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 Fiat Fiat 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.