1992 FIAT PandaReview
The More I Drive It The More I Love It. Get It In The Woods And You'll Fall In Love With It! —
Last update: 2012-12-22 Surprisingly good fun to drive. The more I drive it the more I love it. Whether it's through the woods near home or in the trips on and off the road in one of the most spectacular landscapes of my country - Gerês, in the north of Portugal - the little one has never let me down. DRIVING OFF-ROAD: . This is what this version of the Panda was made for. Great fun is always a given. Of course it isn't a Land Rover Defender or a Toyota Land Cruiser or any other old school true off-roader but it's pretty near it. It just doesn't have the ground clearance of those cars or a low range transfer case. But it's very small size means it can actually go to/through places that would leave the "competition" stuck. . 4WD can be engaged/disengaged via a lever located between the gearbox and the handbrake. I once read that the Panda 4x4 was one the first cars to allow this - engaging/disengaging 4WD from inside the car - but I'm not so sure. Can anyone enlighten me? Anyway, this can/should only be done at very low speeds, with 1st, 2nd or reverse engaged. You sometimes have to force it a bit to get it done, particularly when disengaging 4WD. Also, the 4WD system was conceived to be used only at relatively low speeds (up to 60 km/h) and off tarmac. Using it on dry tarmac will greatly reduce the car's maneuverability and strain the mechanical components. This is a common issue in 4WD off-road cars. . Original tires were off-road Michelin tires. Unfortunately, because they're no longer being produced and it's hard to find off-road tires in this size (145 R13), it currently uses common road tires, although so far they don't seem to have robbed it too much of its off-road capabilities. DRIVING AROUND TOWN: . One must not forget this is the Panda's (the car not the bear) original "habitat", so naturally it finds itself at home there, even in this 4WD version. . It's compact with excellent all-round visibility. . Very agile with its very close gear ratios, because of it's off-roading vocation, making it really nippy. . Steering, which is unassisted, is heavy while stopped and during maneuvers but becomes light enough and quite good once on the move, with plenty of feedback. DRIVING ON OPEN ROAD AND HIGHWAYS: . Although not particularly comfortable, it's not as bad as you might be led to believe. . It slides around a bit while cornering, mainly when driving in the wet. That being said, this can provide some fun driving moments as long as you're focused on what you're doing, because it slides in a predictable and relatively benign way. It typically occurs as a four wheel slide and sometimes as slight under-steer. Over-steer is rare. . This car wasn't designed for outright speed. 120 km/h is about as fast as it gets, without seeming to be about to blow up. The previously mentioned close gear ratios, particularly the top gear and final drive ratio simply don't allow high speeds. One only needs to mention that this car's top gear ratio (5th) is the same as the fourth gear ratio in non-4WD Pandas. The car's aerodynamics, with its square-ish style, doesn't help it either. . You get plenty of rolling noise and wind roar. . You'll hardly (more likely never) ever use the 4WD system in these types of roads, unless it's snowing or the road has ice. OTHER COMMENTS: . The steering wheel, though pretty basic in its design and with a very thin-rim, is actually nice to handle providing good grip and ease of use, both on and off-road. . Gearbox is sluggish: gear changes are not fluid, particularly from 4th to 3rd and from 4th to 5th. Even when a gear is engaged the gear stick feels a bit loose. I do not know if this is a problem with this particular car or something that is common in the Panda of this time (4x4 or not). . Fuel consumption is a bit steep for such a small car, altough I do not have exact figures (something to do someday). Blame probably goes to the close gear ratios. As you'd expect, with 4WD engaged fuel consumption increases. . Space is good for occupants up front, not so for those going in the back. Luggage room in the boot is scarce, but with the backseats fully reclined you get a spacious boot. . The instrument panel and various switches are simple and well placed. The only exception are the ventilation controls, which are too many and too alike making it a bit confusing to understand what each of them does. The Panda 4x4 instrument panel includes a diagram of the car with information and warning lights placed correspondingly to the real locations of each functionality or component. Some examples: main beams, fog lights, fuel, 4WD engagement, etc... There is, however, no rev-counter. . The ventilation system, despite its confusing controls, works very well. Demisting, for instance, is quite rapid for a car that has no AC, even in winter, and it also does a good job of heating the car. It's main problem it that it has few air speed settings (off / strong / much stronger), requiring you to constantly keep toggling between speeds to avoid both excessive noise and too much air blown to your face.
Primary Use: Sport/fun (spirited driving, track racing, off-roading, etc.)
Pros: All-terrain capabilities beyond what most people believe. Agile around town.
Cons: Gearbox is sluggish. Long drives on highways can become tiresome. Doesn't exactly sip fuel.
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