FIAT PANDA 4×4: Up to the challenge

HERE’S a car that really can tackle the kerbside assault course outside schools in the morning…..

Fiat’s Panda is the little A sector city car with 4×4 capability, and is currently the most fuel efficient 4×4 you can buy.

And don’t let its Tonka toy looks dissuade you from any other conclusion than this pocket off-roader really can cut the mustard when the going gets tough.

You’d probably think that driving one over a wet grassy field would be the limit of its capabilities, but Fiat were at pains to show us otherwise on the UK launch.

So they set up a true off-road course in deepest Warwickshire and set us loose among the trees, gulleys, ponds and dips that had previously been the domain of a Land Rover Magazine driving challenge.

And the cheeky little Italian, in true Gino D’Acampo style, came out the other end with a smile on its face, muddy but undefeated.

So we can safely say the new Panda is rugged and capable. It’s already been voted Top Gear Magazine’s SUV of the Year, though some would argue it’s not strictly an SUV.

Front and rear bumpers are completely different from the standard Panda, with protection mouldings on the side, and the centre console is raised to accommodate the extra electronics and switchgear of the 4×4. Ground clearance is improved to 200mm and 98 per cent of the drive is to the front wheels in normal use.

When snow, ice or mud make their appearance an electronically controlled coupling prevents wheel spin by increasing the proportion of torque sent to the rear wheels. This gives optimal traction to all four wheels.

According to Fiat, the electronically controlled coupling has a number of benefits, in that it’s compatible with ESP so the car’s safety systems are not impaired, it can help increase ABS performance by improving modulation of braking, and torque distribution can be pretty well instantaneous, helping improve handling and stability.

So, the go-anywhere Panda.

Of the 6,000 predicted sales this year, around 10 per cent are expected to be 4x4s. £13,950 get you into a TwinAir, £14,950 a 1.3 16v MultiJet diesel.

Possibly the only people who will take it seriously off-road are those with no sense of direction at all. Think Mark Thatcher.

But it’s good to know the Panda can get going when the going gets tough.

>> 29 years on from when the first Panda 4×4 started to earn its crust, Fiat have also launched a front wheel drive only version called the Trekking, which has all the rufty-tufty bits of add-on bodywork like its 4×4 stablemate, but which with its Traction + system is really only for light off roading (fields and the like).

It’s been dubbed the CUV (City Utility Vehicle) and it will cost £12,450 with the 0.9 TwinAir engine, £13,450 with the diesel 1.3 MultiJet.


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