Fiat Panda 4x4The latest Panda’s to be imported to the UK will be quite rare on and off our streets.

Fiat normally sells around 6,000 Panda five door  3.68-metre long City Cars in the UK each year  and the third new generation  range is about to get two more family members – but in limited numbers.

The Panda 4x4  with permanent all wheel drive should achieve around 500 UK sales  and the Panda Trekking, a two-wheel drive Traction+ version  of the chunky high ground clearance 4x4,  will sell in numbers that currently Fiat UK cannot estimate but this version could exceed its 4x4 stablemate.   Fiat say the Trekking is the World’s first CUV or City Utility Vehicle.

Fiat’s UK Product Manager Rob Lake said at the UK media first test drives in a suitably snowy and icy conditions that they know the demand for previous Panda 4x4 versions but the Trekking is a new area for them.  With demand increasing in the UK for compact City Cars (+54%) in 2012 and 4x4s/SUVs (+21%) the two new Panda’s are the right products for today’s customers.

Fiat Panda 4x4He added that the Panda 4x4 with its all wheel drive system is a genuine go anywhere on or off road performer.  The Trekking will appeal to owners who, when conditions are difficult, want the added confidence that their front wheel drive Panda can cope with poor on road conditions or for light off road recreational use. Both these models will attract mainly retail customers but, said Lake; “The Trekking should offer some fleet sales opportunities with say the local Health authorities for rural care staff.  It is these sales opportunities, unknown to us now, that could determine just how popular the Trekking version becomes  especially as this version is around £1,500 cheaper than the 4x4 models.”

Both the Panda 4x4 and the Trekking versions have the option of two engine choices, a 1.3-litre MultiJet 75hp turbodiesel  and the award winning 0.9-litre TwinAir 85hp turbocharged two-cylinder petrol unit.  Both engines have fuel and CO2 saving Start&Stop function.  The petrol TwinAir 4x4 model has a six-speed manual transmission and the other variants five-speed manual gearboxes.

Rob Lake estimates that 60 per cent of Panda 4x4 customers will choose the diesel engine because of its higher torque output of 190Nm more suited for progressive but strong power delivery for off road conditions.   The Trekking is likely to see 60 per cent of customers choosing the sporty TwinAir 145Nm turbocharged petrol engine for its more spritely on road performance.

Both models are based on the current third generation Fiat Panda with its Lounge specification but with added equipment.  The Panda 4x4 costs £13,950 with the TwinAir petrol engine and £14,950 with the MultiJet diesel. That is £2,700 more than the standard Panda Lounge version because of the all wheel drive system, 4x4 styling, electronic stability programme, Blue&Me connectivity, steering wheel control buttons and mud and snow tyres.

Fiat Panda 4x4The Trekking TwinAir costs £12,450 and the MultiJet version £13,450.  This is £1,200 more than standard Panda Lounge models because of the Traction+ system and the same added spec items as the Panda 4x4.

Customers for the Panda 4x4 and Trekking variants have a wide choice of extras cost options, the most appropriate being, given their off road performance, a £50 space saver spare wheel.
The third generation Fiat Panda front wheel drive range went on sale last year and the first Panda 4x4 appeared 29 years ago.  This third generation 4x4 and the first generation Trekking have the standard, compact five door but tall Panda body, but now enhanced by chunky front and rear bumpers, protective side and wheelarch mouldings, a raised 200mm ride height for better ground clearance and 15-inch alloy wheels. The 4x4 models have silver coloured front and rear skid plates for further underbody protection.  Front foglights, daytime running lights and roof rails are also fitted as standard.

Inside both models the centre console is raised in height to position the added traction system select buttons closer to the driver’s hand.  There is an appealing use of colours and finishes for the interior giving a youthful appearance.  Specification is relatively high with electric front windows, electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors, remote central locking, height adjustable steering wheel, front and rear head-restraints, air conditioning, front and window airbags and radio/CD player with six speakers.

Fiat Panda 4x4Both engines we already know so there isn’t much to add about those. The 4x4 system is permanent drive but for 98 per cent of the time say Fiat the Panda 4x4 will operate in front wheel drive mode only with drive to the rear wheels taking place automatically when traction is lost at either of the front wheels.  The driver can also select 4x4 mode which gives a progressive and maximum 50-50 torque split between the front and rear axles.  The electronic braking stability function will apply the brakes to whichever wheels are spinning and then divert the power to the wheels with grip to get the vehicle out of difficulties.   Drive to the rear wheels is via a propshaft running from the rear of the front gearbox to the rear axle differential where a hydraulically operated multiplate clutch distributes the drive to the left and right rear wheels.

