make the genre work, it's Fiat. With good reason too.
If the Trekking were just a Panda with some jacked up springs and plastic panelling slapped on the side, it would be likely to enjoy much the same demise as many other cars of this ilk. But it's not. Power comes from either a 0.9-litre TwinAir 85bhp unit or a 1.3-litre 16v MultiJet diesel and whichever engine you choose, it goes to the front wheels only. But that's not the end of things because Fiat has installed a clever Traction+ feature to help it find grip in slippery conditions. This set-up works by utilising the stability control system to intervene when the front tyres start to lose grip, applying the brakes to the spinning wheel while directing torque across the axle to the other. It only works below 19mph, but it gives the Trekking a surprising amount of ability when it's muddy or icy. The raised ride height means that cornering will be a little less direct than a normal Panda and you will feel crosswinds more. The mud and snow tyres have fairly soft sidewalls, so you'll have to make compromises in the bends and accept that they'll sing a little at motorway speeds.
Design and Build
The Panda Trekking certainly looks the part, although you'd have to give it a bit more of a forensic examination to distinguish it from the 4x4 model. It gets body-coloured '4x4 style' bumpers with a black skid-plate, roof rails, side mouldings with '4x4' logo, black wheel arches and side skirts, 15-inch light finish alloy wheels and raised ground clearance. Only the colour of the wheels, the black skid plate and the Trekking badge on the back serve as visual differentiators from the 4x4. This third generation Panda isn't a whole lot bigger from the outside than its predecessor but there are a number of clever features on the inside to make the most of the available space. With an overall length of 365cm and width of 164cm, the Panda Trekking can seat five people and rather than the rather apologetic capacity of its predecessor, now features one of the largest luggage compartments in the city car segment. Practicality is boosted by a sliding split/fold rear bench.
Market and Model
Prices run at around £1,500 less than the 4x4 model, so the Panda Trekking seems very reasonable value for money. Naturally there will be those who will genuinely need the all-wheel drive capability of the 4x4 version, but the Trekking will have enough for most buyers thanks to that combination of Traction+ and mud and snow tyres. You'll pay around £12,500 for the 0.9-litre petrol car and another £1,000 nets you the diesel - which compares fairly closely to what you'd pay for a Suzuki Jimny, a car you might consider if you wanted to trade interior fit and finish for a bit more off-road capability. The Trekking's not badly equipped, coming with twin-coloured seats, a coloured dashboard, door panels in coloured 'eco-leather' and a gloss black instrument surround. Safety equipment now runs to twin front and window airbags, front seatbelt pre-tensioners and daytime running lights as standard. Fiat are also set to offer a system that detects obstacles at speeds of up to 20mph and slows the car automatically. The Panda has been engineered to accept Blue&Me-TomTom LIVE, an integrated sat nav, information, hands-free and entertainment system with wheel-mounted controls. Other options include sassy Sicilian Orange paint, side airbags and three rear seatbelts.
Cost of Ownership
It's probably fair to say that you'll have great difficulty getting anywhere close to the 0.9-litre Panda Trekking's claimed economy figure of 61.4mpg. Fiat has cleverly designed an engine that does extremely well on the rather feeble NEDC economy test, but in the real world, you'll probably see just over 40mpg in mixed use. Still, it's a few miles per gallon better than the 4x4 model and emissions are rated at just 105g/km compared to the equivalent 4x4's 114g/km. Go diesel and you'll be quoted a 67.3mpg average figure and the additional torque of the diesel engine means you should get proportionately closer to this figure than you do with the TwinAir petrol engine. It also means that the emissions are a tad higher at 109g/km. Low running costs and a low asking price mean that residual values are actually a whole lot better than you might think.
The Fiat Panda Trekking is easy to view cynically, but give it a chance and it more than justifies its existence. No, it's not as capable in the rough as the Panda 4x4, and nor should it be expected to be, directing drive to its front wheels only. If you're a little more measured in the terrain or conditions that you're set to tackle, you'll be pleasantly surprised by the Trekking's ability. The £1,500 saving in upfront price over the Panda 4x4 is not to be sniffed at either and when you factor in better economy and emissions figures, the Trekking merits serious consideration. Some might say that with its mud and snow tyres and raised ride height you're just getting all of the handling compromises of the 4x4 with none of the off-road payoff, but that's far from the case. The clever Traction+ system fitted to this car gives it genuine trail ability. Suspend your disbelief and try it. Then you can consider what you'd do with that surplus £1,500. My commission is 10 per cent.