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Fiat Panda 4×4 (2004 – 2012) expert review

By Martin Gurdon, 6th December 2010

The verdict

The Fiat Panda 4x4 is an almost unique proposition, It’s a five-door supermini with raised ground clearance and permanent four-wheel drive.

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Expert rating:

3.8

Pros

  • Useful extra abilities off tarmac
  • Spacious inside
  • Pleasing to drive on road

Cons

  • It’s very slow
  • Styling additions look awkward
  • Starting to age

Full Review

1. Exterior

The jacked-up Fiat Panda 4×4 can get across lumpy terrain, but it has the stance of a roller skate. The ordinary Panda is an uncluttered, clean-looking little car, and this applies to the petrol, 1.2-litre 4×4, but the 1.3-litre diesel Cross 4×4 version has been given sometimes fussy-looking styling additions, with bulging bumpers, side rubbing stripes plus circular fog and headlamps. There are also roof rails. The end result certainly stands out, but nobody could call it conventionally beautiful.

Our ratings: 4

2. Interior

As with regular Fiat Pandas, this one’s interior is workmanlike and functional. The Panda was conceived as an affordable small car, and this is reflected in the choice of materials used inside it. Owners will find a mix of hard-wearing fabrics and often-hard plastics, which are typical of many cars of this size. The dashboard is pleasingly straightforward, but with a distinctive centre console from which the gear lever juts, rather like some modern vans.

Our ratings: 4

3. Practicality

The Fiat Panda 4×4 reminds us of a slightly smaller Skoda Yeti. The original, lunchbox-shaped Panda had a driving position only a short-legged, long-armed gorilla could love, but this one is a vast improvement. Even tall drivers will find it comfortable. The interior itself has plenty of space for four adults. This isn’t a car for lounging about in, but it’s far from uncomfortable. As for the boot, it is fairly small, but not disastrously so, and with the rear seats folded the Panda can swallow plenty of gear.

Our rating: 4

4. Ride and handling

This Panda’s 4×4 system is clever because it’s simple and effective, using a pair of differentials for the front and rear wheels and something called a viscous coupling to dole out the power to them. This automatic, all-mechanical system works out which sets of wheels needs the most power to maintain traction, and will transfer up to half the power to the rear ones in adverse conditions. On Tarmac the car usually works largely in front-drive mode, saving fuel and emissions. The Panda 4×4 does roll in corners, but it steers accurately, rides well for something so small and is fun to drive on country roads – remember, the brilliant Fiat 500 is Panda-based. Off road, the 4×4 Panda is surprisingly capable too, and will clamber in and out of muddy ruts, and behave like a mechanical mountain goat on slippery slopes. With effective anti-lock brakes it would be a friendly companion in snow and ice.

Our rating: 4

5. Performance

You don’t expect sportscar performance from a little hatchback with a 1.2-litre petrol engine driving all its wheels (there’s also a 1.3-litre MultiJet diesel), and you don’t get it. The model is well known for its genteel performance, and this version takes 20 seconds to reach 62mph, and will eventually wave a white flag at 90mph.

Our rating: 3

6. Running costs

Emissions-wise, it produces a now rather old-fashioned 156g/km of CO2, and posts a claimed 42.8mpg combined. These are poor figures for such a small car, and the bigger four-wheel drive MINI Countryman emits just 129g/km of CO2 in its cleanest Cooper D specification. Luckily, the Panda 4×4 is both insurance and road-tax friendly.

Our rating: 4

7. Reliability

The Panda has been about since 2004, so any design bugs should have been ironed out long ago. It’s a robust-feeling little car, which is helped by its toughened suspension and greater ground clearance.

Our rating: 4

8. Safety

The Panda is becoming one of the older cars in its class, but Fiat worked hard on making it safe. Commendably there are six airbags, and the car is up to speed for electronic braking aids, including electronic brake force distribution. Anti submarine seats and seatbelt pre-tensioners also feature. Unfortunately the Panda the 4×4 is based on only scored three stars in EuroNCAP crash tests, in a class where many rivals have five.

Our rating: 4

9. Equipment

Well, it has standard four-wheel drive, but this version of the car comes with a decent kit list too, which includes remote central locking, engine immobiliser, ‘follow me home’ lights, automatic wipers, and a sump guard, to protect its underside off-road.

Our rating: 4

10. Why buy?

This car offers a unique proposition. There really isn’t anything else like it on the market. For anyone needing real 4×4 prowess in a very small package, it’s the only place to go. It’s also a very practical, capable small car.

Our rating: 4

Expert review 3.8stars

  • Exterior3
  • Interior4
  • Practicality4
  • Ride and handling4
  • Performance3
  • Running costs4
  • Reliability4
  • Safety4
  • Equipment4
  • Why buy?4

This car offers a unique proposition in the supermini segment