The classic cars from the ‘70s and ‘80s you want to save from extinction the most
Fiat Panda 4x4 review (2005 onwards model)
Being a car person isn’t just about appreciating cars, they become such a part of your life it can be disturbing. I remember films by the cars in them, not the actors. If I’m driving somewhere new the landmarks to follow home aren’t churches or shops, but interesting cars parked on drives, on dealer forecourts and by the side of the road.
Fiat Panda 4x4
I could describe a journey home from London via a Lamborghini LM002 off-roader, a Porsche specialists at a roundabout and ancient Range Rover that hasn’t moved for years. It was much the same when I was at school, where apart from the distractions of girls, or sneaking out for a tab, what the teachers drove was much more interesting to me than anything they had to say.
My geography teacher’s Porsche 911 impressed, and may subliminally have resulted in me studying the subject for a degree. Their cars marked time, too. I knew on the walk to school I would miss the bell if Mr Brandon’s Healey Frogeye Sprite smoked past me earlier than the corner of Craigs Road.
It’s highly unlikely that my fifth-year English teacher is reading this, but if she is I’d love to ask her about her Panda 4x4. I never could get a handle on it, the rugged little Fiat seeming a rather unusual choice, especially as she didn’t seem the type who’d be off-roading it at the weekend. Now though, having driven its replacement I think I can understand her decision.
A 4x4 too far?
Putting four-wheel-drive mechanicals on a car as compact and relatively underpowered as a 1.2-litre Panda really shouldn’t work. And in some senses it doesn’t, it being slower, noisier and more expensive, too. However, in others it really does work. And some. Off-road this rough and tumble town car has the ability to put the frighteners up conventional off-roaders, even if you’ll be hard pushed to ever find anyone that ever uses it so.
Instead, buyers will choose it for its rugged looks, the chunky bumpers, side mouldings, roof bars, foglamps and jacked-up suspension giving the Panda real visual appeal and character.
The additional height of the suspension raises the Panda 4x4 enough to let you see over most traffic, it bouncing over monster potholes and speed bumps and wading through the puddles that would leave other city cars stranded. Its small, 1.2-litre petrol engine only delivers 60bhp, which results in a very leisurely 0-60mph time of 20 seconds, but it’s not so slow that it can’t keep up around town.
On road, off road
Where it does struggle is on the motorway, it needing working hard to maintain speed, meaning you’ll be stirring the gearbox a fair bit when you reach any inclines. Still, it’s forgivable, as is the bouncy ride and noisier cabin due to its taller suspension and mixed-use tyres.
That’s because there’s something uniquely special about driving it – that you actually have to drive it. You need to anticipate what’s coming up, work its gearbox and maintain momentum wherever possible. Overtaking requires real skill and timing, and if you tire of that then there’s always the option to loon about in a field if the mood takes you. That’s assuming you can find someone with some land to let you drive it on. We did, and the Panda 4x4 was a hoot.
Forget the traditional means of off-road driving, too. To drive the Panda off-road means thrashing it to make the wheels spin so the drive is transferred to the rear to maintain traction. Do so and up to 50% of the engine’s torque is diverted to the rear wheels, allowing it to clamber over some extremely nasty terrain. Best of all, all the 4x4 gubbins are all operated automatically, so you don’t need to mess about with transfer levers and low ratio boxes.
So it’s noisier, has a bouncier ride and needs thrashed to perform, yet it never failed to put a big grin on my face when I drove it. Even on road it was fun, despite clearly being compromised over the excellent normal front-wheel-drive Panda. This perhaps explains why my English teacher used to have one.
I think after a day of trying to teach the likes of me, I’d want something that made me smile and would get me home, away from school, whatever the conditions. With the new Panda 4x4 you get just that, for £9,195. Teachers, form an orderly queue at your Fiat dealer now.
related stories on msn
Latest Cars videos
On the road with the landmark Lambos for special golden anniversary drive.
Date 13/05/13, Duration 4:26, Views 8329