Fiat is betting on all-wheel drive to give its flagging fortunes a serious boost. The cars caught here will quickly expand the Italian maker’s all-wheel-drive portfolio over the next 12 months. The first will be a tougher-looking brother for the Panda 4x4 – the Simba. Based on the concept car of the same name, mechanically this will be almost identical to the current Panda off-roader, which means a viscous 4x4 system and 1.2-litre petrol and 1.3-litre diesel engines to choose from when it arrives early next year.
From a styling perspective, the Simba will really stand out. Buried underneath a layer of disguise in our picture, its chunky look will provide a more glance-grabbing, rugged flavour than any other Panda. Larger than both Simba and Panda 4x4, and due for a spring 2006 UK introduction, is the 4x4 that Fiat has been developing with Suzuki. For the Japanese maker, it will be the replacement for the Grand Vitara. For Fiat, it will create an unprecedented model designed to seize an early slice of one of Europe’s fastest growing segments.
Similar models from Renault, Peugeot and Citroën (with the help of Mitsubishi) and Nissan (in the shape of the Qashqai) are at varying stages of development. Fiat’s entry should be the first to market though, featuring switchable four-wheel drive.