The Fiat Panda 4x4 should be my kind of car. Its small, fun, doesnt take itself too seriously, and has four-wheel-drive. It also looks great and has a classless appeal that means you can take it from the opera to the farmers market in one fell swoop.
It has also received some very positive reviews, reviews that have earned it a carwow score of 8.1. The experts love its chunky looks, hugely improved build quality, and value for money. I tested the two-wheel-drive version a while ago and, with some caveats, liked it very much.
Time to step up to the 4x4 to see if adding drive to the back axle has changed anything for the worse.
Boxy and simple, the 4x4 Panda looks utterly terrific in metallic NATO Green. You and I, being aesthetes with a practical bent, might consider the silver plastic underbody protection a trifle faux, but even we would have to agree that it toughens the little Fiats stance.
It sits slightly higher than the two-wheel-drive Panda (for light duty off-roading ground clearance is often more important than four-wheel-drive) but still looks diminutive enough to be kept in the boot of your Discovery, there to be used should your Land Rover run into mechanical difficulties
Squircular is the theme. Squircular and green. Oh, and heavy duty. Thats good except for the squircular bit. (I bet you think Im banging on about the squircular thing a bit too much, dont you? Im not. They are literally everywhere and, like a comedy catchphrase thats overused, they end up being irritating, not endearing)
The interior is a LEGOLAND interpretation of Army-meets-Armani, being chic and tough and utterly in synch with the Pandas stated aim of getting you across field and up dale in as nonchalant a manner as possible. It isnt exactly high quality but it is fun and it is, small boot notwithstanding, spacious enough even for a tall, wide motoring journalist with a dodgy back.
It drives, on the road at least, very much like the standard Panda. Its frantic and frenetic and ever so slightly frenzied. It understeers quite hard but snaps to if you haul a bit harder on the steering wheel. It rolls, of course, but is capable of inch-perfect placement and much higher cornering speeds than you imagine.
I didnt do much off-roading (Fiat would surely have frowned if Id tried too hard and broken the poor little thing) and, as I suspected, increased ground clearance was the most important factor.
Winter tyres were fitted which would have improved grip in cold, icy, and snowy conditions; in mud, however, they just clogged up and I ended up with all four wheels spinning evenly.
This did, at least, demonstrate that the four-wheel-drive system was working perfectly but it didnt keep me mobile. Best to think of the Panda 4x4 as an all-weather car rather than an all-terrain one.
The two-cylinder TwinAir engine is a wonderful little thing. Pumping out (and there really is no other verb for it) 85 bhp it needs to be worked hard to get the best from it. Driven like that it crackles and snorts in a wonderfully satisfying way satisfying, that is, until you come to refuel, in which case you will discover that no-one understands the EU fuel consumption cycle better than Fiat.
The official fuel consumption figure is 57.6 mpg, 10 mpg down on the equivalent two-wheel-drive model. You wont get that though. Oh, no. Mid 40s will be closer to the mark unless you drive like Mother Theresa, in which case you might get 50 mpg.
The performance of the 4x4 Panda is slightly down on that of its road-oriented sibling; 0-62mph takes 12.1 seconds instead of 11.2 for example and the top speed is seven miles per hour slower at 103mph. CO2 emissions rise too, being 114g/km instead of 99g/km.
Value for Money
The Panda 4x4 TwinAir costs 13,995, with the diesel MultiJet costing 1,000 more. Options are rife but its a well-equipped car as standard and you probably wont feel cheated if you keep things simple.
I said of the two-wheel-drive Panda TwinAir: It is an easy car to love and - possibly - a harder one to live with. It's loud, snarky, infuriating, and adorable. Imagine Amy Winehouse at the age of forty, living in the countryside, with an Aga and a Labrador; good fun, but tiring, and you might just prefer Felicity Kendal for the long haul.
You know what? The four-wheel-drive version is more of the same; fun but exhausting and I must be getting old because Id rather have the diesel. It might cost a 1,000 more but Id pay it in a flash for an easier, quieter life. The improved fuel consumption would be a small, utterly irrelevant bonus.
Or, you could play a curveball, and go for the Panda Trekking. Only the front wheels are driven but thanks to some clever electronics - which function a bit like a locking differential - itll keep moving in the mud for a lot longer than you would think possible. Doing so will save you around 2,500 and if you invest some of that on a second set of wheels and some winter tyres, I dont think youll find yourself stranded much more frequently and your running costs could be significantly lower.