Well the weather outside is frightful and right now, most people are turning their attentions to What Boat? rather than What Car?.
Normally at this time of year, the motoring press would be – if you excuse the expression – awash with advice on what winter 4x4 buy.
And the media – rather than sending hapless reporters to stand in a few inches of flood water in Oxfordshire – would be telling us that sales of 4x4 vehicles have hit an all-time high.
Hopefully it'll stop raining at some point in 2014 and maybe we'll get some weather which, you know, feels more like a British winter. A touch of frost, a sprinkling of snow. And when this does happen, PetrolBlog recommends that you buy one of its favourite off-roaders: the Fiat Panda 4x4.
Its's crazy to think that the original Fiat Panda 4x4 – with its four-wheel drive system developed in conjunction with Steyr-Puch – was introduced back in 1983. The Fiat Panda had only been on sale for three years, but it was as though the Giugiaro-designed ‘shoe box’ was always destined for off-road duties. Fast forward to the third generation of the Panda, and the bloodline is all too apparent.
The current Panda may have grown up, developed a conscience and forced to adapt to modern safety requirements, but somehow, Fiat has managed to retain the vast majority of its original charm. Utilitarian, basic, fuss-free and – in 4x4 guise – utterly brilliant.
PetrolBlog presents ten reasons why you need a Fiat Panda 4x4. No, really, you do.
It's the choice of the Italian hill farmer
Head to the hills of Tuscany and there's one car you'll see more than any other. You'll find them littering the landscape, nestled in the olive groves or sat idle outside an old barn. They'll be in various states of disrepair, but crucially, they'll still be running.
It's the Fiat Panda 4x4 – the transport of choice for countless generations of Tuscan hill farmers. First-generation, second-generation and a smattering of the current model, too – the Fiat Panda 4x4 was bought new and bought for life. Not on a three-year, balloon payment finance plan. Instead, they were bought in the same way they would buy a puppy. With a view to raising it, nurturing it and staying loyal to it for the rest of its life.
The reward is loyalty. Whether it's called into action when an inch of snow lies all around, or when the tracks are transformed into dusty byways, the Fiat Panda 4x4 will keep going.
And it's not because it lives a sheltered, pampered life. The Fiat Panda 4x4 will be worked hard, over long hours and with little attention paid to cosmetic issues.
If it's good enough in the hills above Florence, it's good enough for Flo in Fleetwood.
The Fiat Panda 4x4 will keep going where others fail
There's a common misconception in this country that a 4x4 will get you out of trouble should the going get tough. Sure, a 4x4 will deliver greater traction in say snowy conditions, but you still need the skill to tackle the situation. And a 4x4 isn't going to stop any quicker than a normal car in icy conditions, with the added weight of an SUV simply making the situation worse.
When you're done scouring the hills of Tuscany for traces of Fiat Panda 4x4, head across to The Alps for another excursion. Once again you will find that the people who really know their stuff tend to own a smaller 4x4. Maybe a Swift 4x4, or a Suzuki Jimny, or yes – you've guessed it – a Fiat Panda 4x4.
Naturally the enlightened residents of the Alpine communities will still have a Avant Quattro parked in the garage, but for slipping through tight gate entrances and cutting through the snow, the Panda 4x4 has few rivals. You can thank its lightness – 1,050kg for the TwinAir – and the relatively skinny 175/65 mud and snow tyres for this.
In short. with the Fiat Panda 4x4, you can play at being the king of the castle and the dirty rascal.
Because it's a Panda
Subjectively there are many city cars that are better than the current Fiat Panda. Some are better to drive, some offer greater quality, others deliver better value for money. Heck, the Up/Mii/Citigo trio are arguably the best city cars money can buy.
But there's something about the Fiat Panda that helps it punch above its weight. It's far easier to connect with a Fiat Panda than just about any of its rivals. Which is partly why it managed to beat the Skoda Citigo in PetrolBlog's Tale of Two City Cars feature.
It's this willing, almost terrier-like nature which migrates beautifully over to the 4x4 version. Show the Panda 4x4 a bit of rough and it's as though you've shown a piece of open parkland to an excitable puppy. It gives you the sense that it will climb every mountain, ford every stream.
Of course, with a mere 150mm increased ride height, the Fiat Panda 4x4 will soon be found wanting when the going gets too tough for even Billy Ocean, but on dirt tracks, wet fields and through a dusting of snow, the Fiat Panda 4x4 is brilliant.
It's an absolute hoot to drive
Which brings us on to point four: the Fiat Panda 4x4 is brilliant fun to drive. We've tested both engines – the 1.3-litre Multijet diesel and the 0.9-litre TwinAir petrol and both offer distinct changes in character.
The 1.3-litre Multijet is more refined and – on Millbrook's off-road circuit – offered plenty of useable torque. But with only a five-speed gearbox, it's unlikely to offer the all-round capabilities of the two-cylinder petrol engine.