The Trekking’s Traction+ system only operates on the front wheels at speeds up to 18.6mph. Essentially the front differential applies traction to the wheel with the most grip and automatically applies the brake to the spinning wheel so the wheel with grip drags the car out of the mud or snow making it more surefooted than a conventional front wheel drive system. The driver can also manually select Traction+ when the driving conditions get tough and the system will also give more surefooted adhesion driving through corners on gravel. 

The Trekking will appeal because of its SUV chunky styling and will add confidence to the more nervous drivers when they venture out into Winter on-road conditions or the occasional trip off-road onto grass car parks and the like.

The Panda 4x4 is compact but it’s no lightweight 4x4 performer.  Its off-road performance over a tough four wheel drive course at the media launch was impressive.  The 1.3-litre turbodiesel engine I found more suited to off-road driving with its better torque at low engine speeds making it more controllable downhill and with more power to climb steep slopes. Because of its relatively light weight it just skipped over deep mudded tracks and ruts. The peaky power delivery of the turbocharged two cylinder 0.9-litre petrol engine needed more care so as not to stall the engine going up steep hills at low speed to maximise grip.

Fiat Panda 4x4The 4x4 system with both engine options performed really well and puts to shame many other larger 4x4’s/crossover models.  The only missing technical element was descent control so going down steep ice and snow covered rutted tracks was a leap of faith using the brakes and engine braking. The four cylinder diesel unit again provided more engine compression braking; the two cylinder petrol unit offered little engine braking and most downhill control was done only by the brakes.

On the road the Trekking with the petrol engine was a lively performer despite its two cylinder capacity and it likes to be revved and that gives it a sporting engine tone. Fuel economy driving around the minor roads of Warwickshire was 35.8mpg, well down on the official 61.4mpg.  Top speed is 106mph and zero to 62 mph takes 11.5 seconds.  Road tax is a welcome zero cost for the First Year rate and then only £20 for the second year onwards. Insurance is a low group 6 rating.

The Panda 4x4 1.3-litre diesel on-road also likes to be revved but it delivers more response and is more flexible to drive.  The fuel economy for a ‘spirited’ drive on minor roads returned 47.4mpg against the official 60.1mpg figure. With CO2 emissions of 125g/km road tax zero cost for the First Year rate and then £100 per annum after that. Top speed is 99mph and zero to 62mph takes a lengthy 14.5 seconds. Insurance is rated at group 7.

Fiat Panda 4x4Both the Panda 4x4 and the Trekking version give a firmer ride than standard specification Panda models due to the elevated height and tougher tyres but in some ways the ride quality is in keeping with the 4x4 image.  There is of course more cornering bodyroll, again due to the tall body and higher ground clearance, but again it’s in keeping with its chunky off-roader design.

I think for many customers the petrol powered Trekking, because of its price and styling, will appeal to mainly to urban owners who like the image and that just-in-case get me out of trouble added traction.  The Panda 4x4 already has a small but loyal following and although demand for an SUV/4x4 in this sector is small for now, its off-road capabilities are huge and most of all its good fun to drive.

MILESTONES. Fiat Panda 4x4 1.3-litre MultiJet. Price: £14,950. Engine/transmission: 1.3-litre, 4-cylinder turbodiesel 75bhp, 190Nm (140 lb ft) from 1,500rpm, 5-speed manual, on-demand 4-wheel drive. Performance: 99mph, 0-62mph, 14.5 seconds, 60.1mpg Combined Cycle (47.4mpg on test), CO2 125g/km, VED road tax £0 First Year rate then £100 for the second year onwards, BIK company car tax 19%. Insurance Group: 7. Dimensions/capacities L 3,686mm, W 1,672mm, H 1,605mm, boot 225-litres, braked towing weight 900kg. For:  Impressive 4x4 ability, chunky off-roader styling, practical 5-door city car with country car abilities, easy to drive, fun to own. Against: Unsettled ride, cornering bodyroll, pricey, no off road descent control, space saver spare wheel costs extra.     Miles Better News Agency 

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