The Fiat Panda 4×4 has been knocking around for 30 years, up and down hills with all the attitude of an off-roader but within the tiny body of a city car. This test drive was always going to be a lot of fun.
The Panda 4×4 is a little bit of an oddity when you see it for the first time. It has the small dimensions of a city car and the innocuous looks of a Fiat Panda, yet the jacked up appearance of an off-roader. It looks like it has a job to do from the outside and has enough kit to differentiate it from a standard Panda – there are new bumpers with metal-effect inserts, wheel arch extensions, side skirts, black plastic cladding and unique 15” alloy wheels. Two exclusive colours are available: “Sicilia” orange and “Toscana” green metallic, complete with matching interior detailing and all in all, it’s a fun-looking package.
Inside, the onus is more on durability than style and this is reflected in the materials used. Everything is easy to find and use on the dash but some of the switches feel flimsy. The low window line means that the cabin feels light and airy. There is no height adjustment as standard on the driver’s chair so you sit rather upright – kind of like you are on display for the world to see! There is a good view all around the car, but it would be nice to have the option of adjusting the driver’s seat to suit personal requirements.
There is plenty of space up front for two adults to sit comfortably. The rear is ok on headroom but there is not so much legroom. There is a small but deep boot of 225 litres and you can let the back seats down to carry larger items. There is no spare wheel and the Panda 4×4 comes with a tyre repair kit.
The compact dimensions and light steering make the Panda 4×4 really easy to park and trundle around town in. You do trundle because the 1.3 litre diesel engine is noisy and lacks a bit of refinement in normal driving conditions. But there is loads of torque in the lower gears – ideal for off-roading. For a small car, the Panda 4×4 can really hold its own out on the motorway too and it will cruise quite happily, all the while sipping diesel.
But how does it do on the tough stuff? It’s won awards for its off-road ability and there is more ability to this car than just what a set of mud and snow tyres can muster. Panda 4×4 is a very practical car for dealing with difficult terrain or challenging road conditions. The car operates in front wheel drive mode during normal driving conditions, but when the vehicle’s sensors detect a loss of traction, torque is automatically sent to the rear wheels. According to Fiat, this ‘on-demand’ four wheel drive system will reduce mechanical drag and wear and tear, as well as improve fuel economy and lower emissions. It even has an electronic locking differential (ELD) that directs torque to the wheels with the most grip by braking the slipping wheels.
The 1.3 litre diesel has fuel saving start stop as standard and the official economy figure is just over 60mpg. I managed a respectable 53mpg during the test drive which is just a bit more than what you will get in a similar city car with a small petrol engine fitted. For a car with four wheel drive, the Panda 4×4 is economical. However though it has small car dimensions, it does not have small car CO2 emissions – road tax is €270 per year. Not exorbitant but still, there are cheaper small cars to tax – they don’t have four wheel drive and you can’t drive them up a mountain and back down the other side, so it is all relative!
As well as four wheel drive, mud and snow tyres and the ELD, the Panda 4×4 comes kitted with Bluetooth, steering wheel mounted audio controls, air conditioning, 15″ alloys, electric front windows and door mirrors, remote central locking, roof rails and front fog lamps.
The off-road ability of the Panda 4×4 is attractive and it’s still small enough to come down from the hills to nip in and around town comfortably and economically. It’s just a niche buy and though it’s got 4×4, €20,000 is still a lot of money for someone to fork out for something this small. But if you live on the side of the mountain, when the harsh winter comes you will be glad you have one of these parked outside.
Model tested: Fiat Panda 4×4
Price: €19,995 (Panda range starts at €11,995)
Engine: 1.3 litre MultiJet, four cylinder turbo diesel
0-100km/h: 14.5 seconds
Economy: 60.1mpg (4.7l/100km)
CO2 emissions: 125g/km
Tax band: B1 (€270 per year)