While most of us are familiar with the Fiat Panda, it may come as a surprise to many that this punchy about town vehicle is now available as a 4 x 4. Could it be true that this well-loved and nippy drive could also tackle extreme conditions? We just had to find out and who better to help us put the Fiat Panda 4 x 4 through its paces than our friend and off road expert, Nick Agg-Manning of Outdoor Adventure Consultants. Here’s what he had to say…

It was with some excited anticipation that I arrived at Vospers HQ, Marsh Mills, Plymouth to try the new Fiat Panda 4 x 4. The car’s good looks stood out straight away but while I put it through its paces the performance also proved to more than match them.

Whilst I gave myself a cursory introduction to the compartment and driving position, I was more keen to get out onto the A38 and head east at maximum legal speed, which was achieved in just seconds once the dual carriageway opened up to me.

Once home, I began to explore the finer points of design and construction: good ground clearance for a small car; roomy cab with vast dashboard reaching down to the windscreen, giving the real impression of a copious cockpit; easy to read and understand dials and technical information; many little extra thoughts – special box for the locking wheel nuts, emergency tyre repair kit and lots of really useful storage boxes.

Having enjoyed the power of the 1.3 16v multi-jet engine from Plymouth to East Devon, it was time to take this exciting little car into a challenging off road environment to see if 4×4 really meant something…

In my last ‘blog’ I was very complimentary about the Jeep Grand Cherokee’s ability to negotiate all types of off road obstacles and as a qualified off road instructor, I was dubious about the practicality and capability of a smaller vehicle like the Fiat Panda 4×4 being up to the task. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

No wonder it is called a Panda – the car I had just driven up the motorway was instantly transformed into a chunky, country – capable competitor, clawing its way across saturated grass, gloopy mud and through a fast running river…the only thing it could not do that a real Panda could – was climb a tree!

Now, it’s important not to forget that any vehicle should get its passengers from A to B safely and with confidence – well, the Fiat Panda 4 x 4 does just that. Deep cubby holes and securing clasps ensure that your ‘load’ is safely stowed, and then there are the systems…

A simple button close to the gear stick will deploy ELD – the electronic locking differential which goes further than the ‘torque-on-demand’ system already fitted and allows the drive force to be evenly distributed over the axel even when one or both wheels are slipping. Power will always go to the point of least resistance, so slipping and spinning wheels will dissipate all the power, but the Fiat Panda ELD function acts by braking the wheels with the poor grip and thereby, transfers power back to the wheels with the most friction. This really worked on the soggy wet grass we experimented on and illustrated to me just how effective these systems will be in ice and snow.

I have spent the last twenty years in 4×4 vehicles which have looked the part – perhaps even threateningly so – but, here, despite my reputation for everything ‘big’ , I was comfortable, I was safe and I certainly got from A to B despite soaking fields, mud strewn tracks and a raging river….job done!

If ever there was a car suitable for the MD of an Adventure Company to get around Town and Country economically and environmentally (CO2 emissions 104-109; Stop/Start;) and with some fun, here it is. Firstly, reluctantly I must take it back to Plymouth and return it to the safe keeping of The Vospers’ Showroom and be left to yearn.

Thanks Nick, sounds like the Fiat Panda 4 x 4 is certainly one to watch!

Find out more about off-road experiences with Nick at www.oacltd.co.uk

Pictures: Taken at one of OAC’s Favourite Activity and Off Road Locations – The Deer Park Hotel.