If the concept of an off-road supermini seems odd to you, then spare athought for all those people who live in the back of beyond but donthave a Land Rover-sized budget.
Fiat has certainly spared a thought for them, and its set to unveilthe new Panda 4x4 at this months Paris Motor Show. Weve splashedthrough the muddy waters of the manufacturer press release to dig outfive golden nuggets of information.
1. Its predecessors were muddy brilliant
The original Fiat Panda is something of an icon in its own right, butthe 4x4 version, released nearly 30 years ago, has endeared itself tohard-working types and petrolheads alike for its no-nonsenseabilities. Light weight and four-wheel drive traction made itincredibly capable in the rough stuff, even if it ultimately cantclimb mountains like a Land Rover Defender. Fiat pulled the same trickagain with the 4x4 version of the previous Panda and jazzed it upfurther with the chunky Panda Cross. This new model certainly hasheritage.
2. Its more high-tech than youd think
Fiat is serious about this 4x4 supermini thing, so its equipped thePanda 4x4 with some trick tech under the skin. The permanentfour-wheel drive system uses a torque-on-demand transmission system,using two differentials and an electronically-controlled coupling.Torque is distributed to whichever wheels can make best use of it, soyoull have the best chance of making progress over tough terrain, andFiat says it needs no maintenance. It also uses an electronicallylocking differential. This works below 30mph to provide extra tractionwhen the going gets slippery.
3. You get two engine choices
Wisely, Fiat has decided to fit its two best engines to the Panda 4x4.
The previous Panda started off with a weedy 1.2 that gave it glacialperformance, but that shouldnt be an issue for the 0.9-litreturbocharged TwinAir, nor the 75bhp MultiJet II turbo-diesel. Firstgear in both is lower than in standard Pandas, for extra torque andflexibility at low speeds. Fiat says the TwinAir develops 40 percentmore torque than the old 1.2, so youll no longer be holding up goatsdown your local farm track.
4. Its no pared-down farmer special
Why have either capability or luxury, when you can have capability andluxury? Range Rover realised this pretty early on, and Fiat continuesthe ethos by loading the Panda 4x4 with generous equipment levels. Inno particular order, youll find climate control, CD/MP3 radio,15-inch burnished alloy wheels (no doubt quickly scraped if youventure off-road), remote central locking, and a huge list ofpotential options.
5. It gets two new brothers in Paris
Focus wont just be on the new mud-plugger at the French show, as Fiatis releasing two more Pandas in Paris. One, the Trekking, takes thelook of the new Panda 4x4 but uses a slightly more road- andfuel-friendly two-wheel drive transmission, like regular Pandas. Itstill gets a smart traction control system, for the occasional jauntinto a wet grassy field. The third new Panda is the Natural Power,which uses the TwinAir engine running a dual-fuel system, methane andpetrol. This should do a good job of reducing running costs, asnatural gas is a fair chunk cheaper than petrol.
We already like the Panda 4x4. It may have gained a little luxury inthis latest incarnation, but it still has the same rufty-tufty appealof the previous cars, with a useful performance boost - one thing theprevious models were lacking.
And if you do live out in the sticks and neither desire nor can afforda full-size off-roader, the Panda 4x4 should give you 90 percent ofthe ability at only a fraction the cost.