As we experience nuclear proliferation in terms of car sizes, with the Freelander being the same size as the original Range Rover, and fuel prices meaning it would almost certainly be cheaper to run my Bristol on Lafite 1961 than on super unleaded, there is a lot to be said for a bit of motoring minimalism. In fact, the FIAT Panda 4×4 and its diminutive ilk make a lot of sense on a lot of levels.
Unless you want to transport large dogs, or indeed passengers endowed with large posteriors, the FIAT Panda is plenty big enough for most journeys. It is available with a diesel, but I would definitely go for the TwinAir 0.9 litre petrol job. It’s a flat two, like the old 2CV was, but is an engaging little motor, and encourages you to rev the knackers off it. In fact the whole car is like that, which is probably why no-one ever gets anywhere near the official mpg figure of nearly 60mpg.
This engaging little motor longs to have its engine tested hard.
With that funny little two pot rattling away up front like a demented lawn mower, it’s not the quietest thing either, but it’s not a bad sort of noise, and the ride is really very good indeed for a car of this size and price. Off road, it’s fairly respectable, benefiting from a simple four-wheel drive system, proper mud and snow tyres and an electronic simulation of locking diffs. It’s not got the most ground clearance, but its light weight and small size more than make up for that. I can remember one of the pickers-up on a shoot I went to for many years used to have a little old rusty Suzuki 4×4, which used to go absolutely everywhere, while the guns’ far more expensive cars got stuck. The FIAT Panda is rather like that, and can pick its way down little paths through woods that would see you stopping your Range Rover before you tore its aluminium flanks to shreds.
The Panda’s boot is a fair size but you’ll struggle to get your dog in too.
It’s a very likeable little car, make no mistake, and I can see it worming its way into the hearts of many younger countrymen and women in particular. It’s a lot cheaper than a MINI Countryman and, because it isn’t trying quite so hard, rather cooler. Its insurance grouping is vastly more youth-friendly too. If you’re looking for something that does 90 per cent of tasks 90 per cent as well for 60 per cent of the money, you might be better off in a Dacia Duster. But I bet the car park at Cirencester will always have more FIAT Pandas in it, even if you can’t convert the seats to a double bed any more.
Specifications for the FIAT Panda 0.9 TwinAir 4×4 85HP
Top speed: 103mph
0-62mph: 12.1 seconds
C0₂ emission: 114g/km
Ben Samuelson is the managing director of PR and events agency Samuelson Wylie Associates. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/bensamuelson
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