Last, sunny day with the Panda 4×4. A memorable week which has left me totally undecided about the merits of a tiny four-wheel drive based on a supermini.
Whether you think the Fiat is cute or contorted, it does turn heads. The upright styling doesn’t do it for me, even with the extra body mouldings and chrome scuff plates front and rear. The Panda is just too small for the off-road make-over.
Inside, the ‘squircles’ design theme is taken to the limit and gives some of the dash dials an awkward look and feel. This is especially true of the heater dials, which look like they have melted in the sun. While the door handles are awkward to grip.
There’s room for four adults, just, but you wouldn’t want to be travelling too far in the back. The boot is a decent size and there are plenty of storage spaces – many more than bigger cars usually offer.
Overall, the Panda 4×4 works best in an urban environment, or as a second car for those bad winter days of ice and snow. As that is a luxury few of us can afford, I’m not entirely sure who will buy the Panda 4×4, despite it’s excellent off-road abilities.
You see all forms of life in Tesco, Stow-on-the-Wold. Is there a posher ‘normal’ supermarket in Gloucestershire – possibly not. The car park is crammed with a wide selection of vehicles too, from mud-splattered Land Rover Defenders, to Range Rovers and Audi Q8s.
I squeezed the Panda in to a slot next to woman who had two members of staff helping her load a Mercedes G-Wagon. While most people are worrying about their next food bill and we already have food banks operating around the country, she was whinging about fitting 24 bottles of champagne in a shopping trolley alongside her chubby sprog.
I took an instant dislike – it was impossible not too. Then her backside, supported by legs that could have propped up an oil rig, bumped into my wing mirror. No apologies, she just carried moaning on regardless.
So what a joy it was to see her later in Stow town centre, arguing with a traffic warden who had slapped a ticket on her Merc. I’m going to put that man forward for some kind of civic award. Tweed+Merc=Tw*t. You wouldn’t see that happen to a Panda 4×4….
The weighing in room at Cheltenham Racecourse is an interesting place to watch this week’s festival unfold. A lot of small men, with weather beaten faces and multi-coloured silks tipping the scales at ridiculously low weights.
Around them, there’s a distinct whiff of cash from the owners and trainers who nervously wait to see if it is going to be their year at National Hunt’s premier event. Money is no object to many of them and the slickest way to arrive at the course these days is by helicopter, then Range Rover or like us, in a Fiat Panda 4×4!
It may look slightly Postman Pat but the two-cylinder engine of the 0.9 TwinAir was the perfect antidote to the mass of Range Rovers and Mercedes clogging up the entrance to the car park. The Panda was able to out manoeuvre all of them into the tiniest of spaces.
I am starting to warm to the Panda. It does have faults but if you are prepared to use the six-speed gearbox enthusiastically, it rewards you with a fun drive, especially in town. In the country, it lacks a bit of grunt, especially for overtaking.
The debate over whether the Panda 4×4 is a fashion statement with four-wheel drive intent, or something of a Noddy car, still rages. If you are going to drive it down the King’s Road in London on a Saturday lunchtime, I’d suggest it might turn heads for all the wrong reasons.
However, if you intend to use it as an occasional runabout in the country, it certainly looks the part. And imagine the joy of owning a supermini that can cope with the odd bit of floodwater, or even a snow flurry, when everything else is left by the wayside?
At least inside the cabin the Panda 4×4 is very chic for such a little car. The ‘squircles’ design – that’s square objects that have been round off at the edges – impact the design of everything, from the steering wheel to the interior door handles.
The latter are rather tricky to use because of it, while the aircraft-syle handbrake is awkward regardless. The Panda does;t come with a built-in sat nav system either. Instead, a TomTom is fixed to the top of the dashboard.
The problem with this is that as the Panda bounces along over anything rougher than a motorway surface, the screen vibrates with alarming results!
‘A car so ugly only a mother could love it…’ Seems a bit unfair but that’s how a friend described the Fiat Panda 4×4. OK, it’s not the prettiest little car but it has a certain presence about it.
I would have to agree that ‘beefing up’ the standard Italian supermini hasn’t done it any favours. The extra body mouldings and polished metal scuff plates both front and rear add surprisingly little to the overall appeal.
But deep down inside, the Panda has a classless look – a sort of modern day 2CV that looks so different that you can’t help but warm to it.
I’m taking the Fiat to Cheltenham Races next week, so it’s going to have a baptism of fire among the well-heeled country set of Gloucestershire. And in deep green, I should be able to hold my head up high when I park it next to a line of Range Rovers…
Readers of a certain age might remember the original Fiat Panda 4×4. It was launched in 1983 and really did look like a box on wheels. Designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro – he styled the Ferrari 250 Berlinetta Bertone – it had the aerodynamics of a breeze block.
That first effort featured a noisy 43bhp engine and was the first small, transverse engined car to be fitted with four-wheel drive. And while people laughed, the Panda 4×4 was astoundingly good off-road and achieved something like cult status.
Surely it couldn’t have been that good? Well, competitors tackling the Mongol Rally still search high and low to find one for the drive to Mongolia. Unstoppable, crazy suspension but just what you need for driving across a ploughed field.
This latest model was launched two years and I can tell you that after only a handful of miles, it is also a very fine little car. Yes, it’s small on the inside and the styling may not be to your taste but it has one major plus in its favour, one you won’t buy with a Range Rover or BMW X5. It’s bloody good fun…