FIAT PANDA

Is your 4x4 this cute?

Driven - - Contents - Re­port by NICKY FURNISS | Images © QUICKPIC

I’m not sure who gets the task of nam­ing new car mod­els, but who­ever they are they don’t al­ways get it right… or easy to pro­nounce. Think of the Nis­san Qashqai, or the Volk­swa­gen Scirocco … and the en­tire brand Koenigsegg.

Then there are the names that of­ten have in­ap­pro­pri­ate mean­ings in other lan­guages. Although I’m far too much of a lady to go into too much de­tail here, a sim­ple Google search should get you blush­ing in no time.

Many man­u­fac­tur­ers have avoided this is­sue al­to­gether by stick­ing to model num­bers as op­posed to names, while oth­ers have, on oc­ca­sion, come up with some great names that own­ers want to roll off their tongues, like For­tuner and Bal­lade.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

I have al­ways thought the Fiat Panda to be a fairly apt name. It may not be fluffy, but at just 3,650 mm long, 1,640 mm wide and 1,550 mm high, it’s cute as a but­ton – you may not want to cud­dle it, but you’ll cer­tainly be tempted to tickle it un­der the chin, er… bon­net. Pan­das love bam­boo, and the new Fiat Panda is equally green con­cern­ing its emis­sions and fuel con­sump­tion. And, for the first time in nearly a decade, the Fiat Panda, is – like its name­sake – avail­able in four­wheel-drive in the form of the new Panda 4x4 and Panda Cross.

JUN­GLE CON­QUEROR

Dur­ing its re­cent launch, Fiat was keen to show off the Panda in the jun­gle where it be­longs; make that the ur­ban jun­gle, at a skate park on the Dur­ban beach­front. The “lit­tle cars that could” made swift work of the ramps, which boded well for the next des­ti­na­tion, Kil­lar­ney 4x4, where they coped ad­mirably around a course usu­ally re­served for much big­ger an­i­mals.

This was thanks, in part, to Fiat’s unique two-cylin­der 875 cc TwinAir petrol en­gine that pro­duces 63 kW of power at 5,500 r/min and 145 Nm of torque at 1,900 r/min driv­ing through a 6-speed man­ual trans­mis­sion. And it comes with de­cent ground clear­ance too, at 150 mm and 161 mm for the 4x4 and Cross re­spec­tively. The 4x4 ap­proaches at an an­gle of 21° and eas­ily leaves gra­di­ents of up to 36° be­hind, the Cross man­ages an ap­proach an­gle of 24° and de­par­ture an­gle of 34° – not bad for the only A-seg­ment 4x4 in the coun­try.

Both the Panda 4x4 and Cross ver­sions are equipped with a “torque on de­mand” trans­mis­sion sys­tem, and the 4x4 de­riv­a­tive, with Elec­tronic Sta­bil­ity Con­trol, Elec­tronic Lock­ing Dif­fer­en­tial, and a per­ma­nent four-wheel drive sys­tem that senses wheel ro­ta­tion and sends trac­tion to the front and rear axles as needed. The Panda Cross adds “Ter­rain Con­trol” to the mix with three dif­fer­ent AWD modes: Auto, Lock and Hill De­scent.

This all trans­lates into a lit­tle car with a “go any­where, like a bear” type of at­ti­tude. Let’s be hon­est, 4x4 en­thu­si­asts who like to throw their ma­chines around ever harder and more tech­ni­cal cour­ses are not go­ing to look twice at a mi­cro SUV, but its off-road ca­pa­bil­i­ties are a bonus and sell­ing point for those buy­ers who like know­ing that they can go camp­ing, hik­ing, ex­plor­ing – or even mount the pave­ment at a mu­sic fes­ti­val – should they want to.

UR­BAN AT­TI­TUDE

The Panda is equally pleas­ant as a daily run­about. It’s easy to park and ma­noeu­vre thanks to its small size, yet is sur­pris­ingly roomy on the in­side. In fact, with its five doors and large open­ing an­gles, the Panda can com­fort­ably ac­com­mo­date up to five peo­ple and has the biggest boot in its seg­ment (225 litres) that quickly ex­pands to 870 litres with the rear seat folded down.

There are also Easy and Lounge de­riv­a­tives for those who have no in­ten­tion of leav­ing the com­fort of a tarred road. Each de­riv­a­tive comes with slightly dif­fer­ent stan­dard equip­ment as well as in­te­rior trims and fin­ishes, while the Cross and the 4x4 have dis­tinc­tive ex­te­rior styling cues to make them stand out.

While most pan­das are happy to munch bam­boo and sleep all day, drivers of the new Panda will prob­a­bly want a lit­tle more to en­ter­tain them than that, so the Lounge, 4x4 and Cross ver­sions carry the new Ucon­nect in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem with Blue­tooth 2.1, au­dio stream­ing, a USB port, a dash-mounted USB recharg­ing port as well as voice recog­ni­tion.

LAST WORD

With prices rang­ing from R184,900 for the en­try-level Easy and top­ping out at R249,900 for the Cross, there is bound to be a range of buy­ers for the Panda – both from the ur­ban and out­door jun­gles – ea­ger to put their name down to adopt Fiat’s up­dated baby SUV.

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