Fiat Panda 4x4 TwinAir driven
Gets you everywhere, is fun anywhere, costs buttons. Over-delivers without trying: surely the definition of cool
Not much point in telling you about where I went in the Panda 4x4, because if you saw the course, you wouldn't believe me. In some conditions, the plucky little Fiat can get you further off-road than a big-boy SUV.
It's light enough not to chew up the ground, and it's so small it can sit between ruts and steer among narrowly spaced rocks and trees and gullies. A six-speed gearbox with a low first gets it up slopes so steep you'd be afraid to walk them. I ended up by crossing some man-made obstacles that looked like they'd give the Curiosity rover a hard time.
Inevitably, out on the road, there are compromises. This TwinAir version is slower than a standard Panda, because at speed you get hit by the extra drag from the height gain. Still, if you needed to tackle a long motorway trip, you could. (You wouldn't want to in the alternative diesel, because it doesn't have sixth and makes a right racket in fifth at 80.)
Cornering, meanwhile, isn't successful by conventional yardsticks. The tyre makers were asked to make an all-season tyre, and they obviously took this to mean that even dry summery tarmac should feel like frosty winter mud. There's lots of soggy sidewall flex just to add to the body roll.
So what? You can always feel what it's doing, so it ends up being good, clean low-speed fun. Cane this thing and you feel like you're beating the system. The enthusiastic chirrup of the engine adds to the effect.
More good news awaits. The soft springs give it a lovely loping ride. Thanks to their long travel and the car's lightness, it just glides over speed bumps.
Wait a minute. Fun at low speed, great over sleeping policemen, small enough to slip down gaps, protected against knocks, rolling on tough kerb-proof tyres. It all adds up to a near-perfect city car, as well as one that's brilliant in the backwoods.
At TopGear, we're not the first people upon whom this has dawned. So there's another new Panda called the Trekking. This has the same suspension, same all-season tyres, same looks, same engine as the 4x4. Only differences are 2WD and a 5spd 'box. It's no embarrassment off-road, but is better for general road use (lighter and cheaper), and is possibly the best knockabout city car on sale today.
875cc, 2cyl, AWD, 85bhp, 145Nm, 20.3kpl, 114g/km CO2, 0-100 in 12.1secs, 165kph, 1050kg
Gets you everywhere, is fun anywhere, costs buttons. Over-delivers without trying: surely the definition of cool.