Cars are getting more and more loaded with technical wizardry, on the whole this can be a good thing, not only making them easier and safer to drive but also safer for those around them. One such type of car that has it’s fair share of tech is the 4×4, gone seem to be the days when it was down to the driver to control the revs, clutch and where to point the thing as he crossed the land that cars fear to tread. Now you just hit a button, take your feet off the pedals and pretty much sit back and relax as the 4×4 does it all for you. All very good but also not cheap, to get into a 4×4 now a-days you seem to need pretty deep pockets.
However there is one 4×4 that is currently going against all of this, without any high tech geeky stuff, without breaking the bank balance and without causing you to break a sweat as you tackle the rough stuff. The Fiat Panda 4×4, it has been around for, well quite a while, in fact a large portion of the original Panda 4×4’s still tackle the snow and mud up in places like the Alps, these rarely seen primitive beings still apply the same techniques as early 4×4 motors.
So when we had the chance to test one of these loveable little things a few days ago, we couldn’t wait. The first thing that strikes you is it’s size, looking almost like a miniature Tonka toy from my childhood, apart from sitting slightly higher than a regular Panda, it is still small, parked next to a more regular 4×4, the Panda could probably climb aboard and park up inside the glove compartment.
On the inside
As many an advertising slogan will tell you, size isn’t everything, if your familiar with a regular Panda you will know it is more spacious on the inside than it looks. With it’s almost Tardis like feel, small on the outside bigger on the in, you find that 4 adults of 6ft and over can enjoy the ride the little Fiat will give. The Panda has an almost back to basic element to it, no glaring screen to distract you, the purpose is simply to get from A to B in the minimal of fuss without shouting about it, easily laid out instruments give you all the information you might need on your journey. The Tonka toy feel does continue on the inside a little bit, with a bigger than normal gearstick, larger handbrake and larger plastic around the instruments such as Speedo, Rev counter and so on. Rear passenger space is also adequate for a couple of grown ups or children, you wouldn’t want to cross continents in the Panda, it is no long cruising GT but certainly for the day to day as you would expect of a small car, it drives around pretty care free. The boot is also big enough for the weekly shop, something which can’t be said for other small city cars whose boot space is the size of a shoe box.
So what can the little Fiat do? Has it got the Panda Power to tackle the rough stuff? As we embarked on the off road course at Millbrook Proving Ground I have to admit I had some doubt, some of the steep inclines of gravel, mud and sand all around us, made me wonder whether something as small as the Panda could really conquer it.
The first thing you notice is how nimble it feels over the squelchy surface below, no fancy big nobbly rubber here, just the standard road going tyres the Panda has when you collect it from your local Fiat dealer. maybe size does matter, because the Panda is small it is also fairly light in the world of 4×4, not a big 2 & 1/2 ton monster, it copes well with the ground beneath it, moving over the bumps and crevices as it goes up and down yet strangely you don’t feel like you are being thrown around, more like your just following the contours of the land.
Now came the bigger challenge, as unlikely as it is a Panda 4×4 will ever face a slippy muddy loose gradient up to 37%, it would be rude not to do the off road thing properly, so without any pressing of buttons I dropped it into 1st gear and floored the accelerator pedal – Boom! Done, up in no time, very impressive, there was very little sense of the tyres scrambling for grip, the Panda just seemed to get enough of a grip on the surface and hurled itself up to the top, as we turned the corner, naturally what goes up has to come down, so again it was into first, release the clutch and just steer the Panda down with a touch of the brake to control the speed, at first the descent was such that sat at the top I had visions of the Panda becoming a circus acrobat and ending up on it’s nose and then roof, the descent was so steep, as entertaining as that might be for our YouTube channel is wasn’t how I wanted to remember our 4×4 excursion, of course any such idea’s where just silly, the Panda had no more trouble going down that it had going up, arriving at the bottom ready to get on with it.
Back on track
Back on the black stuff and the Panda handles like any other small city car, easy to drive, parking is a whizz, and as the 4×4 has a little more height than a normal Panda it makes it easier still when trying to find a parking space at your local supermarket. Of course given the chance, the dimensions of the little Panda mean it could in fact happily make it’s way up and down the aisles as you do the weekly shop, but despite every little helps I’m not sure I could get away with that. The Panda will happily do the daily commute without making a fuss, be it the school run or work, weaving in and out of traffic, it can be quite amusing to see some of the larger 4×4’s need space the size of a small island to move into before driving on, whilst the Panda just drives by.
Sum of all parts
The Panda won’t win any fashion awards outside the school gate but it doesn’t really care, whilst others worry about a dirty puddle, the Panda will go from road to field without a care in the world, once all the boring chores are done it really does like to get down and dirty. It can mix it with the 4×4 lot at the weekend on the off road course but come Monday morning it will drive along happily doing whatever it is it needs to do. I really do love this car, it is fun and different, I could easily see myself living with it everyday, and also find excuses to venture across a local beach or narrow lane via a field or two given the opportunity at the weekends. It has so much character it could be like a new member of the family…