Fiat Panda 4x4 (2005 – 2012) Review

Fiat Panda 4x4 (2005 – 2012) At A Glance

Honest John Overall Rating
The Fiat Panda 4x4 builds on the appeal of the MkII Fiat Panda with a simple, all-mechanical, all-wheel-drive system that gives it outrageous off-road ability, with the compromise of pronounced body roll through corners and more noise.

+Space, practicality and off-road fun in an engaging, affordable package.

-Diminutive loadspace. Feeble 1.2-litre petrol engine

Insurance Groups are between 3–7
On average it achieves 92% of the official MPG figure

The Fiat brand has been synonymous with Europe’s most affordable 4x4 since a basic all-wheel-drive system was fitted to the first Fiat Panda in 1983. The model’s mechanical simplicity, durability and off-road abilities quickly found universal favour, particularly with utility companies across Europe.

You’d think a diminutive, all-wheel-drive machine such as this would be unique to the market, but by the arrival of this second-generation car rivals existed in the form of the Daihatsu Terios, the popular Suzuki Jimny and the Subaru Justy.

As we’ll point out in our Fiat Panda 4x4 review, however, none of them could hold a candle to the Italian car’s mud-plugging prowess.

The second-generation Fiat Panda 4x4 built on the mechanical simplicity of its long-serving predecessor with a variable torque distribution, permanent all-wheel-drive transmission system capable of automatically transferring up to 50% of engine torque to the rear wheels. 

Employing front and rear differentials and a central viscous coupling, this robust, low-maintenance drivetrain is completely automatic and entirely mechanical, requiring neither driver input nor electronic control, and imbues the Fiat Panda 4x4 with outstanding ability off-road and in severe weather.

Combine this foolproof all-wheel-drive system with improved wheel articulation, a ground clearance of 165mm, short front and rear overhangs, and a weight of well under 1000kg even in its heaviest guise, and the Fiat Panda 4x4 proves all but unstoppable in even the most vile conditions.

Its light weight ensured it trundles happily over snow and mud that heavier 4x4s inevitably get bogged down in.

When this second-generation car launched, Fiat went out of its way to demonstrate that it was no toy. More than one million test kilometres, undertaken through some of the world’s harshest terrain, attested to both the Fiat Panda 4x4’s remarkable off-road abilities and the durability of its drivetrain. 

In Lapland, the car performed faultlessly in temperatures of minus 40 degrees, maintaining traction and stability on slippery surfaces, and overcoming snow-covered gradients of more than 40%.

In the Kalahari Desert, the most mechanically debilitating of unsurfaced roads, combined with dust, sand and 45 degree temperatures, subjected the Fiat Panda 4x4’s drivetrain and suspension to the harshest of examinations.

Finally, two Fiat Panda 4x4s set out from Kathmandu in Nepal to drive through the Himalayas to the Mount Everest advance base camp, sited at an altitude of 5200 metres. This was the first time a small off-road vehicle had achieved this goal, a feat made all the more remarkable by the absence of any modification to the standard car except minor engine control unit adaptations appropriate to the local petrol.

On the road, the Fiat Panda 4x4 further augments the additional levels of traction and stability inherent in a sophisticated, variable torque distribution all-wheel drive system with ABS anti-lock brakes, complete with electronic brakeforce distribution, and MSR to modulate brake torque whilst changing down a gear.

At launch, the Fiat Panda 4x4 cost just £8995 on-the-road, and boasted just one engine choice and one trim level. It was fitted with Fiat’s proven FIRE 1.2-litre, eight-valve, 60bhp unit mated to a five-speed manual gearbox, and took a somewhat leisurely 20 seconds to reach 62mph.

In August 2008, the Fiat Panda Cross was launched. This features even chunkier styling and a bespoke front end, but most importantly is fitted with a 1.3-litre MultiJet diesel engine, which is much preferable to the standard 1.2-litre petrol unit.

The comprehensive standard equipment package featured electric front windows, central locking, Dualdrive electronic power-steering, twin front airbags and a Blaupunkt stereo radio cassette.

Moreover, the availability of up to six airbags, automatic climate control, parking sensors, a Sky Dome electric sunroof, steering wheel audio controls and a stereo CD with MP3 player imbued the Fiat Panda 4x4 with a level of on-board sophistication and refinement unparalleled in this class.

The second-generation Fiat Panda 4x4 also offered a fine array of both active and passive safety features. It was the first car in its class to offer up to six airbags, whilst front seatbelts with pretensioner and load limiter, three-point rear seatbelts and anti-submarining seats are all fitted as standard.

Unlike most of today’s overweight, over-complicated, electronically nannied 4x4s, the Fiat Panda 4x4 is immensely appealing to drive off road – properly involving in an old-fashioned mechanical way, and great fun.

Ask Honest John

Which small 4x4?

"I currently drive an ageing BMW 320Ci Although I live in the Home Counties, my parents live in a hilly area of Wales and I am considering a used, economical 4x4 to ensure I can visit them and do their shopping, when the winter arrives. Do you have any suggestions as to a suitable vehicle to consider? My budget would be quite limited, I'm afraid (up to £3k)."
Fiat Panda 4x4 2005-2012 model: Obviously nothing like as quick and relaxed on the motorway as a 320Ci, but hugely better in the snow.
Answered by Honest John

Can you recommend a cheap 4x4?

"We live on top of a hill and our house is difficult to access in winter weather. I am considering the purchase of a cheap 4x4 for £2000, which would be an additional car rather than one of our main vehicles. What do you suggest? "
FIAT Panda 4x4, Suzuki Jimny, Daihatsu Terios - really anything you can find for £2000.
Answered by Honest John

Can you recommend a good petrol-engined SUV to replace our Toyota RAV4?

"As my wife and I will both be retired next year we are looking to run one car instead of two. We currently have a 2008 RAV4 D-4D, which was used for towing and an elderly Golf estate, both diesel. We live in the country and bearing in mind the state of the roads, the weather, and the fact that we will do some regular short journeys, we want petrol and something sturdy with good ground clearance. We will do about 10,000 miles per annum max. We would not want to spend more than £12,000 including part-ex. We had thought about a Fiat Panda 4x4, but is four wheel drive that critical?"
A new Dacia Sandero Stepway 90TCe on suitable tyres would probably do the job for just under £8000. If you want more space, a Dacia Logan MCV: If you deem 4WD necessary, you might find a used Toyota Urban Cruiser 1.4 D-4D within budget, or a Suzuki Grand Vitara SWB. A Suzuki Swift 4WD is coming soon.
Answered by Honest John

Looking for a budget 4x4

"I'm looking to replace my Ford Focus with something that I can comfortably use on a bumpy and muddy tracks in all weathers. I only have £3500 to spent and was considering the Skoda Octavia Scout, do you have any suggestions?"
Small: a Daihatsu Terios or FIAT Panda 4x4 or Suzuki Ignis 4x4. Bigger, a Honda HRV if you can find a good one. Don't recommend a Rover 'StreetWise'.
Answered by Honest John
More Questions

What does a Fiat Panda 4x4 (2005 – 2012) cost?