Italy would appear to have a somewhat difficult reputation when it comes to the building and maintenance of motor cars and motor cycles. Ask any gentleman, or lady, of a certain age and they will not be too complementary about the longevity of an Italian vehicle, it’s bodywork or electrics. Especially one that has been designed to go amongst the mud and water that would appear to collect off road and down dale. It might seem rather harsh to bring up unreliability and poor workmanship, especially when MotorMartin could just as easily be writing about any car from British Leyland, Triumph, TVR and so on, but it is these prejudices that FIAT and it’s Italian colleagues still need to battle against. It takes something rather special to dispel these myths and untruths and MotorMartin wonders if the latest Panda 4×4 is good enough to do so.
For those of us with a slightly longer memory, you may recall a similarly monikered Panda way back in the early 1980s. Showing remarkable foresight and a strange ability to predict the future, FIAT designed and built a mini SUV before we even knew what a mini SUV was. The Fiat Panda 4×4 was a 3 door hatchback style motor vehicle with a front mounted engine powering all four wheels. Power was produced by a single overhead camshaft, 1 litre naturally aspirated 4 cylinder engine, with 2 valves per cylinder that developed power and torque figures of a mighty 48 bhp at 5600 rpm and 69 N·m (51 lb·ft/7 kgm) at 3500 rpm respectively with power is transferred to the wheels through a 5 speed manual gearbox. Figures that, although not spectacular, suited this Panda perfectly. This small FIAT had a claimed kerb weight is 761 kg whilst contemporary suggesting that a maxiumum speed of 134 km/h, or 83 mph was achievable. Overall the new Panda 4×4 has a lot to live up too if it’s to provide the modern driver with as much fun and practicality as it’s ageing and quietly rusting predecessor.
It was with much excitement that MotorMartin arrived in the surprisingly pretty town of Keighley, nestled between the charming countryside of Airedale and the Haworth Moorland, to drive the latest FIAT Panda 4×4 1.3-litre MultiJet 2 turbo diesel. Locals will proudly tell you that the town is the terminus of the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway, a heritage steam line which has been lovingly restored. The railway itself is a standard gauge branch line, running from Keighley up the Worth Valley to Oxenhope and is perhaps best known for it’s starring role in the 1970 film version of The Railway Children.
The railway is ‘justifiably proud that its painstaking attention to detail pays off so handsomely’. Whilst the railway’s own website http://kwvr.co.uk names it ‘a railway for all seasons, where winter visitors can see stations bathed in gaslight and warm themselves in front of the coal fires in the waiting room. In summer, the station gardens are alive with blooms and kingfishers, herons and dippers can be seen in the adjacent streams’. MotorMartin can wholeheartedly recommend a trip on this Historic line which takes you through the beauty of West Yorkshire as well as back through time, if only for a few hours.
Keighley is also home to one of Yorkshire’s most famous brewers, Timothy Taylor. The local history books tell us that Timothy Taylor established the Brewery in the centre of Keighley in 1858, moving to The Knowle Spring, their present site, in 1863.
First impressions of the Panda are fantastic. The bright orange paintwork will certainly get you noticed amongst the crowd or when looking for the Panda in a busy car park and the off road styling leaves a positive lasting impression. The off road styling extends both outside and inside the car as Fiat hasn’t just added a four-wheel drive system to the Panda, either. Special steel bash plates, black plastic bumpers and wheelarch extensions, raised suspension and a new electronic rear differential have also been added, which means you actually can take the Panda 4×4 off road with confidence as shown below by this official film from FIAT.
Impressive? MotorMartin certainly thinks so and with the basic Twinair model coming in at £13,075 on the road and the 1.3-litre MultiJet 2 turbo diesel leaving the showroom for £15,575 they would both appear to offer excellent value for money. A fully fledged 4×4 for this kind of money is something that can’t easily be dismissed. The Panda’s natural rival out there in the real world must surely be the Dacia Duster as their cheapest 4×4 model will set you back between £11,495 for the petrol Dacia and £15,995 for the top of the range Lauréate Prime dCi 110 4×4. There is no doubt that the Dacia is the larger of the two vehicles with more interior space as a result but more refined? MotorMartin hasn’t yet driven the Dacia Duster so it would be unfair to offer a critique at this point but first impressions of the Panda and it’s 1.3-litre MultiJet 2 turbo diesel are very favourable indeed.
Walking around the Panda it’s somewhat of a surprise to find yourself back at the beginning quite so quickly, at 3581 mm in length and a width of just 1611 mm the Panda will never be described as a large car. Indeed, many who look over the Panda are surprised at just how small the overall footprint of the car is. The off road styling of the Panda cleverly disguises the size of the vehicle as it gives the impression of being far larger than it actually is whilst bestowing on the FIAT a presence amongst other road users that belies its small dimensions. The almost graphite looking alloys complement the striking orange of the paintwork beautifully adding flair to what otherwise could be seen as utilitarian and will be a draw for the customer who wants something that can truly be used everyday.
A quick look at FIAT’s simple and informative website http://www.fiat.co.uk tells us that the Panda has new bumpers with incorporated skid plates, protective side mouldings, daytime running lights, body coloured door mirrors, body coloured door handles, longitudinal roof bars, height-adjustable steering wheel, Dualdrive™ electric power steering with “City” mode, Start & Stop, electric front windows, remote control central door locking, door mirrors with electric control and demisting function and air conditioning. A rather impressively put together list on such a reasonably priced car and one of the reasons that they’re flying out of the showrooms at the moment.
Getting into the FIAT is as simple as it is gratifying, with the relatively high seating position it feels like you’re stepping up into the Panda which gives a more premium feel than usual with cars within this size bracket. Make yourself comfortable. There’s room for everything and everyone in the New Panda 4×4 due to the high roofline which allows all passengers plenty of space although three adults in the rear could not be recommended unless for short journeys only. Another check of the website informs us that the eco-leather and fabric interiors emphasise its “eco-friendly” side, while features like the dashboard storage compartment and the option of different seat configurations, allow you to have a functional and spacious passenger compartment. That’s that then.
The interior feels well put together and easily comparable with similar sized offerings from the more popular Vauxhall and Ford, buttons have a satisfying touch and feel and I like how FIAT have tried to do something a little different by placing the gear lever high up on the dashboard allowing for more storage space and room for the driver and their copilot. As if accentuating the heavy duty looks and driving potential of the 4×4, everything in the cabin feels like it’s been designed for a purpose, there’s plenty of storage, the colour of the outside is cleverly brought inside and across the dashboard to break up what otherwise could have been a plain interior view. In the manner of the more Gallic opposition, FIAT have given the driver a more interesting than normal view as with the dashboard dials being a curious merging of squares and circles, squircles if you will. With a decent luggage capacity of around 206 litres, the Panda should remain a firm favourite for ‘real life’ motoring. It’s so far, so good.
MotorMartin is impressed with the Panda 4×4. I like it’s off road styling, the striking looks and the rugged and interesting cabin. There’s room for most families and their associated bits and bobs, the promise of group 7 insurance and minimal road tax to pay, all of which should help to place the FIAT high up on customers wish list.
During part 2, MotorMartin will be discussing the driving experience, the technology and how the Panda behaves in everyday use. See you there.
Where will you go?