2012 Fiat Panda 4x4 and Trekking review

* New Panda 4x4 and Trekking driven on- and off-road * Trekking gets 2WD with advanced traction control * On sale end of October, from around 13,000...

2012 Fiat Panda 4x4 and Trekking review

The Fiat Panda 4x4 and Fiat Panda Trekking are the latest additions to the company's city car range.

Both models feature a raised ride height (by 47mm) and bespoke alloy wheels and bumpers, but the 4x4 has permanent four-wheel drive, whereas the Trekking makes do with front-wheel drive and an advanced traction control system.

Whichever you choose, there are two engine options: the 89bhp 0.9-litre Twinair petrol that's linked to a six-speed manual gearbox, and a 74bhp 1.3-litre diesel that comes with a five-speed manual 'box.

In the Panda 4x4, the petrol engine averages 57.6mpg and emits 114g/km of CO2, while the diesel is capable of 60.1mpg and has emissions of 125g/km.

The Trekking is slightly more efficient, achieving average economy of 61.4mpg and CO2 emissions of 105g/km with the petrol Twinair engine, and 67.3mpg and 109g/km with the diesel.

Fiat Panda 4x4 has an SUV-style makeover, with raised suspension and chunkier bumpers and side trim

What are the 2012 Fiat Panda 4x4 and Trekking like to drive?
There's little to separate these new models in terms of ride and handling.

Thanks to their revised suspension and extra wheel travel, they ride better than other Pandas, remaining comfortable over rough and broken urban road surfaces. Even large bumps don't cause much discomfort.

The downside is that their bodies lean more in bends, but body control is still decent.

There is a choice of two engines a 0.9-litre petrol and a 1.3-litre diesel

The steering isn't particularly precise, but it's light and easy, so these Pandas still feel at home in the city. Add the high driving position and excellent all-round vision, and both cars are extremely easy to manoeuvre.

At higher speeds, wind and road noise are more intrusive than in many rival city cars, but the optional winter tyres dont cause any extra tyre noise.

Choose the diesel and there's a healthy 140lb ft of torque on offer, but the engine sounds agricultural at all times and drones on the motorway.

On paper, the Twinair engine's 107lb ft might seem less fitting, but its surprisingly capable. While a little slow off the mark, there's enough mid-range muscle to keep pace with traffic and it's certainly the quieter of the two engines at cruising speeds.

Both cars are competent off-road

Venture off-road, though, and these cars really start to shine.

The Trekkings traction control system, which is activated via a button on the dashboard, assesses which front wheel has most grip, and distributes the power accordingly.

Its not suited to more extreme conditions, but the Trekking reacts quickly and efficiently on loose and slippery surfaces, allowing controlled turns and hill starts.

We tested the 4x4 on the Jeep-designed off-road course at Fiat's Balocco test track in Italy, where it easily handled camber changes, 57% gradients and harsh suspension tests.

The approach and departure angles are better than those of any Mini Countryman or Nissan Qashqai, and Fiat has positioned the Panda's air intake higher for improved wading capability.

The 4x4 model also gets an electronic locking differential and a torque-on-demand system to distribute power from axles with wheels losing grip on tough off-road sections.

The Panda's kerbweight also helps, plus the Twinair-powered model has an unusually low first gear designed with off-road use in mind that helps this little engine provide plenty of pull on even the toughest climbs.

You do notice wind and road noise

While the diesel engine has extra torque at its disposal, the eagerness with which the Twinair petrol wants to rev helps you maintain momentum.

What are the 2012 Fiat Panda 4x4 and Trekking like inside?
Aside from some new interior colours and the traction control and differential switches, these models look identical to other Pandas from behind the wheel. You get the same chunky, user-friendly dashboard controls, while the materials feel solid and functional rather than plush.

Some people will wish the driver's seat is set lower, but there's a decent range adjustment to the steering wheel and seat.

The fact that the Panda has five doors makes it more practical than some rival city cars, and there's excellent front and rear headroom. It's just a pity that rear legroom is a little tight.

Trekking and 4x4 models are virtually identical to the standard Panda inside

You don't get as much boot space as you do in the Seat Mii, Skoda Citigo and VW Up, but the Pandas boot is well shaped and those rivals aren't available with four-wheel drive.

The 4x4 and Trekking sit at the top of the Panda range, so they come with the clever folding front and rear seats that are reserved for higher-spec models.

Climate control, a CD player, 15-inch alloys and electrically adjustable door mirrors are also standard, while sliding rear seats, Bluetooth, sat-nav and a city brake control system are on the options list.

Should I buy one?
Fiat is still to confirm exact prices, but you can expect to pay around 13,000 for the Trekking and 14,000 for the 4x4.

That makes them expensive for city cars, but they're the only models in the class that offer genuine off-road ability.

Although niche cars, they're vastly superior to small SUVs such as the Suzuki Jimny. Only the much bigger Dacia Duster offers similar abilities for similar money, but you may be put off by its disappointing three-star Euro NCAP safety rating.