On the road: Fiat Panda 1.3 Multijet 75hp 4×4

‘This is one Panda that’s at home in the wild – even if you’re unlikely to ever take it there’

So I get in this one, put on the radio – 5 Live – and there’s a story about pandas.

So I get in this one, put on the radio – 5 Live – and there’s a story about pandas. Honest. There’s my way in, I’m thinking, always on the lookout for a way to make a car review not too car-reviewy (or more ignorant, say my detractors). Perhaps I can ingeniously tie my report in with the news.

It’s about the pandas at Edinburgh zoo – you know, Mrs Tian Tian and Mr Yang Guan. He was totally up for it, she totally wasn’t; stay away, bamboo breath, she said, in Pandarin Chinese. So now they’ve gone and done her artificially. And I’m thinking artificial insemination, fuel injection, this is diesel (it also comes with Fiat’s eco Twin Air petrol engine), so there could be something in that. Also 4×4, 4×4 play, perhaps that’s where Yang Guan was going wrong, not enough of that. Or paw by paw… Nah, this is not going to work, is it? Drop it, right now.

OK, time to come clean. The reason I’m beating about the thicket here is because I didn’t give this one a proper testing. It’s primarily a city car, and I did drive it round a city. Like its two-wheel drive sibling, it’s terrific around town – cheap (actually not that cheap at all in this form), cheerful, charming even.

They’ve added plastic cladding to protect it from bumps and to give a more rugged appearance. And raised it a few cm; it leans a bit on the corners, not alarmingly so. You wouldn’t want to go too fast on the open road, especially in a crosswind, but luckily it doesn’t go too fast.

Most significantly, of course, it has four-wheel drive that engages when required, diverting up to half of the torque (don’t worry if you don’t understand, it’s a bit like off-side) to the rear wheels. Plus there’s something called Traction+, which helps traction at low speeds by sensing wheelspin. All of which means that this little baby – like its predecessors, and unlike most so-called crossovers and SUVs – has genuine off-road capability. By all accounts…

Yes, I’m afraid I didn’t go off-road in it myself. Well, to be honest, it’s hard to find anywhere around here to do so. I certainly didn’t need to. And it does sort of beg the question: how many people need a car that can go up or down slopes most drivers would be terrified of, but that is also easy to park and agile round town?

Still, even if you’re never going to do it, there’s something quite reassuring about knowing you can. And knowing that if this little Panda was (re)introduced to the wild, it would have a good chance of survival. Ha, it wasn’t elegant, but we got back to them in the end.

Fiat Panda 1.3 Multijet 75hp 4×4

Fiat Panda 1.3 Multijet 75hp 4x4 dashboard

Price £14,950
Top speed 99mph
Acceleration 0-62 in 14.5 seconds
Combined fuel economy 60.1mpg
C02 emissions 125g/km
Green rating 7/10
Cool rating 8/10