In its most affordable AWD form, Fiat's Panda 4x4 reprises a longstanding tradition of go-anywhere Pandas. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Fiat Panda Wild 4x4 is an all-wheel drive version of Fiat's city car that's been beefed up and given a whole suite of very clever traction management electronics that ought to drag it out of the tightest spots. Gnarly all-terrain tyres and an elevated ride height mean that this one has genuine off-road chops. There's an even more capable 'Cross' version but here, we're looking at the more affordable 'Wild' variant.
The Fiat Panda makes a very good citycar. The key problem is, for Fiat at least, that there are any number of other urban scoots that do much the same. Why would you choose a Panda over, say, a Peugeot 108 or a Volkswagen up! or even a Hyundai i10? Yes, the image of studied Latin nonchalance might appeal and a base Panda sitting outside a Soho espresso bar would probably be cooler than any of the aforementioned alternatives, but where the Panda really shines, where it really becomes something special is when it sends drive to all four wheels.
Fiat sells two kinds of four wheel drive Panda, a standard 'Panda Wild 4x4' and a slightly more capable 'Panda Cross 4x4'. Think of the latter as a Panda Wild 4x4 plus ten per cent. But if you don't need that extra 10% and just want to keep going in the Winter months when an ordinary small hatch couldn't, then this 'Wild' version will suit you just fine.
The engine that powers the both kinds of 4WD Panda is the brand's TwinAir 0.9-litre petrol unit which manages 85bhp from its two cylinders. The main difference between the Panda Wild 4x4 and the Panda Cross 4x4 is the latter's standard 'Torque-on-Demand' transmission system - which you probably won't need unless you're planning to take this car off road.
So, is this a proper 4WD vehicle that just happens to be shaped like a citycar? Or a citycar that just happens to have 4WD? If, like me, you guessed at the second option before your test drive, you'd be right. For a start, there's potentially as little as 150mm of ground clearance, so attempting the Rubicon trail in one of these would be something of a non-starter. But of course, though Fiat talks about trips to Lapland, a Paris-Dakar Rally entry and daring drives to the Mount Everest base camp, that's not what this car is really about.
Let's be real here: it's a second family vehicle that'll get you just about anywhere you reasonably want to go in a snowy snap.
The 4x4 system is one of those 'torque-on-demand' set-ups - which essentially means that the car will always be front-driven unless slippery conditions require that drive to the rear wheels be also brought into play, which then happens automatically without the need for any driver input. At this point, two differentials and an electronically controlled coupling take over, gradually increasing the amount of power sent to the rear wheels as conditions demand.
There's also an 'ELD' or 'Electronic Locking Differential' feature you can select in really bad conditions at speeds of under 31mph by pressing a button behind the gearlever. With ELD in place, wheels with poor grip are automatically braked, while power is then simultaneously transferred to those with greater purchase. The electronics also cut in to create an anti-skid system when you're negotiating steep descents. As a result, this little thing will go much further than you might expect from something with a ride height raised by just 47mm over its standard citycar stablemate. True, it won't match a really proper SUV when the going gets especially gnarly but off the beaten track, it'll certainly embarrass a lot of compact 4x4s you'd expect to cope far better.
Design and Build
The Panda Wild 4x4 gets more restrained styling than its Cross 4x4 showroom stablemate. Compared to an ordinary Panda, there's a raised ride height, more prominent front fog lights, different front bumpers, an insert in the side skirts and 15-inch dark metal alloy wheels. Various black exterior elements, including the roof rack, side protection, door mirror housings and external handles, complete the look.
Inside, this design is starting to feel its age. So there are no soft-touch plastics or soothing chrome highlights. But there's still lots of clever design. The lovely mouse-shaped handbrake lever. And the fact that if you search hard enough, you'll find no fewer than 15 different storage spaces. One of them is the roomy pocket you get on the dash ahead of the front passenger, something supposed to evoke a nod towards original Eighties Panda motoring
And rear seat space? Well, I can't off hand think of many other citycar-sized hatchbacks that even attempt to carry five people in the way this Fiat tries to do. Out back, the 225-litre boot isn't bad. If you need more room and aren't using the back seat, pushing it forward frees up 870-litres.
Market and Model
The Panda Wild 4x4 costs around £16,300, around £1,700 less than the top Panda Cross 4x4. Equipment includes two-tone grey seats and an anthracite-coloured dashboard. There's also a leather steering wheel with audio controls, manual air conditioning and a 'Uconnect' infotainment system complete with a DAB radio, Bluetooth and a smartphone mount installed on the dashboard.
You also get roofrails, daytime running lights, front foglights, power front windows and a Hill Holder clutch to stop you from drifting backwards on uphill junctions. As for safety, twin front and curtain 'bags are standard, as are all the usual electronic assistance features for braking, traction and stability control.
Cost of Ownership
The Panda Wild 4x4 manages 37.7mpg on the WLTP combined cycle and 156g/km of WLTP-rated CO2. As with all Panda 4x4s, residual values will doubtless hold up really well. The warranty is a typical three year affair but with a 100,000 mile limit that's significantly higher than some other brands will give you. The car is covered by a three-year, unlimited mileage warranty and there's 36 months of breakdown cover included as well. Servicing needn't be too costly as Fiat parts are relatively cheap. The brand also offers fixed price service plans that take care of all service charges, labour and replacement fluids. You can pick from durations that span from one to five years, with corresponding mileage from 9,000 to 45,000 miles.
It's hard not to love a 4WD Fiat Panda. On the face of it, a go-anywhere citycar seems faintly ridiculous; one of those pointless symbols of urban one-upmanship. Then you think about it a bit more and it makes all kinds of sense. If you live in the sticks and need genuine all-weather ability, what options are there other than hulking SUVs? Yes, there's a Suzuki Swif4 4GRIP but if you want something that feels as if it could survive a head-on with a badger without putting you in a wheelchair, this 4WD Panda looks a ready made answer.
Even if you're not already digging in for winter, this go-anywhere little Fiat offers affordable fun for those who might just want to do a bit of green-laning of a weekend. And it's in great demand on the used market. If you want something that's fun and isn't going to put your driving licence at risk, a 4WD Panda offers a genuine alternative.