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Paris show: Fiat's 4x4 Panda breaks cover

Green machine: Fiat claims the Panda 4x4 is the only four-wheel-drive vehicle in the city car 'A segment'.

Funky third-generation Fiat Panda 4x4 features off-road tech to rival larger SUVs

30 Aug 2012

FIAT will unveil the four-wheel-drive version of its third-generation Panda city car at the Paris motor show next month, which will be under serious consideration for Australia if it is built with right-hand-drive.

The latest 4x4 Panda, one of several new variants Fiat is adding to the range that was unveiled at the Frankfurt motor show last September, continues a tradition started almost three decades ago with the tiny and tinny, yet rugged and capable original.

Using modern technology to help take it off the beaten path, Fiat's latest 4WD Panda features permanent all-wheel-drive, an electronic locking differential function and distributes traction to the appropriate axle via two differentials and an electronically controlled coupling.

Fiat-Chrysler Group Australia corporate affairs director Lenore Fletcher told GoAuto the company's product strategy boss Alex Tam “was absolutely raving about” the Panda 4x4 after seeing it on a recent trip to Fiat headquarters in Turin.

“He said it was a really funky, functional cool car”, said Ms Fletcher. “He was really excited about it and it is definitely one we would love to look at closely.”

Ms Fletcher reiterated Fiat-Chrysler's desire to expand the Australian Fiat range, with anything built in right-hand-drive on the radar.

36 center imageFiat is remaining tight-lipped on the mystery five-door Fiat 500 SUV – dubbed 500X – that was glimpsed by select journalists at a media preview in Italy last month and is expected to share much of the Panda 4x4's technology.

At just 3680mm long, 1670mm wide and 1600mm tall, the five-door Panda 4x4 is slightly larger than a Holden Barina Spark.

Fiat claims it is the A segment's only 4WD model and despite its small footprint, is capable enough when the going gets rough to “compete with off-road cars of much greater dimensions”, and “ready to tackle mountain mule tracks and the urban jungle with the same cool”.

Marking out the Panda 4x4 from standard front-drive variants are new pastel orange and metallic green paint finishes and the traditional unpainted black cladding around the lower body.

Metal-look front and rear bumper inserts provide a visual indicator of the added under-body protection, which Fiat says is enhanced by re-routed exhaust pipes that “ensure complete protection for the lower part of the car”.

Finishing off the look are 15-inch alloy wheels fitted with mud and snow tyres. Fiat says the Panda 4x4's functional design features “convey the image of an extremely sophisticated multifunctional mini SUV”.

Inside are new trim colour options including a funky green dashboard with matching green and beige seat fabric that provide a psuedo-camouflage look, while other seat fabric options include orange and beige, with synthetic leather inserts and door coverings.

The standard Panda's 14 interior storage compartments are supplemented by another in the raised centre console over the transmission tunnel.

Standard equipment includes manual climate-control, an MP3-compatible CD sound system,, electric mirror adjustment, remote central locking and electronic stability control and rear head restraints, and Fiat will offer a range of accessories to tailor the Panda 4x4 for urban or off-road use.

A button behind the gear shifter activates the electronic locking differential, which can operate at speeds of up to 50km/h and helps the car drive up slippery hills covered in snow, ice or mud by braking the wheels with least grip and transferring drive to those most able to provide traction.

Two engines – both fitted with standard idle-stop systems – will be available on the Panda 4x4, a 63kW 900cc two-cylinder TwinAir petrol-turbo shared with the Fiat 500 and a 56kW 1.3-litre MultiJet II turbo-diesel.

Both are offered with a special six-speed manual transmission featuring a low-range first gear for off-roading purposes and easy hill starts.

Compared with the second-generation Panda 4x4, the new version replaces its trailing-arm suspension with a torsion beam layout specifically designed for this variant and claimed to offer the same off-road performance while saving weight and provide a comfier, quieter ride.

Joining the Panda 4x4 at Paris will be a similarly-styled Trekking variant with front-wheel-drive but featuring a new Traction+ system to better cope with slippery conditions, and a dual-fuel Natural Power Panda, which has a 60kW 900cc TwinAir two-cylinder engine that can run on petrol or natural gas.

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