Did you know that Fiat has been building a 4 wheel drive Panda for the last 30 years now?
Indeed, driving the Panda lets you feel right away the experience of this Italian automaker in building compact, endearing, do-it-all city and road cars. This shows in every detail of this Panda, in every metre you drive it. We tested the Panda in the 1,3 Multijet II diesel version...
Hans Knol ten Bensel
Styled with character...
The Panda lines are very typical, with a rounded circle theme repeated in the steering wheel, instruments, decoration, knobs and handles, you name it. This theme even evokes the rounded yet square contours of the Panda body, which has a timeless and endearing individuality and character to it. Has the Panda already stolen your heart? Quite probably, it has done so with many car experts... Still this year, Britain's best selling magazine for off road enthusiasts, 4x4 magazine, has elected the Panda as winner of the Mini 4 x 4 class.
We liked not only the stylish interior, but also the chosen materials and colours, both inside and out. The car is also lavishly equipped, with airco and a very good navigation and enetrainment system, with not less than 6 speakers.
Media connection is also provided, and thus you can fully enjoy the very remarkeable audio quallity of the system, and listen with delight to the mellow tones of the Bill Evans trio for example in their Album "I will say Goodbye" with excellent rendering of the piano and other instruments of the trio.
We also liked the many practicalities of the cabin, the storage space, the good ergonomic placement of the controls. The cabin is not massive, but offers excellent headroom.
Clever 4 x 4...
The four-wheel drive system is an ingenious further development of the previous unit.
When the front wheels slip, a viscous coupling will divert engine power to the rear.
In normal driving conditions however, a good 98 % of the traction is fed to the front wheels.
The differential lock is electronic instead of mechanical, and is actually a further development of the traction control system. It prevents the wheel without traction from spinning by applying a braking force, and preloads the viscous coupling system with hydraulic pressure to trigger even faster response.
The diesel version of the Panda comes with the "classic" five speed box, and gearing is well suited to the character of the engine. The fifth gear is somewhat short for high speed motorway cruising though.
Willing 1.3 litre MultiJet II engine
The Panda has efficient diesel power, some good 75 hp of it. The engine is well audible in the small cabin, but this settles to a very acceptable level when one lets the engine pull well at low revs. Start & Stop comes as standard, and to make the best of the good torque of the engine, a gear shift indicator comes also as standard equipment.
Vibrations are well countered, and the overall refinement is quite surprising, considering the car's size. In clearly shows that Fiat has massive experience in making small cars like the Panda. Of this and the previous versions, Fiat has made some 6,5 million of it...
The same goes for the engine, it is a very well proven unit, and is lively as well as frugal. Performance is quite adequate too, with a top speed of 99 mph and a sprint from 0 to 100 in a good 14,5 seconds. The Panda returns 60,1 mpg or 4,7 litres/100 km, and we had no trouble achieving this figure. Emissions settle in at 125 g CO2/km.
Taking the Panda for a quick trip to Paris, we photographed it of course in front of the Motor Village at the Rond Point des Champs Elysées...
The Panda feels of course especially well at home in the city. The car's nimble dimensions, its very good overall visibility, and there is last but not least the "city" servo mode of the electronic power steering, which makes urban parking and narrow street bends a featherlight affair: all this contributes to undistilled city driving fun. Clutch is progressive and smooth, engine untemperamental, and this makes your Panda the excellent dense traffic crawler.
Then it does not feel out of place on the open road or the motorway either. Cornering is quite spirited, there is very good straight line stability and low wind noise and tyre roar at speed. The engine is completely effortless, say up to 125 kmh, and in one hectic afternoon we drove it to Paris and back, for some urgent matters, which proved a completely untiring experience.
The Panda 4 x 4 is an endearing car, which has so many good qualities that you would forget to buy a larger car to do all the things this supermini does so well. You can enjoy it off road in the summer, take it on a city shopping or boulevard trip, or in winter enjoy some winter sports snow fun, putting it through its paces on the Alpine steep roads and slopes... What are you waiting for?
Hans Knol ten Bensel