It is hard to believe that it has been 30 years since Fiat first had a bash at giving their trusty old Panda the 4X4 treatment. Today, the “Super Panda” as Fiat like to dub it, remains unique as the only four wheel drive model in its class, and the latest generation will break cover at the 2012 Paris Motor Show.
Whilst the Panda 4×4 has never been a true giant on the road or off it, Fiat maintain that the new, improved edition can hold its own even against the much bigger and pricier playground bullies. The 5-door Panda 4×4 is 368 centimetres long, 167 centimetres wide and 160 centimetres is a mere tiddler compared to some of its beefier ‘rivals’, but can still call on a few tricks of the off road trade to keep it competitive such as torque-on-demand transmission, a permanent four-wheel drive system which distributes traction on the front and rear axle proportionally according to road grip conditions.
That isn’t the end of the list of toys, as the new Panda 4×4 also employs an ELD (Electronic Locking Differential) as standard which works by braking the wheels with poor grip, transferring more drive to those which have more grip on the ground. This will kick in at speeds below 30MPH and is activated manually by pressing a button behind the gear lever. Of course, this kind of kit is by no means unique, but nevertheless a genuine step forward for the pint sized Panda 4×4 in its ambitious pursuit of the big fish.
The entire rear suspension has been reworked, and is now lighter than the previous generation Panda 4×4 to ensure better ride comfort. A special six-speed gearbox with low-range first gear provides better uphill starts and flexibility off road. The latest model gets a refresh in the engine room too, although both the 85 BHP 0.9 litre TwinAir Turbo and the 75 BHP 1.3 litre MultiJet II diesel powertrains will seem disconcertingly weedy to hardened off road explorers.
Paris will see two other new Panda family members making their debuts. The Trekking version is meant to bridge the gap between the two and four wheel drive models, whilst the new Natural Power variant is a dual fuel Panda, combining methane power with an 80 BHP 0.9 litre TwinAir Turbo petrol engine. Maybe the Panda’s animal namesake could learn a thing or two from this balanced diet….
Fiat claim that their baby 4×4 is ready to tackle mountain mule tracks and the urban jungle in the same assured manner. We will be hoping that, when it comes to the rough and tumble of the off road area, this Panda is no donkey.