Fiat Panda 4×4 road test
A superb performer that left a long-lasting impression, especially with its off-road capability.
What is it?
The latest third generation Fiat Panda 4×4 is a successor to one that first appeared nearly 30 years ago. It boasts versatility and the best of today’s quality, comfort, technology and safety features.
How safe is it?
Euro NCAP awarded the Panda 4×4 four stars where most rivals in its class have five. It does, however, feature airbags, ABS, ESP and an automatic brake control system.
Who should buy one?
Designed to appeal to drivers who want both city car features and the reassurance of extra grip on slippery surfaces, it will also attract those who require the go-anywhere ability of a full SUV.
Ashley Fearon’s review: Good Motoring, Summer 2013
DRIVING AND PERFORMANCE
The most notable difference between this and the standard car is the addition of rugged-looking exterior plastic cladding. Not all of this is for purely aesthetic reasons. The bumpers help to protect the front and rear overhangs, and the 15-inch alloys come with mud and snow tyres fitted as standard.
There are two choices in the engine department. There’s a slightly less thirsty 75hp, 1.3-litre Multijet diesel which is married to a five-speed gearbox. If you’re after more verve, then there’s a 0.9-litre twin-cylinder petrol engine with a six-speed gearbox, which provides an extra 10hp.
The diesel engine might seem the more obvious choice, but while it has torque and economy advantages over its petrol partner, it is desperately short of a sixth gear. At 70mph it is thrashing noisily at 3,000rpm, and even at speeds around 50mph, we found ourselves reaching for the gearshift in the hope of finding an extra gear to help quieten down the engine. It also costs £1,000 more than the petrol version.
Performance-wise, the diesel engine is, not unsurprisingly, more sluggish than the petrol version. It takes 14.5 seconds to go from 0-62mph compared to the petrol engine’s 12.1 seconds. This is hardly quick but that’s not what these cars were designed for. Wind and road noise is moderate but definitely not offensive.
On the road, the Panda 4×4 is more ‘Matt Monroe’ than ‘Robbie Williams’.The raised suspension helps soak up bigger potholes and bumps. The steering is extremely light and ideal for negotiating tight situations, and the chubby gear knob and steering wheel means it doesn’t feel fragile.
Despite few Panda 4×4 models ever being likely to see more than a muddy car-boot sale field, let alone some real challenging off-road terrain, this is where the little Fiat really excels. We took to the particularly nasty ‘off-road’ course at Stoneleigh Park, where the Panda 4×4 simply astounded everyone, as it possessed the ability to navigate anywhere the vast majority of much larger 4x4s could go.
SPACE AND PRACTICALITY
The interior has undergone a radical redesign. It is really attractive and broadly similar to that of the standard car. The 4×4 also gets a higher centre console to add a 15th storage compartment (one more than the standard car) and there’s a more conventional central locking glovebox.
The front seats are comfortable but shoulder and legroom space is at a premium in the rear. At only 225 litres, you won’t squeeze anything much larger than thin-crust pizza into the boot either, although with the rear seats folded down, it provides 870 litres of cargo space.
The Panda has an exceptionally rigid body; 70% of it constructed from high resistance materials. Four airbags come as standard, while the front seatbelts feature pre-tensioners. Front seats are equipped with an anti-whiplash system. There’s City Brake Control which uses a windscreen-mounted laser to detect obstacles or vehicles. At speeds under 20mph, the system stops the car if it detects a frontal collision is about to happen.
The 4×4 comes similarly equipped to the range-topping ‘Lounge’ trim, which means two-tone fabric combinations, 15-inch alloys, climate control, stability control, start-stop, and Bluetooth connectivity all come as standard. Optional equipment includes rear-parking sensors and heated windscreen. The steering wheel is reassuringly chunky but in its most comfortable position it partially blocks the view to the central dials.
Some may think the Panda 4×4’s biggest problem will be its price. At £14,950, the diesel model is expensive for a small SUV. However, if you adore the Panda 4×4’s charm, you might want to consider the Panda Trekking, which is front-wheel-drive only but gets the same rugged styling and costs £2,000 less. As a compact city car and highly competent SUV, we think it’s an absolute bargain.
The Panda simply astounded everyone with its go-anywhere capability.
AT A GLANCE:
Performance: 0-60mph in 14.5 seconds
Economy: 60.1mpg combined
Insurance: Group 7
Tax: Band D (£100 standard rate)
(Figures for the Panda 4×4 1.3 MultiJet)