Fiat Panda 4x4 review
No other car maker builds a four-wheel-drive supermini, but we’re glad that the Fiat Panda 4x4 goes it alone
The first Fiat Panda 4x4 arrived in 1983, and 6.5 million cars later, there's still no other firm that crams four-wheel drive into a supermini. To compliment the hardware, the Panda 4x4 gets special steel bash plates, black plastic bumpers and wheelarch extensions, raised suspension and an electronic rear differential (EDC), which means you can venture further off road than most current road-biased SUVs. The Panda 4x4 retains the standard supermini’s manoeuvrability, too, and can be had either with a 74bhp 1.3-litre diesel or Fiat’s small but mighty 84bhp 895cc two-cylinder TwinAir turbo petrol engine. For buyers who want the raised ride height and grippy tyres without the added weight and price of the four-wheel drive system, the Panda Trekking model gets the same engines and quirky looks as the 4x4 for around £1,500 less.
Our choice: Panda 4x4 TwinAir
The Fiat Panda is a good-looking supermini, and the 4x4 adds some chunky additions to its cheeky charm. There are chunkier bumpers front and rear, and black plastic side sills which fend off glancing blows from rocks and tree roots. The thick plastic which runs across the doors on all Panda models now features a 4x4 logo, while all cars come with unique 15-inch alloys wrapped in tyres designed for use in mud and snow. There are two special exterior colours - orange and green - and the interior now features an extra button behind the gearlever which activates the EDC. The Trekking version gets black plastic rather than silver skid plates and silver alloy wheels instead of grey. Inside, the the 4x4 uses the same robust trim as the standard Panda, so it gets the 'rounded square' appearance and an easy to use layout. The tall driving position gives the driver an excellent view of the road ahead and the short overhangs make it simple to park.
The previous Panda 4x4 was pretty slow, but that’s been improved with the new car. The diesel engine now boasts 190Nm of torque - up from 145Nm - while the TwinAir petrol also sees torque upped 40 per cent over the previous car. The diesel engine is quite noisy, whether at idle or when you’re getting the car up to speed. Both versions are easy to drive, though, with light steering and plenty of mid-range performance on road or off it. The petrol car has a six-speed manual, with a low first gear for steep inclines, while the diesel has a five-speed manual. The ride height has been raised by 47mm over the standard Panda, which gives good ground clearance and a comfortable ride on tarmac that soaks up large bumps and potholes. The steering is light but direct and offers plenty of feedback, and although there is some body roll through corners, there's enough grip to ensure the Panda 4x4 and Trekking are both just as fun to drive as the standard car.
The Panda 4x4 hasn’t been crash tested by Euro NCAP, but the standard car managed a four-star score. That's because ESP is an option, although the 4x4 does get it included. The 47mm additional ride height and four-wheel drive should mean you get a better view of the road ahead and avoid trouble before it happens to better effect. The score is higher than the three-star result achieved by the Dacia Duster, too. Although Fiat finished last in the 2012 Driver Power reliability survey, the Panda is built on the same proven underpinnings as the Fiat 500. Fiat claims that the clever centre coupling for the four-wheel drive is maintenance free, too.
All Fiat Pandas have a 225-litre boot, and like the regular Panda supermini, the 4x4 has the option of a 60:40 split folding rear seat back. This means that the rear seats are just as flexible should you need to carry more than two people and a decent amount of luggage. Like the normal Panda, there's lots of storage space around the cabin, including two big glove boxes, two cup-holders, decent door bins and extra storage in the centre console, while the backrest of the front passenger seat folds down, too. There's not a lot of legroom in the back, but the Panda's boxy shape does mean that there's plenty of headroom, even if it can't carry quite as much luggage as the similarly priced Dacia Duster.
Both engines are tiny, and power a small and relatively light car, so fuel efficiency is good. The petrol returns a claimed average of 57.6mpg and emits 114g/km of CO2, while the Multijet diesel manages a claimed 60.1mpg and 125g/km. Go for the front-drive only Trekking model and the claimed figures for the TwinAir climb to over 60mpg and emissions fall to 105g/km. The 4x4 sits at the top of the Panda range, so equipment levels are high, although a split folding back seat and third headrest and seatbelt are still on the options list, while prices are expensive when compared with the larger and more practical Dacia Duster. If four-wheel drive isn’t a total priority, the Panda Trekking is a good alternative. This car boasts the same equipment and looks as the Panda 4x4, but only has front-wheel drive, making it cheaper to buy and even cheaper to run.