1989 Fiat Panda 4x4 Sisley

1989 Fiat Panda 4x4 Sisley

Simple, rational, essential. That’s the Fiat Panda, whose development ideals stemmed from an ideology that now seems long forgotten. In replacing the 126, Fiat wanted a car that had the same utilitarian abilities as the Renault 4 and Citroen 2CV, and was easy to maintain, own, park and use – as well as being the cheapest car on sale. Suitably, the Panda takes its name from the Roman goddess of travellers, Empanda.


Fiat Panda 4x4 Sisley Inside The Box

Giorgetto Giugiaro styled the car in 15 days alongside his business partner Aldo Mantovani, and likened it to a piece of military equipment: “like a helicopter: something light, rational and optimised for a specific purpose”. As such, the floor was flat and the roof high to maximise interior space in a small footprint. Clever features included ‘deck chairs’ that offered multiple seating permutations. With the rear seats down there was more than 1000 litres of storage space, which made it perfect for families and small businesses.


1989 Fiat Panda 4x4 Sisley

The engines were similarly small, starting with a two-cylinder unit developed from the 126, and four-cylinder units of which none popped above the 1.0-litre size (at least in petrol form – a 1.3-litre diesel was offered in some markets). The Panda was a huge hit, with 4.5 million made over a 23-year run.

We could have chosen any version of the first-generation Panda to feature in our Top 12 shootout, but there’s something very special about the four-wheel drive version. If you’re up an Alp with more white powdery stuff than a disgraced MP’s counter-top and you need to get to the après ski, forget your huge horsepower SUVs with their torque vectoring, hill descent assist and four-wheel steer. They’ll be utterly outclassed by a Fiat Panda 4x4, as generations of down there was more than 1000 litres of storage space, which made it perfect for families and small businesses.

The engines were similarly small, starting with a two-cylinder unit developed from the 126, and four-cylinder units of which none popped above the 1.0-litre size (at least in petrol form – a 1.3-litre diesel was offered in some markets). The Panda was a huge hit, with 4.5 million made over a 23-year run.

We could have chosen any version of the first-generation Panda to feature in our Top 12 shootout, but there’s something very special about the four-wheel drive version. If you’re up an Alp with more white powdery stuff than a disgraced MP’s counter-top and you need to get to the après ski, forget your huge horsepower SUVs with their torque vectoring, hill descent assist and four-wheel steer. They’ll be utterly outclassed by a Fiat Panda 4x4, as generations of supercar – although when Motor magazine tested it, the 4x4 system helped catapult it off the line and set the fastest 0-30mph acceleration time the mag had ever recorded. That’s really not the point, though. The Panda 4x4 earns its status as one of the best Italian cars ever because, prior to its launch, pretty much the only way to move stuff around mountain passes was via a donkey. The Panda 4x4 mobilised, enriched and enabled communities. It was the cheapest 4x4 to buy and the cheapest to run.

Mechanically simple, it didn’t need to be rebuilt every 10 minutes, unlike some off-roaders. If ever a car were perfectly crafted for its environment, this was it. Over recent years the Panda 4x4 has become something of a cult car. Prices for the very best examples now break into the five-figure zone and the restomod market has discovered it, offering as-new examples full of creature comforts. This rather fashionable status is somewhat at odds with its original design philosophy as a ‘car for everyone’. And one of the greatest things about the Panda – both the regular hatch and the little mountain-climber – is that so many are still in use daily. They show up the trend for ever bigger and more expensive cars as the inefficient folly they are.

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