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Fiat Panda 4x4 review review (2012 onwards)
The Fiat Panda 4x4 is a superbly capable city car-based off-roader that retains the every-day practicality of its normal Tarmac-focused counterpart.
What: Fiat Panda 4x4
Where: Dolomites, Italy
Date: December 2012
Price: £13,950 – £14,950
Available: December 2012
We like: Strong off-road performance, efficiency still good for a 4x4, practicality
We don’t like: Diesel engine is noisy, ride not as good as standard car, safety not as good as rivals
First impressions of the Fiat Panda 4x4
Fiat first equipped its Panda city car with four-wheel drive capability nearly 30 years ago. The Italian manufacturer has had the class to itself since and it’s no different today with the new Panda 4x4 the only four-wheel drive A-segment vehicle around.
That means competition comes from elsewhere. Suzuki’s venerable £11,995 Jimny is compact and boasts similar off-road ability – albeit designed as a 4x4 out-right – while Renault’s budget Dacia Duster is also in the frame.
The cheapest four-wheel drive version of that costs £10,995, but is more basic than the Panda inside, so it’ll have to be the £13,495 Ambience model if you want some equipment or a diesel.
The Panda stacks up on paper, then, and for anyone wondering if Fiat’s small off-road adapted hatchback actually works, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
You won’t go anywhere fast in a Panda 4x4. We tried the 75hp 1.3-litre turbodiesel version, which will hit 62mph from rest in 14.5 seconds. The engine is laggy low down, but once spinning it responds sweetly, even if it is noisy.
Rocky outcrops were dispatched with little fuss
The car would certainly benefit from a six-speed gearbox on the road. The five-speed unit means engine revs are quite high when cruising faster and an extra ratio would quieten things down. It is punchy at town speeds though.
Keep the Panda 4x4 in first or second gear when off-road and the engine’s performance is more than enough to drag the light little 4x4 up precipitous inclines.
On our test route rocky outcrops covered in sheet ice were dispatched with relatively little fuss. The car gets an Electronic Locking Differential to help improve traction, braking wheels with less grip and sending drive to the ones with greater purchase on the ground.
The permanent four-wheel drive system meant there really were no instances when the Panda showed any weakness away from the Tarmac – it might not have the ultimate go-anywhere ability of a Range Rover, but given the price and city car underpinnings, it’s an impressive performer.
Ride and handling
Fiat has increased the Panda’s ride height by 47mm for the 4x4, but despite this the car still handles well. It does roll through tighter corners and can be a touch bouncy over bad roads, but it’s never uncomfortable and these traits are most welcome off-road.
Light steering makes manoeuvring around rocks and other obstacles easy when you venture onto uncharted terrain – it all adds to the sense that the car is a properly capable 4x4 and could embarrass much more expensive off-roaders when the going gets tough.
As good as the latest Panda 4x4 is off-road, it hasn’t really lost any of the normal city car’s charm on it – it’s still small, nippy, easy to see out of and easy to park.
Inside the Panda 4x4 it’s very similar to Fiat’s standard city car, save for one point: the addition of a button for the Electronic Locking Differential, highlighting the car’s off-road focus.
Adds a funky edge to the interior
That means the “squircle” remains – all the dials, heater controls and even the steering wheel are in the shape of a square with rounded corners. Just as in the standard car, it works and adds a funky edge to the interior.
To go with the raised ride height you sit quite high in the cabin, but it does give you a strong vantage point to spot rocks and ruts.
Space in the rear is average – although headroom is excellent and five doors give good practicality – while the 225-litre boot is enough for most people’s luggage requirements, if not class leading.
It’s certainly not the most luxurious vehicle inside, with plenty of hard plastics throughout the cabin, but it is a car that could potentially see a lot of use in some testing environments – in that respect the interior makes more sense than in the standard Panda.
Economy and safety
Despite jacking up the suspension and sending drive to two more wheels the Panda 4x4 is still pretty efficient. Our stop-start equipped diesel test car will return 60.1mpg combined with 125g/km CO2, while the alternative TwinAir petrol will return a claimed 57.6mpg with 114g/km.
The standard Panda will return 72.4mpg with 104g/km CO2 and 67.3mpg with 99g/km CO2 for the diesel and petrol engines respectively.
Fiat’s city car only gets a four-star Euro NCAP crash safety rating whereas most of its rivals (VW Up!, SEAT Mii and Skoda Citigo, for example) receive a full five stars.
ESC is fitted as standard on the Panda 4x4 – unlike its regular counterpart – but Euro NCAP didn’t even test it on the conventional vehicle, as it “didn’t meet 2011 fitment requirements.”
The MSN Cars verdict
Given its diminutive size the Panda 4x4 punches well above its weight, retaining many of the qualities we like about Fiat’s standard city car.
If you’re looking for a small and practical 4x4 with strong off-road skills (the efficiency penalty is a small price to pay) and decent on-road manners the Panda 4x4 is a worthy choice.
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