ROAD TEST REPORT AND REVIEW: Fiat Panda 4×4 and 2WD Trekking
A little car with a big appetite for fun, KEITH WARD reviews the new Fiat Panda 4×4 and 2WD Trekking
MY love affair with the Fiat Panda 4×4 goes back 25 years to a package holiday on the romantic Costa Brava. Without knowing much about it, I hired one for a summer’s day to drive us up into the Sierras behind Barcelona for a family picnic.
As we climbed higher, tarmac gave way to trail then to pebble-strewn mountain track, more suited to a goat than a Panda. But the little Fiat never faltered. You could call it love at first grip. Eventually we parked, got out, spread a rug and sat level with surrounding peaks, taking in distant views of the sparkling Mediterranean. And boy, did those tortilla butties with cold chicken taste good.
Fast forward to the new, third generation 4×4, now entering showrooms to join the Panda supermini range launched 10 months ago. It boasts basically the same self-operating, permanent four-wheel-drive system as previous 4×4’s. But it is updated with electronics and harnessed to Fiat’s latest breed of eco-minded engines in a more rigid body hung with modern safety features and sitting on a slightly raised all-new suspension designed for comfort on and off road.
Butch bumpers, front and rear skid plates, protective side strips, side skirts and black roof bars
Does it still get going when the going gets tough? The testing terrain this time was a purpose-built Land Rover off-road circuit of bumps, grinds, dips and ascents at Stoneleigh Park in the Midlands. The professional instructors running it were disappointed that a sudden cold snap had hardened somewhat the previously mud-pie trails. The bonus was an overlay of snow and, in the water splashes, a murky cocktail with ice.
Tried in turn were the two engines familiar from other Fiat models and offered in the 4×4. First, the little 850cc, two-cylinder, 85 bhp, petrol TwinAir , then the four-cylinder, 1.3 MultiJet, 75 bhp diesel. Both were shod with the Mud & Snow “showroom” tyres standard on the model.
Neither faltered, each coping admirably with the admittedly prescribed conditions.
In addition to the 4WD system’s two differentials, an electronic locking diff (ELD) was brought into play (at speeds lower than 31 mph), via a push-button behind the gear lever, to lock the other two.
The combined overall effect is to brake wheels with poor grip and switch power to others. (In normal dry conditions on road, 98 per cent of power is to the front wheels).
On descents there is an anti-skid system on braking. What the Panda lacks is a sophisticated Land Rover-type hill descent control to wind you down even the steepest gradients with both your feet off the pedals.
Assurances were given that the horrendous grating noises as the 4×4 pitched and bucked over boulder and rut was only the special underfloor protective panels doing their job.
On this terrain, I preferred the more flexible five-speed diesel (£14,950) with its peak torque at 1,500 rpm, to the higher-revving six-speed TwinAir (£13,950), peaking at 1,900 rpm. Diesels are expected to account this year for 60 per cent of 4×4 sales, out of a total 6,000 Pandas in the UK.
For the 4×4 you pay around £2,700 more than for the front-drive Panda in top Lounge trim. A compromise at a premium of around £1,200 is the new Panda Trekking, dubbed “the world’s first CUV or City Utility Vehicle”.
It is the front-drive-only Panda with raised ride height and off-road looks – albeit black rather than silver skid plates front and rear – and what Fiat dub Traction+ technology to give extra grip on such as “wet grass or cobbles”.
It’s a push-button traction control system, using the car’s existing Electronic Stability Program (ESP) to transfer torque from a slipping front wheel to the other. Most buyers will probably value the butch off-road makeover ahead of the techno-tricks.
Back to the 4×4. On road, it can be noisy but fun. Off road, it’s as plucky as ever.
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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Model: Fiat Panda 4×4
Type: Supermini; five-door hatchback; four seats; fixed rear bench
Engines: Stop-start; Diesel 1.3 MultiJet 75 bhp or petrol 875cc TwinAir 85bhp
Off-road: Permanent 4WD; selectable ELD; anti-skid; ground clearance 200 mm
On-road: Diesel 99 mph, 0-62 in 14.5 secs; 56.5 mpg urban; petrol 103 mph, 0-62 in 12.1 secs, 47.9 mpg urban
CO2: Diesel 125 g/km (VED Nil then £100); petrol 114 (VED Nil then £30)
PRICES: 4×4 £13,950 (TwinAir petrol) to £14,950 (MultiJet diesel); Trekking £12,450 to £13,450.
• All data correct at time of publication.