The Fiat Panda 4×4 is a city car, but if you imagine that this is a typical ‘pretend’ small crossover with no off-road capability you would be very wrong, as our test up a snowy mountain demonstrated
The Fiat Panda has always stood out from the crowd, stubbornly refusing to follow convention, so it is fitting that Fiat has continued to fill the smallest of niches with the latest iteration. It may have first appeared in 1983 but even today a 4×4 City Car is an unexpected combination.
Design & Engineering
The first thing to make clear with the Panda 4×4 is that it is a different breed to the other car-derived 4x4s, and here’s why: it has permanent four-wheel drive, electronic diff locks, 20% approach and departure capability, a very short first gear and, crucially, standard fit mud and snow tyres give the little Fiat genuine off-road ability. The only sign that off-road ability has been compromised is the swap to cheaper torsion beam rear suspension.
Under the bonnet you get the trusted 1.3-litre MultiJet diesel engine. If you’re considering a bit of off-road work, torque is key and this engine fits the bill nicely; with 140 lb. ft. of torque from 1500 rpm, it’s well matched to the featherweight Panda. It also strikes a decent balance between performance and efficiency with just enough go to keep up with everyday traffic.
The interior is well laid out and has a distinct styling theme running through it with everything forming ‘rounded squares’, including the top of the gear lever. Look carefully and you’ll find even more squares outside too. The high roofline and expansive glass area gives a great feeling of space and provides good visibility too, something that is useful in the urban jungle and off the beaten track.
The permanent all-wheel drive system has two differentials. Power can be apportioned between the front and rear axles depending on the amount of grip available.
The system is completely automatic. In normal dry conditions, 98 per cent of the engine torque is transferred to the front wheels. This means the car handles in a very similar way to a front-wheel drive model and there are no increases in fuel consumption or tyre wear.
Under low grip conditions such as snow, ice or mud, wheel spin is prevented by distributing torque to all four wheels. There’s also ESP (Electronic Stability Programme) with ELD (Electronic Locking Differential) as standard. The ELD helps improve traction by braking wheels with poor grip on slippery terrain and transferring the driving force to those with greater grip. The ELD function can be activated manually at speeds lower than 31mph simply by pressing a button behind the gear lever.
The car is also equipped with an anti-skid system designed to maximise safety while negotiating descents or turning in low grip conditions. This uses the ABS sensors on the wheels and the engine’s electronic control unit (ECU) to prevent the torque of engine braking locking the rear axle when the car decelerates suddenly.
The car has 160mm of ground clearance (10mm more than the TwinAir model) and comes as standard with specially-developed 175/65 R15 84T mud and snow tyres.
Fiat Panda 4×4 Driving Experience
We like the driving experience of the two-wheel drive Fiat Panda, so it’s no surprise that we also like the way that 4×4 version drives. On the road, the Panda has an excellent ride – it copes very well with the biggest urban challenge, speed bumps – and it certainly has a ‘small, fun SUV’ feel about it.
To us, the biggest problem with the entire car is that the steering wheel has no reach adjustment. This means that people with anything other than short legs will find it difficult to find a driving position that is comfortable over long distances, as the steering wheel is too far away, and so you have to move the seat too close to the pedals. The driver’s seat also doesn’t go down particularly low – and our car had an extra-cost option of a height adjustable driving seat.
The only other real issue with the car is that it feels like it needs a sixth gear at motorway speeds, as the engine is revving away and at that point the Panda is not a very quiet or relaxing place to be. Yes, we’re aware that the Panda is a city car and so theoretically people will never drive it outside of the city, but because it’s such a capable car, owners are bound to take it further afield.
As this is a 4×4, we had to test its 4×4 abilities, and as luck would have it, our 4×4 test route up a mountain in North Wales was still full of snow from a number of weeks earlier. As we came into contact with the snow, the Panda, with its ‘proper’ 4×4 system, decent ground clearance, short front and rear overhangs, and, crucially, its standard-fit mud and snow tyres, was able to venture much further into the wild than the vast majority of small SUVs.
We were faced with mud, river crossings, hills and increasing amounts of snow, and the Panda kept finding traction and kept going. After many miles we were approaching the summit of the mountain and we drove around a corner to come across a heavily modified Land Rover Discovery, in an off-roading convoy with another Discovery and a Defender, that had come to a very sticky halt in a three-foot snowdrift. The other Discovery was trying to tow it out of the drift but was struggling. Eventually, after much effort, the beached Discovery was freed and the three Land Rovers went on their way.
