Fiat Panda 4X4 – Ireland’s cheapest off-roader will send icy chill to rivals

By Philip Hedderman

Like a kid at Christmas we, the motoring press, have been awaiting the arrival of a very special delivery, and it’s here … earlier than we thought.

Yes folks, the cheapest 4X4 money can buy has landed on Irish shores – just in time for the big freeze.

For less than €15,000 you can have a brand spanking, all singing, all-dancing proper off-roader.

To be precise, the new Fiat Panda 4X4 starts at just €14,295 and for that you get always on all-wheel drive which is capable of dealing with the most inclement of conditions including heavy snow and ice.

How many of us last year vowed that if the harsh winters were here to stay then 4WD was the way forward?

That pipe dream evaporated as quickly as the urban snowmen when you discovered that there wasn’t a whole lot on offer for less than 30 grand.

Most would have to settle for a frontwheel drive with either snow socks or winter tyres fitted.

Not any more.

The Panda 4X4 not only looks as indestructable as a Tonka truck, it would actually get you up the side of the steepest mountain in the middle of a mudslide.

Coming down?

No problem … just drive over the edge and you’d be at the bottom without as much as a scratch.

No seriously, this little wagon has been properly kitted out to cope with just about anything.

The extra ground clearance (50mm), underbody protection, revised suspension and specially fitted 14 inch alloy wheels dressed in mud/snow rubber means negotiating uneven or rough terrain is no problem.

Couple that with the special all wheel drive also at the push of a button and even six inches of snow on the M50 should be easy peasy.

Powering the little dynamo is a 69bhp, 1.2-litre petrol engine, which has plenty of oomph while returning decent enough fuel comsumption (6.0L/100km on the combined cycle) and low emissions meaning annual tax of €156 (€225 in January).

I personally would have preferred a diesel Multijet with its greater torque but city dwellers and the 99pc of customers who’ll buy this car will probably opt for the petrol.

That being the case and the likeihood that it’ll spend more time on the school run than mucky boreens, it needs to be practical and family friendly.

It was just that and the little critics in the back just loved the elevated driving position and the panoramic sunroof.

The boot proved a tad small but the clever 50/50 split and sliding rear seats sees the 206 litre luggage space boosted to 236 or with both pews down an impressive 775 litres.

Driver-wise the cabin is roomy and airy and everything is within easy reach especially with the height adjustable seat.

The Dualdrive electric power steering – symbolised by a steering wheel button on the dash – makes parking and manoeuvering around cramped city streets a pleasure.

Other technology includes an MP3 compatible CD player which stores thousands of songs but the absence of bluetooth and rear electric windows and more importantly the control over them, proved a real bugbear.

A few quid extra on the options list will sort that.

Like its little brother, the Panda is a great drive and handles the concrete jungle with as much ease as the tropical one.

She is zippy, nippy and king of the supermaket carpark – thanks to the thick rubber mouldings which run around the wheel arches and doors.

We would have liked a sixth gear for motorway cruising, but I suppose this is, first and foremost, a city car.

Nit picking aside, it all boils down to price and for €14,295 you won’t get a better little runaround with genuine 4WD capabilities.

And as soon as the first fall snow arrives you’ll agree it’s money well spent.

Expect to see lots and lots of them in the New Year.