The Fiat Panda 4x4 is a car that makes a lot of sense to those looking for all-weather ruggedness in a compact form. Jonathan Crouch takes a look at the latest generation model.
Ten Second Review
It seems we can only really accept a Fiat Panda range when it has a 4x4 model in it. Although the all-wheel drive version of this car will remain a minority interest model in the UK, it still makes a great buy if you need to get from A to B in all weather conditions and occasionally off the beaten track too but don't want the expense or bulk of a big SUV.
The Fiat Panda 4x4 might just be the car that won't die. Even after they flunk their final MoT test, they're still good value to somebody and if you look in barns and farm buildings the length and breadth of the country, you'll find these little workhorses pressed into use as field cars. It's the car that rural teens learn to drive in, bouncing them along rutted tracks and handbraking them in muddy paddocks. Of course, they once emerged from a dealership polished and new, with a proud owner who wanted a chic and capable small car. That hasn't changed a bit, and the latest third-generation Panda 4x4 adheres to the same formula that's been good since 1983. Yes, it's now a far slicker operator than the original but believe me, you'll be glad of that. Nostalgia isn't what it was.
This time round, you get a choice of engines when choosing your Panda 4x4. Be sure to avoid the Trekking model if you want the full-fat 4x4 experience. Despite its macho look, the Trekking is a front-wheel drive model only. Go for the 4x4 proper and you get to choose between the award-winning 85bhp TwinAir 0.9-litre petrol (which endows the Panda 4x4 with a top speed of 103mph) or the 75bhp 1.3-litre MultiJet which runs out of puff at 99mph. It's a vehicle that's light on its feet off road and can be threaded through gaps that would halt most SUVs. A six-speed gearbox with a low first gear means the TwinAir model can inch up steep inclines. The MultiJet diesel is torquier still but only features a five-speed transmission and is harder work on the open road. Performance is a little less punchy than in a front-wheel drive Panda but there has to be some compromise for lugging all-wheel drive mechanicals about and the aerodynamics of that high body aren't quite so good. The all-season tyres have fairly soft sidewalls, so this isn't a car that you're going to ever mistake for a hot hatch through a set of bends.
Design and Build
The Panda 4x4 looks agreeably rugged with its body-coloured '4x4 style' bumpers with satin aluminium finished skid-plate, roof rails, side mouldings with '4x4' logo, black wheel arches and side skirts, 15-inch dark alloy wheels and raised ground clearance. Fiat has thankfully resisted the temptation to make this third generation model too much bigger on the outside and it's only grown by a few centimetres, largely in response to pedestrian safety regulations. Thankfully it's chock-full of clever ideas inside that make the most of the space on offer. With an overall length of 365cm and width of 164cm, the Panda 4x4 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
Fiat needed to pitch this car very carefully. It needed to demonstrate the Panda had moved with the times in terms of quality, space, reliability and safety but had to do so without compromising its pert and cheeky personality. I think it's managed to succeed in this quest. Yes, the car is a little bigger but not unduly so. The finish is a whole lot better inside and the equipment level has been improved markedly. Inside, there are twin-coloured seats, coloured dashboard, door panels in coloured 'eco-leather', and a gloss black instrument surround. Prices start at around £14,000 for the TwinAir and you'll pay another £1,000 for the more economical but less enjoyable MultiJet diesel. To put that into perspective, you're looking at a premium of around £2,700 to own a Panda 4x4 over the cost of a 2WD model with the same engine equipped to similar level in 'Lounge' specification. If you need something a little more serious, Fiat also offers a Panda 4x4 Cross model, with slightly more powerful engines, butcher looks and a 'Torque-on-Demand' transmission system. Safety equipment now runs to four airbags, front seatbelt pre-tensioners and daytime running lights as standard. Fiat also offer a system that detects obstacles at speeds of up to 20mph and slows the car automatically if the driver doesn't respond to in-car warnings. 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.
Cost of Ownership
Fuel economy of both engines is decent if not spectacular. The TwinAir will net an average of 57.6mpg, which isn't too bad for a high-riding petrol-engined hatch although the real-world versus published economy figures of this engine have often been wildly discordant. Go for the MultiJet diesel and you will probably get proportionately closer to its claimed 60.1mpg figure. Emissions are also fairly good, although the Panda 4x4 isn't the city car to choose if you really want to slash your contribution to the Exchequer. The TwinAir records a figure of 114g/km while the diesel is actually a little worse at 125g/km. As with all Pandas, residual values will doubtless hold up fairly well.
Consider this business as usual. There's very little about the latest Fiat Panda 4x4 to deter a typical buyer and quite a lot that might attract new customers. It's a little bigger, quite a bit better built and with a good diesel and a great petrol engine to choose from, the Panda 4x4 remains the best of its ilk. If you need a small car that can shrug off the worst conditions the British weather can throw at it while still looking good in any social setting, there's still nothing to touch this little Fiat. Pricing isn't too bad and the price rises seem justified by the extra equipment you now get. I'd choose the TwinAir model over the MultiJet diesel unless I was really putting some serious miles on the clock, in which case you have to wonder whether a Fiat Panda is the right vehicle for you in the first place. There's little that's radical about this car. It's just a formula that has matured really nicely.