Supermini crossovers are arriving thick and fast, but while newcomers like the Renault Captur and Peugeot 2008 are bespoke models, Fiat is taking a different approach with the new front-wheel-drive Panda Trekking. And we’ve driven the chunky supermini in the UK for the first time.
The Trekking is designed to slide into the range just below the proper Panda 4x4, and aims to offer the same beefed-up looks and moderate off-road ability, without the extra cost and weight of four-wheel drive.
That means it gets the same 47mm raised ride height and grippy mud and snow tyres as the Panda 4x4, but costs £1,500 less.
Visual clues to separate the two cars include silver 15-inch alloy wheels on the Trekking – the 4x4’s have a gunmetal finish. Plus, the new model’s plastic underbody protection is black, rather than silver on the 4x4.
Even so, the Trekking looks just as charming, and prospective buyers will be amazed by how capable it is when tackling mud and gravel.
The extra travel in the springs means this Panda glides across bumps and potholes, and it has a special Traction+ feature to help it find grip in slippery conditions.
This set-up works by using the ESP to step in when the front tyres start to lose grip, then brakes the spinning wheel while sending torque across the axle to the other.
It only works below 19mph, but makes a real difference when you’re driving on surfaces with mixed levels of grip.
The 85bhp TwinAir model we drove needs to be revved, as there isn’t much torque below 2,000rpm. Push the Eco button on the dash, and the maximum output is cut to just 45Nm to save fuel – crippling the throttle response as a result. The engine emits a characteristic thrum when accelerating, but settles to a fairly hushed cruise.
As with the 4x4, though, the Trekking suffers from worse wind and road noise than the standard Panda (thanks to the all-weather tyres and increased air resistance), and you have to turn up the volume quite loud to hear the stereo clearly.
Otherwise, this model is great fun to drive with plenty of grip and responsive steering that makes it feel nippy and agile in town, where the tall ride height also comes in handy for tackling speed bumps.
This latest Panda also comes with the same comprehensive kit as the 4x4. And while options like our model’s Sicilian Orange paint (£450), side airbags (£200) and three rear seatbelts (£50) soon add up, this car is priced to undercut its crossover rivals.
As the Trekking is 75kg lighter than the Panda 4x4, it emits only 105g/km of CO2 and should be easier on fuel – although our experience suggests Fiat’s 61.4mpg claim is optimistic.