The TwinAir engine just begs for involvement. In the same way we experienced with the Fiat 500 TwinAir, it thrives on constant input and use of the six-speed gearbox. To some people, this may not appeal, but the Panda 4x4 soon settles down on a motorway and makes for a surprisingly good long distance cruiser.
As in the aforementioned Fiat 500, you're unlikely to see anything close to the claimed 57.6mpg on a combined cycle – the TwinAir's reputation for slightly optimistic economy claims is now legendary. But if economy is your priority, the 1.3-litre Multijet offers 60.1mpg, making it, on paper at least, the most economical 4x4 you can buy.
But the boxy nature of the Panda, combined with an upright driving position and a gearshift which is wonderfully aligned with the steering wheel, help to make the Panda an immensely enjoyable car to drive. And the way in which the TwinAir engine puffs and wheezes away in front you, just heightens the appeal.
Just one piece of advice: keep the ECO button turned off at all times. It may be good for economy figures, but in the real world it completely blunts the performance, making everyday driving really hard work.
It's relatively cheap to buy
Without options, the Fiat Panda 4x4 TwinAir costs £14,145, or £15,145 if you opt for the diesel. Is this good value for money?
Well it's certainly cheaper than the vast majority of 4x4s on the market, with only the Dacia Duster and really-rather-good Suzuki Swift 4x4 offering anything close. But in both cases, neither car offers anything like the charm of the Panda. The prices aren't cheap for a city car, but then most cars don't offer the same off-road potential of the Panda. You pays your money...
Our test car came fitted with optional Tuscany Green metallic paint (£450), City Brake Control (£250) and a host of other largely cosmetic upgrades that amounted to a total of £1,155. Whether you need the luxuries is your call, but the Tuscany Green is – as far as PetrolBlog is concerned – an essential upgrade.
Do as the Tuscan farmer would do and set out to keep your Panda 4x4 for life. £15k for a car that will last you 30 years seems like good value.
It'll cost pennies to run... probably
While there's a debate over the purchase price of the Panda 4x4 TwinAir, there can be no doubting its potential to be cheap to run. Co2 emissions of 114g/km equate to tax band C, or nil in the first year, followed by £30 the year after. The insurance group is a lowly seven and, assuming you have a featherlight right foot, it should return reasonably good economy figures.
And while you may pay around £150 a corner for a set of winter tyres on a 4x4 SUV, a set of excellent Goodyear UltraGrip 8s – as previously tested by PetrolBlog – will only set you back around £63 a corner.
To top it all, it's not like you need to splash out on options and accessories. Bluetooth comes as standard, as does a USB connection, 15-inch alloy wheels, ELD (electronic locking differential), roof rails, air conditioning, Dualdrive power steering and plenty of 4x4-style cladding. Everything you need to start your 4x4 adventure. Except the snorkel. And the winch. And the Kendal mint cake.
Anyone used to the plush surroundings of a German car may find the Panda's interior a bit too much like a Fisher Price toy, but the ergonomics are good and the utilitarian feel seems to suit the Panda 4x4 down to the ground. There is one minor point, and that's the brightness of the high beam bulb, which is terribly distracting at night. We did say it was a minor point...
It remains wonderfully classless
How many cars are truly classless these days? The Volkswagen Golf has always been a prime example. Or the Land Rover Defender. Perhaps the Subaru Legacy?
Add the Fiat Panda 4x4 to the list. In all-important Tuscany Green, the car will look just at home on a country estate as it would a housing estate. Turn up at a posh dinner party in a Panda 4x4 and you'll blend in like 007 in a casino. You won't even need to wash the mud off first.
The Fiat Panda 4x4 is a future classic
There are only 4,300 Fiat Panda 4x4s on the streets of Britain. They are bought by the enlightened, the informed and the educated. A Fiat Panda 4x4 is bought to serve a purpose, not to boost one's image.
It's the archetypal 4x4 city car. A car which spans three decades and three generations. It won't be long before the original starts to command serious money. Buy a new Fiat Panda 4x4 today – your grandchildren will thank you for it.
Because of the ‘squircles’
Once upon a time, the good people of Jalopnik were lauding the ‘squircle’ as the hottest thing in car design. They had a point.
They also wished the Fiat Panda was available in the US. Again, they had a point.
The Fiat Panda 4x4 is rammed full of squircles – or square circles. Or rounded circles. You could spend all day counting them. Which you will. They're brilliant.
The Fiat Panda 4x4 isn't a lumbering SUV
The Fiat Panda 4x4 demands your attention because it's not a big lumbering SUV.
Do the right thing: buy a cheap, practical estate car and treat the family to a new Panda 4x4. As rewarding as a new puppy, but without the puddles on the carpet or the dog training classes.
The Fiat Panda 4x4: PetrolBlog's favourite 4x4xfar...