The Land Rover drivers offered to tow the Panda over the resulting three-foot step of snow that was left blocking the trail, but we gracefully declined and wished the Land Rover team well in their quest for the summit. The Land Rover drivers were absolutely amazed that a small standard city car had managed to get this far up the mountain. A few years earlier we had taken a previous-model Panda up to the top of the mountain, resulting in similar amazement from another Land Rover off-road convey, so we felt confident that we could have made it in the latest model, but three-feet snowdrifts were perhaps just a bit too much for a city car.
Key to the Panda’s ability was the standard fitment of the mud and snow tyres. Fiat deserves an award for fitting its 4×4 models with tyres that allow the 4×4 system to work. Conversely, other manufacturers should learn a lesson from this – see our road test of the Vauxhall Mokka 4×4 the previous week in the snow; with completely standard road tyres, the Mokka couldn’t even negotiate one inch of snow safely.
Fiat Panda 4×4 Economy and Emissions
The Fiat Panda 4×4 has an official combined economy figure of 60.1mpg, with emissions of 125g/km CO2. With the exception of the diesel-hybrid Peugeot 508 RXH – a car that is considerably more expensive – the Panda is the most economical 4×4 that you can buy. In real life we achieved an average of 44.9 mpg – falling short of the official figures is no surprise with any car, and we certainly weren’t shocked in the case of the Panda, with its very (non-aerodynamic) square body. Its official economy on the NEDC test is helped by the car’s Start&Stop system, but with our often long journeys, totalling well over 500 miles, the Start&Stop system hardly helped us at all.
Price, Equipment and Model Range
The Fiat Panda 4×4 with this 1.3-litre MultiJet diesel engine costs £14,950. Relative to the car’s breadth of capability, this is very good value. It also has standard equipment that includes air conditioning, Blue&Me multimedia system, ESP, a CD/MP3 radio, 15-inch alloy wheels with mud and snow tyres, electric heated door mirrors, central locking with remote control, and rear head restraints.
Our test car came with a number of options including metallic paint (Tuscany Green) (£450); five seats with 60/40 split Fix&Fold rear seat (£100); heated windscreen (£125); passenger seat folding table (£50); leather steering wheel and gearknob (£105); height adjustable driver’s seat (£50); smoker’s kit (£50); ‘predisposition’ for Blue&Me TomTom (£50); city brake control (£250); space saver spare wheel (£50); and ‘comfort kit’ (rear grab handles, coat hook, driver’s side sunglasses holder, height adjustable front seatbelts) (£100). These options took the total price to £16,330.
You can buy a Panda 4×4 for £1000 less if you go for the TwinAir petrol engine (£13,950). This is much better suited to city use than the diesel, but if you live in the countryside and do a reasonable mileage each year, we’d recommend the diesel.
There’s also the Panda Trekking. This looks like the 4×4 version, but only has front-wheel drive. However it still has mud and snow tyres, and standard Traction+. This traction control system improves handling on difficult and slippery terrain but costs far less than conventional four-wheel drive, resulting in the Trekking costing just £12,450 with the TwinAir petrol engine, or £13,450 for the MultiJet diesel.
Look at the Fiat Panda from the point of view of a typical 4×4 and you’ll find it wanting in a few areas. Chief amongst these is the lack of reach adjustment on the steering wheel, resulting in a poor driving position, and the high revs of the engine at motorway speeds.
However if you look at the Panda 4×4 from the viewpoint of a city car, then it soon becomes obvious that the Panda is not only the most interesting city car, but also the most capable by far. The normal Panda doesn’t feel like a city car, and the 4×4 version distances itself from this category by an even greater margin.
Yes, the four-wheel drive system gives it greater ability, but that ability can only be translated to the road by Fiat’s standard fitment of mud and snow tyres. Amazingly, very few other manufacturers of 4x4s fit them with tyres that are capable off-road; they should all learn from Fiat. The Panda is a ‘real’ 4×4 in a world of ‘pretend’ 4x4s.
The Fiat Panda 4×4 is also practical, has a sensible price, and good fuel economy, so it gets a Green-Car-Guide rating of 9 out of 10. If Fiat improved the driving position and gave it longer gearing at motorways speeds, it would enjoy a 10 out of 10.