Today it snowed properly for the second time since I bought the Panda 4×4 and after the inevitable messing around in it I’ve been mentally comparing it to similar outings taken in both my JB43W and JB23W Suzuki Jimnys…
The Panda 4×4 and the Jimny actually have quite a lot in common: both are a similar size and weight; both can be locked in 4WD (more on that later); and in the case of the JB23W both are powered by small capacity, turbocharged engines. For tackling surfaces other than regular tarmac all three of my own vehicles have benefitted from better tyres too – A/T-Ss for the Jimnys, 3PMSF (winters) for the Panda. The only major difference is that in normal conditions the Panda is (basically) front driven while the Jimny is rear.
Despite these similarities I always considered the Jimny to be a straight-up more capable machine, it being a “proper” 4×4; imagine my surprise, then, when the Panda turned out to be as good – if not better – in the snow than either of my Jimnys had been. Thanks to the combination of clever hardware and electronics, and the advantage of more appropriate tyres, the Panda is streets ahead of either Suzuki, underscoring what an excellent all-rounder the little Fiat 4×4 is. Impressively this enhanced capability requires no input from me either. Sure, the 4×4 comes with an “ELD” button which locks the drivetrain in 4WD, turns the traction control off, and reactively grabs brakes to maintain traction but honestly, having tried it, in most cases the vehicle felt just as capable and even more stable managing things on its own.
Of course, the Panda has arguably been built to excel in conditions such as these. The Jimny, on the other hand, has been designed to tackle rock climbs, mud holes, and all other kinds of unforgiving terrain. In fact, conditions vs. terrain might best describe the different philosophies behind the Panda and Jimny respectively, and might also explain why, day-to-day, the Fiat impresses more than the Suzukis. After all, even the Dash to Flash – the JB23Ws toughest test – was a road-based adventure and as such could’ve been tackled in the Panda 4×4… though I’m pretty sure it would have come unstuck exactly where the JDMny did, techno-wizardry or not!
With all that said, and despite my gushing praise for its snow manners, you wouldn’t find me taking the Panda on a trip through Cannock Chase – even though it has similar ground clearance to the Carry – nor would I expect a Jimny to strip itself of some of its underpinnings whilst loping round the same route. It’s horses for courses then, ultimately, but don’t forget that cars are often an emotional purchase too. Modern road-biased 4/AWD-equipped vehicles might be able to do everything the average motorist is likely to ask of them but its also undeniably appealing to own an all-out “proper” 4×4, despite their day-to-day deficiencies. Humans are weird like that 🙂