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Driven: Fiat's new Panda on a mission in SA

2017-08-25 07:47

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Fiat presents its refreshed Panda, which includes a 4x4 and cross version.

Alan Rosenmeyer

Johannesburg - Everybody knows and loves the Panda bear, it may be large but it’s always remained cute and cuddly. Like the Asian bear, it's hard not to like Fiat's similarly named city car.

From the first generation launched in 1980, Fiat has sold more than 4.6-million units globally. The third generation was launched in 2013 but sadly, at least in South Africa, they seem to be as rare as their mammalian namesakes.

Fiat South Africa has decided to take steps to remedy the situation by updating the range, replacing the 1.2-litre 4-cylinder engine with Fiat’s 2011 World Engine of the Year, the little 900cc 2-cylinder twin-air turbo engine. With figures of 63kW/145Nm the little car can be hustled along quite easily. This engine has proven itself locally via the 500 city car range.

A 4x4 Panda!

Fiat SA has also expanded the range by adding two top-of-the-range variants both fitted with all-wheel drive. Yes, an A-segment hatchback that actually has 4x4 technology and capability. The off-road model has the distinction of being the cheapest new 4x4 listed on the SA market.

Before discussing the various features of the four derivatives in the range, Fiat Chrysler SA disclosed that by adopting the smaller unit, there is no import duty payable on vehicles with engines less than 1.0-litre. This has obviously resulted in very aggressive pricing of the range - starting from R189 900.

Across the range all models offer features such as Bluetooth UConnect radio with audio streaming, voice recognition, MP3 player, two USB ports and an Auxiliary port. In terms of space, the Panda offers 225 litres of boot space, expanding to 810 litres with the rear seat folded down.

On the Easy and Lounge versions 15" steel wheels are fitted as standard along with a 5-speed manual transmission. This proved very responsive on the open road run at the launch with the little turbo providing plenty of power up hills and a very smooth and easy shift.

Next up in the range are the two versions fitted with Fiat’s 4x4 system. The 4x4 offers the same engine but is mated to a 6-speed manual transmission. The Panda 4x4 rides on 15" alloy wheels with a ground clearance of 150mm and is fitted with specific bumpers with integrated skid plates, flared wheel arches and protective side mouldings to enable offroad adventures.

The all-wheel drive Panda 4x4 also has an Electronic Locking Differential (ELD) to maximise traction. Two new colours are offered on the Panda 4x4 and these include Sicilian Orange and Tuscany Green.

Inside, the Panda 4x4 is fitted with exclusive features to suit its character and these include a green fascia that frames the instruments and storage pockets, upholstery design in either green, beige or pumpkin with eco-leather details and front and rear door panels with eco-leather inserts. A high console over the central tunnel provides additional storage.

Panda Cross

At the top of the range comes the seriously funky but amazingly capable Panda Cross. The range-topper can be had with an optional Cross Plus Pack which gives the Panda a rugged look with skid plates and door protection panels in a silver ultrashine colour as well as alloy rims and red tow hooks.

The Panda Cross also has new light clusters, fog lamps and LED daytime running lights. From the side, flared wheel arches, side mouldings with a 'Cross' badge and roof rails add to the rugged appeal. 15" steel wheels with unique wheel covers are standard.

At the rear, a new bumper with underbody protection and a chrome tail pipe rounds off the look. The Cross has a ground clearance of 161mm.

A total of four airbags are fitted as standard along with ABS with EBD, ESP, Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC), Hill Holder, tyre pressure monitoring and ISOFIX child seat mounts.

On the launch, my partner and I grabbed a Cross version for the first section and whilst performance is similar to the Lounge model, you have to be careful with the closely-spaced gearbox until you are familiar with it. This is probably the only complaint I can level at this little car as it impressed by tackling the Killarney 4x4 course later that day.

With the Cross version also adding a 4x4 selector that allows the driver to pre-set either 4x4 mode, central diff-lock or even a hill-descent control feature simply at the twirl of a knob next to the gear lever. Using these modes I easily conquered the course which included river crossings, loose sand, mud, steep climbs and descents.

Overall, I am pretty sure that few of owners of these cars will ever venture off-road but I can doff my hat to Fiat's engineers for the peace of mind any buyer will have in the 4x4's ability to take on the outdoors.

The Panda Bear may still be on the brink of extinction but here’s hoping that the little Fiat can very soon be removed from any endangered list in SA, at very least.

Prices

Easy 0.9 5-speed 63kW - R184 990
LOUNGE 0.9 5-speed 63kW - R199 900
4X4 0.9 5-speed 63kW - R229 900
CROSS 4X4 0.9 6-speed 66kW - R249 900

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Read more on:    fiat chrysler  |  alan rosenmeyer  |  cape town  |  4x4  |  panda  |  cross  |  new model

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