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Fiat Panda 

Broadcast dates : 17th July 2005
23rd July 2005

Fiatís Panda has been much lauded since its European introduction last year where most of its sales are in front-wheel-drive form.

Fiat Auto SA has taken a gamble in introducing the Panda here as a four-wheel-drive model. Perhaps the idea was to make a bit of a splash before launching more conventional models.

This is a 1,2 litre petrol version, but word has it that a turbodiesel model is also a possibility in South Africa.

The stubby dimensions of the Panda make it ideal for negotiating narrow roads. And in four-wheel-drive configuration, this obviously includes dirt roads, even though this 4x4 system was designed primarily for icy roads in Europe.

Dirt road driving shows up a carís qualities very quickly in terms of build integrity and body rigidity, and Hendrik was immediately impressed with the Pandaís core values.

The Climbing version is priced against some faster two-wheel-drive hatches such as the Renault Modus and the 1,6 litre VW Polo.
On the dirt youíre not very aware of the lack of power, as the engine is profiled towards lower-rev torque. The gear ratios are also well-chosen for low-speed off-road use.

The Panda has taken a definite step forward in quality compared to other Fiats. The upholstery is of durable fabric in funky colours, definitely aimed at the youth market. Panel fit is exceptionally good on this car.

When the going gets tough, the Fiat Panda makes do with surprisingly basic equipment. Thereís no low-range transfer box fitted, but Hendrik was nevertheless working the little four-cylinder engine hard on the rough dirt tracks at our test venue. Still, he was under no illusions that he was in a rally car.

The big question thatís going to asked is whether thereís a real market for the Panda in rather expensive four-by-four form.

Suzuki introduced its tiny-engined Jeep here successfully some years ago. But that was a more conventional off-roader, very much an early rendition of an SUV.

The hatchback format of the Panda means it doesnít enjoy obvious SUV appeal, that of a bold lifestyle statement.

We suspect that Fiat has a bit of an educational task ahead, despite its genuine appeal and ability off the beaten track.

Ground clearance measures 165 millimetres, which puts it close to some running-board bedecked SUVs. The real limitation will be those small wheels and road tyres.

We expected the 44 kiloWatt mill to bog down up the steep rocky incline. But that strong low-end torque and short first-gear ratio made its climbing ability an eye-opener.

Where you notice the lack of outright power is on tarmac. Initial acceleration is good. But the engine runs out of steam noticeably after 5000 rpm. And this seriously limits its on-road ability.

After a week with the Fiat Panda Climbing, we developed lots of affection for it.

But our question remainsÖ where exactly does it fit in?

Fiat Panda Climbing
  • Engine: Four cylinder, petrol, 1 242 cc
  • Power: 44 kW @ 5 000 rpm
  • Torque: 102 Nm @ 2 500 rpm
  • Transmission: Five-speed manual, four-wheel-drive
  • 0-100 km/h: 20,0 seconds
  • Top speed: 145 km/h
  • Fuel consumption: 6,6 litres/100 km 
  • Price: R139 000
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