"Despite its tiny size, the Panda 4x4 is more capable than many larger SUVs."
Fiat remains the only carmaker to squeeze a full-time four-wheel drive system into a supermini. As well having four-wheel-drive, the Panda gets 47mm extra ground clearance over the standard Panda, plus chunkier bumpers, making it look like a baby Land Rover. However, it still retains the standard Panda's compact size, making it easier to live with and use in town than a full-size off-roader. There's a choice of petrol or diesel engines and, if you like the off-road looks but need to keep costs in check, there's a front-wheel-drive model called the Panda Trekking that's cheaper both to buy and run. The Panda Trekking sits above the regular Panda range, with the Panda 4x4 higher still, so prices for these models are steeper than the rest of the range. However, the list of standard equipment is also improved over the standard car to reflect this.
The Panda is only small, but the extra suspension makes for a much more absorbent and comfortable ride on longer trips. The diesel engine is a little noisy, both when idle and getting up to speed, but it offers plenty of power, while the TwinAir petrol makes a unique, characterful buzzing sound that's more like a moped than a car. Raised ground clearance, a clever electronic differential and low-ratio first gear makes the Panda 4x4 a surprisingly decent off-road car. Few are likely to see more than a damp field, but it tackles the most difficult of terrain with ease, and even embarrasses some bigger SUVs with its ability. However, the visibility and manoeuvrability remain as good as the regular supermini - the controls are light, too, making the Panda 4x4 and Trekking very easy to drive around town.
The Panda offers excellent front seat space, while the raised ride height improves visibility of the road ahead. The suspension gives a comfortable ride over large bumps and potholes, which makes the Panda 4x4 and Trekking feel like larger cars, even though they’re really direct rivals for some of the smallest cars on sale in the UK. The 4x4 does feel a little unsettled over more consistently rough surfaces. Fiat has made the windows larger on the Panda than the previous model, making sure the interior remains light and airy.
Fiat's reputation for reliability in the UK isn’t the strongest, but the firm is working hard to make amends with a large investment in its dealers. Fiat has also introduced the Mopar brand to its outlets, which Fiat promises will bring a big improvement in aftersales and warranty service. A Fiat Panda 4x4 care package will also be offered, which includes four years warranty, roadside assistance, servicing and a set of four winter tyres. The Panda 4x4 is built on the same platform as the Fiat 500, and the firm claims that the four-wheel drive system requires no maintenance.
For such a small car the Panda is impressively practical. The interior is unchanged from the standard Panda supermini, so there's plenty of space for the driver and front-seat passenger, plus a large main storage area, glove box and two cup holders. The 4x4 actually adds an extra storage compartment, taking it up from 14 in the regular car to 15. The back seats offer good headroom but adults will struggle for rear leg space. The boot offers a decent 225-litre capacity, but the extra height does make it slightly more difficult to lift heavy items into the boot than the standard Panda. The rear seat backs don’t quite fold flat, and don’t split 60:40, either.
Value for money
On first impressions, the Panda 4x4 seems expensive, particularly as the regular Panda range is priced quite cheaply. However, the level of standard equipment makes up for this, with air-con, electric windows and mirrors, plus a USB and MP3-compatible stereo all included. This is in addition to the off-road upgrades, which include 15-inch alloy wheels, bigger bumpers and steel underbody protectors. However, if you don’t necessarily need four-wheel drive, the Trekking model is cheaper to buy and comes with the same level of equipment, and a clever Traction+ system that improves traction on wet or snow-covered roads.
The Panda 4x4 and Trekking can be had with either a 74bhp 1.3-litre four-cylinder diesel or a 84bhp 875cc two-cylinder petrol, both with stop-start. However, neither of them emit less than 100g/km, unlike some models in the regular Panda line-up, meaning extra road tax bills. The Trekking models return 67.3mpg and 61.4mpg for the diesel and petrol models, respectively, while the 4x4s drop to 60.1mpg and 57.6mpg. However, the Panda remains cheap to run, insure and service, even if you opt for the 4x4 and the addition complexity that entails.