The latest two-wheel-drive Fiat Fiat Panda has a sophistication to its ride that previous Pandas – fun though they were – were lacking. It’s arguable that some of the brio of past Pandas has been lost in the translation to a feeling of greater maturity.
But, fortunately, Fiat has kept it as an easy-going, fun-to-drive companion because of its general smallness and the keenness of its engine, if not for any objective keen-handling traits. It’s agile, yes, but only because it doesn’t weigh very much, not because it has been designed to feel that way.
The same is true of this Panda 4x4. It rides entirely acceptably, with the extra sidewall in the tyres and increase in suspension height seemingly compensating for the ride-worsening increase in unsprung mass.
Meanwhile, because for the vast majority of the time the Panda is a front-wheel-drive car, its steering and handling traits seem pretty unchanged. There’s more roll than in a standard Panda, of course, and the steering isn’t the sharpest around the straight-ahead, but it’s easy to forgive those things or not even notice them at all.
The 4x4 is higher and more capable than a regular Panda but feels no less of a Panda for it. A lot of that, we suspect, is down to the fact that this isn’t a particularly heavy car. Stick taller springs and softened rates on a heavy-bodied car and it’ll lose control of its body movements over undulating surfaces. The Panda doesn’t suffer to the same degree.
Refinement levels are pretty good – not a match for a Volkswagen Up’s, but good enough. Wind and road noise, despite the bigger tyres, are kept in reasonable check, and the increase in height seems to have no adverse effect on stability. Nor have they upset the general handling bias, which errs towards understeer.