WHEN I took on the task of reviewing the Panda 0.9 TwinAir 4×4, I didn’t expect Fiat to serve my family with a fable of Aesop proportions, writes Andy Simms.

Disregarding such wisdom as not making judgements based on appearance and “little friends may prove great friends”, my eight-year-old son greeted the arrival of the all-wheel drive supermini with disdain and the damning declaration of “I’m not getting in THAT”.

In truth, his contempt for the car was contagious because, put bluntly, this Panda is no pin-up.

Far from being an icon of Italian style like its Fiat 500 stablemate, the new 4×4’s longer, wider and taller exterior looks as though it was created in the popular block-building game Minecraft and is largely devoid of attractive features.

There is, of course, a considerable “but” to this automotive anecdote.

With the Panda 4×4, true beauty really does come from within.

Inside, the car’s box-like outer translates favourably into plenty of headroom, super all-round vision, clever storage space and multiple seat configurations.

Even the boot, while not cavernous, had plenty of room to stow a family-of-four’s luggage for a weekend break in Dorset.

And it was on the South Coast that the Panda silenced its doubters.

PANDA2The throaty soundtrack provided by the two-cylinder 85bhp TwinAir Turbo proved enough to convert the cynicism of those in the back, while the adult audience were warmed by the town car’s performance on the open road.

The conversion was complete for all when hilly, rain-soaked farmers’ fields replaced the tarmac beneath the Panda’s 15-inch alloy wheels.

Faced with a proverbial sticky situation, this supermini bounded across steep, boggy ground that would certainly have forced the abandonment of any front-wheeled drive model.

The Panda’s all-wheel drive system, which employs two differentials and an electronically-controlled coupling governed by an intelligent control unit, is fully automatic; providing torque-on-demand to the rear wheels when the terrain gets tricky.

It is a credit to this incredibly capable off-roader that the transfer of traction is only noticeable to the driver in the form of improved grip.

As at ease traversing pot holes as it is scaling scarps and competitively priced at sub £14,000, this half-pint SUV is ideal for those families posted to remote corners of the UK who have no desire to fork out for a full-sized 4×4.

The moral of this story? Don’t rely on prepubescent Panda punditry.

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