Fiat Panda 1.3 MultiJet 4×4: Over the hill and far away.

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In part 1 Fiat Panda 1.3 MultiJet 4×4: Grizzly. At http://motormartin.com/2016/01/30/fiat-panda-1-3-multijet-4×4/.com/2016/01/30/fiat-panda-1-3-multijet-4×4/ MotorMartin spent time discussing the chunky off road styling, changes from the standard Panda and the well thought out and put together interior, indeed, it’s the quirky detailing that really differentiates this 4×4 Panda from similarly sized and priced, front wheel drive, competition and helps it to be remembered. A good thing, especially when you consider that the Panda 4×4 is set amongst the rather excellent and established offerings from Ford, Vauxhall and the like.

So what’s it like to drive then?

Very much like a car.

Job done?

Not quite.

Having previously discussed the excellent interior and exterior styling in part 1 it’s time to focus on how everything works together during the important stuff. The first thing that you notice is how comfortable the seats are and how the higher than usual seating position gives you a commanding view of the road and potential obstacles ahead. The 1.3 MultiJet 4×4 diesel on test throbs and thrums like any other small, modern diesel on startup and settles quickly into a regular tickover.

Two issues spring to mind straight away, neither of which are game changers but they do take a little getting used to as they are both quirky. Number 1, the handbrake. The handbrake, whilst situated exactly where you would expect it to be, is a rather strange shape. It’s hard to explain but it’s very wide and stubby and not at all what you expect to find when setting off. Issue number 2 is the gear stick. Yes I understand why it’s been raised up onto the dash, yes, it does give more space in the front for the driver and passenger and yes, after a couple of miles you forget about it but it is unusual for those more used to the traditional layout and let’s not forget, first impressions are important. Like I said, these are two things that you notice straight away but get a few miles under your belt and it really makes no difference.

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Setting off with a whiff of extra throttle as is normal with a diesel engine and it’s surprising how swift the Panda feels off the line, especially when you consider that the Panda doesn’t have the slipperiest of frontal area to push through the air and yet a 0-62mph time of 14.5s does rather suggest the opposite. Moving up through the gears provides more than adequate acceleration and allows you to fit in with any and all traffic on your journey. The Panda allows you to treat it as you would any other car and has clearly been well tested in an urban environment as it gives the driver supreme confidence in the commute. Once you get used to the unusually placed gear stick it doesn’t pose a problem, in fact it becomes quite natural to reach across when using the remarkably slick shift.

The 1.3 MultiJet 4×4 diesel of the test car also includes FIAT’s own Stop & Start system which contributes towards the claimed combined mpg of 60.1 and although I didn’t see this figure myself, I can believe that the Panda is an economical step onto the 4×4 ladder as on a typical West Yorkshire mix of roads and traffic the little Panda was showing an average of around 50mpg. Impressive as MotorMartin certainly wasn’t hanging around.

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Which brings me nicely onto the feel of this mini 4×4. Anyone expecting sports car handling and subsequent levels of grip are going to be very disappointed however, what the Panda does do is a very neat trick to pull off indeed. For such a tall and relatively short car, the FIAT really does ride well. The driver is isolated from the worst bumps and potholes that Keighley’s roads can offer with the suspension giving a good account of itself despite the raised ride height of the Panda. At normal road speed you can get on with your journey knowing that the ride and handling will not catch you out or provide you with any unexpected scares, it really is rather good. MotorMartin suspects that the increase in height afforded by the necessary off road styling has been well thought out and implemented way back during the testing and design stage. Yes, the Panda gets a little ‘floaty’ when you’re pressing on over an undulating country road but it never feels out of control or different to any number of small City Cars, with lower suspension, that you could mention.

Whilst thinking about the handling it seems prudent to mention the steering. The wheel itself, like most of the interior, is definitely unusual and can be compared to recent offerings from Renault or Citroën with its squared off shape. Quirky indeed. The steering itself is quite direct and offers a relatively decent amount of feedback and feel through the wheel allowing you to put the front of the car pretty much where you want it to be, certainly when driving around town and in traffic.

Once onto dual carriageway the Panda tracks straight and true up to an indicated 70mph without feeling strained and like most modern vehicles, keeps up with the surrounding traffic with ease. The inverse of all of this is, of course, slowing down. Braking in the FIAT catches you out the first few times you press down on the middle peddle as the brakes are surprisingly sharp and effective. Once you realise quite how good they are it adds another dimension to the Panda, although the best way of driving the FIAT is to try conserving speed and using the excellent brakes as little as possible.

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Although MotorMartin was unable to take the Panda off road, there are enough contemporary reports out there that would suggest that the FIAT is more than comfortable when tackling the rough stuff. Checkout the opening link from this article to part 1 for a film of a Panda 4×4 travelling off road around the rather beautiful Robin Hood’s Bay, situated between Scarborough and Whitby, on the North Yorkshire coast. It really does what it says in the promotional literature and offers those with a modest budget, the opportunity to savour a truly competent go anywhere vehicle. A Range Rover for peanuts? Nearly, but it won’t let you down when the going gets tough.

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So then, the FIAT 1.3 MultiJet 4×4 diesel, what’s the MotorMartin verdict? I liked it, if you’re in the market for a City Car but live where a 4×4 would make things easier then this could be your ideal motor. It’s not the biggest out there, it’s not even the best equipped but it’s got a willing engine, good economy and with CO2 emissions of 125g/km, you’re looking at road tax band D and £105 per year, so not massive costs there.

The Panda has a decent size boot with 225 litres of space available with the seats in place, expanding to 260 litres with the back seat rolled forwards or 870 litres with it folded down. On the plus side the rear doors are quite large which makes loading easier and gains the Panda top marks for practicality. Overall the FIAT Panda 4×4 1.3 MultiJet gets the MotorMartin vote. Well done FIAT, your customers won’t be disappointed.

Where will you go?

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