Fiat Panda 4x4: Just another fake supermini jeep? How wrong you are
Hello, welcome back to my kitchen table where I’m writing my second article after a break. I was watching Fake Britain last night. You know, the one where Dom Littlewood and Matt Allwright sniff out and catch things that are fake, not as they seem. This got me thinking about the recent upsurge in popularity of these crossover superminis. Here’s the idea. You take a small and underwhelming supermini, stick a larger bumper on it, raise the ride height and slap an extra £10,000 onto the price tag and bingo, you’ve got a cash cow to be milked by every hipster and college student from London to Loughborough.
However, once in a blue moon, there is a crossover that is absolutely fantastic. And that is why I’m writing about the simply spellbinding Fiat Panda 4x4 (the 2013 version pictured which is the one I drove). Years ago, my then-new Subaru BRZ had a problem with its satnav which I, being more mechanically minded than electronically minded, could not fix with a 10mm and WD-40. Therefore, I had to send it to the official Subaru garage where I was told by a man who looked like a skinhead where the problem would take at least three or four days to fix. But this gave way to another problem. I still needed a car for getting to a few events and meetings. But no problem, the skinhead in overalls said.
The garage (very kindly) arranged for a courtesy car to be lent to me. He led me to the back of the garage where a small, white Fiat Panda sat. Except this one is different. The ride height is slightly higher and the normal front bumper has been replaced with this ugly, chunky, black lump. And that is where my earlier point about counterfeit 4x4s comes in. I am not, repeat, NOT, a fan of crossover SUVs. They are nothing more than a conversation topic (“So you’re into off-roading then?” “No, I just drive a Polo with more plastic on it”), and most of the time they are a cheap cash-in on the “off-roader” name.
When I climb inside the car, it’s just what I expect. Rough velour, hollow plastics and a clattering door once closed. The one I drove was the 1.3 Multijet version with the 4 cylinder diesel and a modest 75bhp. To say I wasn’t expecting much would be an overstatement. In this type of car you get the feeling of being below those in bona fide jeeps and saloons, yet above those in normal superminis and hatchbacks. However in this car it feels huge inside, and the high roof draws your eye around the cabin, highlighting the space inside. The Panda is a tall car but for some reason because of the rasied ride height, it has the same point of view and visual circle as a Range Rover or a Renault Espace.
After driving around for an hour, I can say that the ride in the Panda is phenomenal. It’s very responsive to the corner, which makes it extremely chuckable, and in turn makes tight corners something to look forward to. But here’s the real surprise. This car is incredible off road. I decided to take it to a place I know just outside Birmingham where there are some brilliant mud tracks and grassy plains. And it performed brilliantly. Once you get up to a certain speed (about 40mph) the suspension begins to harden up to the point where it starts to tilt on every bump rather than roll over each one. It’s amazing. But unfortunately there are a few drawbacks.
Before I went off-roading, I brimmed the Panda’s tank. Then I set off to get there. Then a had to stop for fuel. Then I set off again. Then I had to stop for fuel. I swear to whatever higher power there is, I had to fill the Panda more often than I have had hot meals. If you are ever considering buying one of these, I urge you not to buy the 1.3 Multijet as its fuel economy is honestly the worst I have seen. A Greenpeace warrior, if they were looking for a new car with good fuel economy, would probably choose a Ford Mustang over it. Also the rear seats, whew! They might as well have been made out of Lego. Actually, Lego would probably be more comfortable, seeing as the rear seat is basically just the fuel tank (which is already tiny) covered in fabric. But these small issues are nothing compared to the wealth of pros this car has.
Overall, this car is brilliant. This car breaks the stereotype of crossover SUVs being cheap cash-ins on the SUV and 4x4 names. It is not a “fake”. This car feels genuine and honest, and its cutesy looks means it appeals to everyone. It works in town because of its small size and off-road because it is actually tuned for the specifications needed for that environment. The technology is easy to use (especially the TomTom satnav which is extremely robust). Looking back, I would rate it an overall 8.5/10. Well done, but the fuel tank and rear seats let it down and cost it being a true great.
Thanks so much for reading, it means a lot to me. My last article got a good reception which I was very pleased about, so I’ll definitely be putting more effort into these articles and posting them more. Again, thanks a bunch, and I’ll see you soon!
N.B- These events happened in June of 2014, and everything that was written is correct to that time.