The diminutive Fiat 4x4 and Cross are offered with a choice of two powertrains: a 0.9-lire TwinAir Turbo petrol coupled to a six-speed manual gearbox or a 1.3-litre MultiJet diesel with a five-speed manual gearbox.
Fiat's TwinAir engine is a distinctive and characterful unit. It chunters and shimmies away lightly at idle, in a way that seems at once old-fashioned and, in a downsized sense, modern. There is no other automotive combustion engine like it that we know of, and few that raise a smile so effortlessly.
The first thing to do once that offbeat idle is established is disable the Panda's Eco mode.
This is a separate program for the ECU that limits engine power to 78bhp and torque to 74lb ft.
It probably improves fuel economy and CO2 for the NEDC economy test; the car defaults to it when you start up, remember. But in practice, the driving experience is much the worse with it engaged.
With it on, the Panda 4x4 is troublingly slow, but also bothersome in the unevenness of its power delivery; it doesn't take much of an incline to make a gearchange absolutely necessary, for example. Off road, it would be hopeless. With Eco off, though, that extra mid-range torque comes like manna from heaven. It makes the car so much more flexible and easy to drive and makes you, in turn, begin to see the sense in substituting four cylinders for two.
It is difficult to quantify the superiority of Fiat's TwinAir engine over an equivalent four-pot in recorded numbers. When we road tested the regular 1.2-litre Panda, it produced almost identical performance figures and marginally better economy.
Despite this, considering the extra weight and unaerodynamic height of the 4x4 relative to the standard Panda, as well as its dual-purpose rough-stuff usability and all that combustive charm, we say the TwinAir still deserves considerable credit.
Those wanting the frugality and low-down pulling power of a diesel will be gratified to hear that the MultiJet offering in the Fiat is both strong and workmanlike. Unlike the TwinAir, however, it's only offered with a five-speed manual gearbox, which has a short fifth gear.
Consequently, it's noisier than the TwinAir at motorway speeds. Out of the two engines the TwinAir is probably the one to go for as it'll be cheaper to buy and it has bags more character. That makes it a natural fit for the Panda 4x4.