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

By Andy Goodwin, 17th October 2012

The verdict

The Fiat Panda 4x4 and Trekking are unique in offering a rugged take on the city car format. Bizarrely it not only works, it makes it one of the best city cars on offer. With surprising levels of off road ability, it’s ready to take on more than the urban jungle.

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Expert rating:

4.0

Pros

  • It’s unique
  • You won’t believe what it can do
  • The rugged suspension makes it comfortable too

Cons

  • Neither version is all that cheap
  • The boot isn’t very big
  • Only a four-star Euro NCAP crash rating

Full Review

1. Exterior

The Fiat Panda 4×4 looks fun, chunky and most importantly, it’s a car you can get excited about. It could only be Italian, its smiling grille, side trims embossed with ‘4×4’ and bubble-font Panda badges making it instantly likeable. Raised ground clearance (by 47mm) and steel front and rear bumper skid plates distinguish it from the standard model. For less adventurous customers, there’s also the Panda Trekking, a two-wheel drive version, which shares the raised ride height of the 4×4, but has to make do with black plastic skid plates. We particularly liked the 4×4 in metallic green, which is sure to be a favourite with Barbour wearers.

Our rating: 4

2. Interior

The interior is largely the same as the standard Panda, with its ‘Squircle’ (square with round corners) theme evident in the instruments and throughout the cabin design. A new dark green dashboard surround is available, as are three new colours for the part leather seats and a new storage compartment. Despite there being no soft-touch plastic anywhere in the Panda, it’s a well-designed cabin with the same sense of fun found outside.

Our rating: 4

3. Practicality

The tall roofline and high driving position mean you’ll forget you’re driving a city car, until it comes time to park. Look over your shoulder and you remember how small the Panda is, and how well it’s suited to the city. The boot measures 225 litres, which can be increased to 870 litres by folding down the rear bench. This configuration does, unfortunately, create an uneven boot floor. Surprisingly the Volkswagen up! has a bigger boot at 250 litres.

Our rating: 5

4. Ride and handling

We drove the 4×4 at a challenging off road testing facility and came away impressed by just how capable it is. The Panda 4×4 first shrugged off a track made from loose rocks and then scurried up a 70 per cent hill with not a hint of drama. Its engineers have done wonders with its new suspension, which soaks up bumps better than you’d believe for such a small car. On the road this translates to a smoother ride, without too much more body roll than the standard car. The Trekking benefits from the same suspension, although we found the one we drove to be not quite as comfy as the 4×4. The Trekking also has a traction control system to make up for its lack of four-wheel drive, designed to transfer power to the front wheel with most grip.

Our rating: 4

5. Performance

Two engines are available in the UK, a petrol 0.9-litre TwinAir turbo with 85bhp and a 1.3-litre diesel with 75bhp. The TwinAir is most fun to drive, with a six-speed box aiding its refinement at motorway speeds. The diesel only has five speeds, which is a shame as its engine is clearly audible when cruising quickly. The petrol best suits the 4×4 and Trekking’s exuberant character too, giving it quick acceleration at urban speeds.

Our rating: 4

6. Running costs

Fiat believes this is the most eco-friendly off-roader on the market, thanks to its pint-sized stature and features like stop and start. The TwinAir 4×4 has official economy figures of 57.6mpg and 114g/km of CO2, while the diesel averages 60.1mpg and 125g/km. For the Trekking, the same engines are capable of 61.4 and 67.2mpg, with emissions under 109g/km of CO2. In Europe a four year servicing, breakdown assistance and warranty package is available, but it has not yet been announced for the UK.

Our rating: 4

7. Reliability

Fiat released the first Panda 4×4 in 1981 and has sold a staggering 6.5 million over the years. In that time it has proved itself to be very robust, a trend which should continue with the new model. Both the 4×4 and Trekking feature tried and tested engines and gearboxes, with tougher new suspension designed to take some punishment.

Our rating: 4

8. Safety

The Fiat Panda was awarded four stars in Euro NCAP crash tests, which is disappointing in a class where most rivals have five. It does, however, feature airbags, ABS and ESP.

Our rating: 3

9. Equipment

The 4×4 and Trekking are based on the Lounge trim level, so come well-equipped with 15-inch alloys, climate control, stereo and remote central locking.  Optional equipment includes auto climate control, heated windscreen, fog lights, Blue&Me connectivity, sat-nav and variations on how the rear seat splits and folds.

Our rating: 3

10. Why buy?

The Fiat Panda 4×4 punches above its weight by essentially being a Land Rover shrunk in the wash, it’s also good on the road. Not only that, but it has an infectious sense of fun.

Our rating: 5

Expert review 4.0stars

  • Exterior4
  • Interior4
  • Practicality5
  • Ride and handling4
  • Performance4
  • Running costs4
  • Reliability4
  • Safety3
  • Equipment3
  • Why buy?5

Our recommendations

Best on a buget:

Panda Trekking 0.9 TwinAir

Rugged looks and suspension while being cheap to tax

Best-seller:

Panda 4×4 0.9 TwinAir

Amazing ability for its size and desirable too

Blow the budget:

Panda 4×4 1.3 MultiJet

Go-anywhere prowess and 60mpg

The Panda 4×4 first shrugged off a track made from loose rocks and then scurried up a 70 per cent hill with not a hint of drama