Fiat's chunkier, spunkier Panda 4x4
Fiat's all-new Panda 4x4 mini-SUV - still the only A segment all-wheel drive vehicle - is all revved up for its world debut at the Paris motor show at the end of September - but you don't have to wait that long, thanks to a 'sneak preview' from the factory.
The third-generation Panda 4x4 (this model has been around for nearly three decades!) is almost the same size as its predecessor at 3680mm long, 1670mm wide and 1600mm high, on a 2300mm wheelbase.
Both ends have been considerably 'bulked up' with chunkier, strongly geometric plastics to emphasise the Panda's off-road ability, while aluminium-colour inserts in the front bumper reference the metal bash-plates under the body.
Inside, there's a new fascia trim in forest green, fabric upholstery in green and beige with 'eco-leather' inserts in the trim and door panels and a high console over the centre tunnel that adds an extra storage compartment to the 14 already built into the regular front-wheel drive Panda.
NUTS AND BOLTS
The new Panda 4x4 has a permanent all-wheel drive 'torque on demand' system with two electronic locking diffs and an electronic centre clutch, managed by a processor that monitors the rotation of all four wheels individually, using the antilock braking sensors. The system seamlessly directs the torque to whichever axle is turning more slowly.
At the same time the electronic locking diffs brake individual wheels as they start to spin, directing the torque to the wheels with better grip.
According to Fiat, the advantages of an all-electronic layout are that it's completely automatic and maintenance-free - although the driver does have the option to lock both diffs (at up to 50km/h) by pressing a button behind the gear lever, for better traction on really slippery terrain, such as mud and snow.
The new Panda 4x4 will be available with a choice of one diesel and one petrol engine, each with idle stop as standard.
The diesel is a 55kW, 1.3-litre Multijet II common-rail turbo, while the petrol is a 900cc, two-cylinder TwinAir Turbo for which Fiat quotes 63kW - and 40 percent more torque than the previous model's 1.2-litre, four-cylinder Fire engine.
Each drives through a special 'five speeds with underdrive' gearbox for muscular take-offs even on steeply sloping terrain.
Front suspension is by independent MacPherson struts while, at the rear, a specially developed torsion-beam layout replaces the previous trailing-arm system because, says Fiat, it's lighter and quieter with the same deflection as before.
Standard kit includes aircon, a radio/CD/MP3 player, electrically adjustable mirrors, remote central locking and 15” polished-alloy rims shod with 175/65 Mud+Snow tyres.
Two more Panda models will also make their debut in Paris: the Trekking, which looks just like the 4x4 but has front-wheel drive only (with an electronic limited-slip diff to give it some rough-road cred!) and the Panda Natural power, with a 59kW dual fuel engine that will run on petrol, E85 ethanol or any combination of the two.
No decision has yet been made as to whether the new Panda 4x4 will be released in South Africa.