13/08/2007 00:00 | By By Dan Trent

On test: Fiat Panda 4x4 review (2006 onwards model)

Fiat Panda 4x4 (© image © MSN)

Model: Fiat Panda 1.2 4x4Bodystyle: Five-door hatchbackEngine: 1.2-litre four-cylinder, petrolTransmission: 5-speed manual

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What is it?

The smallest, greenest 4x4 on the market, that’s what. A Tonka toy version of Fiat’s popular Panda, the baby off-roader may initially look like it belongs in the same camp as the lamentable Rover Streetwise or equally lousy Ford Fusion. But it has real mud plugging credibility. And if you don’t believe us just take a look at the pictures! Full time four-wheel drive, sump guards and extra ride height all mean the 4x4 is seriously handy off the road, while remaining as practical as any other Panda on it. And running costs don’t suffer too badly either.

Where does it fit?

With the sporty 100HP now topping the range the 4x4 takes second billing in the Panda line up, although in price terms it is only £500 less. That is about where the similarity ends though. While the 100HP is a fun, nippy little runabout, the 4x4 is one of the slowest accelerating cars you can buy, covering the 0-62mph benchmark in a yawn inducing 20 seconds. It is also considerably more expensive than its two-wheel-drive stablemates, especially when you consider online brokers are offering brand new Panda 1.1 Actives for £5000 or less.

Is it for you?

If you live out in the sticks or have long, unmade driveway then yes, the Panda 4x4 is a brilliant solution. Launched in 1983, the original version was a massive hit with country folk and those needing a bit of basic off-road ability and all weather usefulness. Cheap, rugged and reliable you still see rusty old examples keeping it real and working hard, especially up in the Alps and other mountainous regions in Europe. The new one promises more of the same. And if you need a bit of all conditions ability but find mainstream SUVs too big, expensive and pretentious the Panda is just the ticket.

What does it do well?

Put a smile on your face. It may be slow and a bit top heavy but the Panda 4x4 proves that character is just as important as dynamic ability. You won’t find another 4x4 that makes people say ‘aw, that’s cute’ when they see it and the Panda always raises a smile. It is hard to be aggressive in such a chirpy car and as a result you tend to bring out the friendly side in your fellow road users too. And off the road the Panda 4x4 is surprisingly capable, tackling terrain you would expect to be the preserve of ‘proper’ off-roaders with cheeky disdain.

What doesn’t it do well?

Accelerate, for a start. An extra 120kg and the four-wheel-drive system means it is a whole six seconds slower to 62mph than a front-wheel-drive 1.2 Dynamic sharing the same engine. Like for like it also pumps out more CO2 – 156g/km versus 133g/km – and uses more fuel, recording 42.8mpg on the NEDC combined cycle, against 50.1mpg for the Dynamic. The 4x4’s basic OTR price of £9560 is also £2295 higher. The handling is also a little more precarious, thanks to the 50mm jack in ride height that also makes the suspension rather bouncy and uncultured at times.

What’s it like to live with?

Like any Panda this is not a car for big families or people who need to carry a lot of stuff around. The tall roofline gives tons of headroom, even with the very upright seating position, and there is plenty of space up front. It is just 1.6 metres wide though so larger drivers will be getting quite intimate with front seat passengers. The same applies in the back. As standard you only get two seatbelts and if you want three you lose the split/fold versatility. Legroom is also a tad tight but you can slide the rear bench backwards, at the cost of 30 litres of boot space.

How green is it?

As we’ve already said, it uses more fuel than the standard version but we recorded 41.8mpg over a mix of motorway and town driving and that isn’t bad at all. If you want to make anything like decent progress you have to work the little 1.2-litre engine pretty hard, with obvious penalties at the pumps, but lightweight components and sequential fuel injection keep it efficient. Compared with typical 4x4s though the Panda is in a class of its own and a godsend if you need to be able to mix it in the rough stuff but can’t bear to be seen in a gas-guzzling SUV.

WhatGreenCarrating: Fiat Panda 1.2 8v 4x4

How are these ratings calculated?

Would we buy it?

Yes, but only if we lived in the middle of nowhere. Like a favourite pair of walking boots or a sturdy waterproof jacket, the Panda 4x4 is one of those outdoor essentials you just know will not let you down. Cheap to buy and run, it really is the thinking person’s 4x4. But if you live in the city you would be much better off going for the similarly priced 100HP or saving a whole heap of cash and getting a standard 1.2 Dynamic. For those who need it the Panda 4x4 is absolutely brilliant. For everyone else the standard car has all the same appeal while costing significantly less.

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