IF you thought 4x4s had to be huge, gas-guzzling behemoths, then think again.
The Fiat Panda 4x4 offers genuine off road capabilities in a package no bigger than a city car, claims well over 60 miles per gallon on average - and it's really pretty good.
Faced with the worst wintery weather we've seen for some years, this diminutive motor took snow and slush, turning to ice and then perilous black ice, all in its stride.
In fact, the fiercest of cold snaps holds no fears for the Panda 4x4 if you also opt for the £280 winter pack which adds a heated front windscreen and front seats.
Admittedly the bum warmers only have one setting and it gets very hot very quickly - so there may be some tactical switching on and off to keep your rear end at just the right temperature.
Nevertheless, how many city cars can keep your derriere toasty at the same time as keeping you on the move in weather conditions better suited to huskies?
The mud and snow tyres fitted as standard obviously help, but all that sure footedness on the slippery stuff comes courtesy of the sophisticated automatic all wheel drive kit - something which is as rare as hen's teeth in the small car class.
In normal dry conditions, 98 per cent of the power goes to the front wheels, much like most other cars. Under low grip conditions such as snow, ice or mud, however, a progressively increasing amount of torque is sent to the rear wheels, preventing wheelspin and maintaining optimal traction.
There is even an electronic locking differential to cater for more challenging conditions, which can be activated at speeds of up to 31mph and helps improve traction by braking wheels with poor grip and transferring the driving force to those with greater purchase.
All this high-tech running gear gives the tiny Panda 4x4 the kind of off-road credentials many a much bigger SUV would be envious of.
It also looks and feels the part, with a raised ride height, upright seating position, good all-round visibility, muscular wheel arches, roof rails, skid plates and protective cladding along the flanks.
The diminutive dimensions, though, mean that when not crossing rutted fields, negotiating dirt tracks or making light work of snow, this motor is much easier to manoeuvre around town and squeeze into tight parking spaces than your typical 4x4.
None of the extra ruggedness comes at the expense of the charm and character for which the regular Panda is known, however.
The interior is largely unchanged and incorporates the same quirky ‘squircles' - a sort of square and circle hybrid - in the instrument panel, switchgear and decor. Plastic surfaces are unyielding but feel durable rather than cheap and everything is solidly put together.
Rear legroom will be an issue for six-footers, with Fiat having sacrificed this in favour of a generous boot for such a small car, but the cabin is otherwise comfortable and comes with a decent level of kit.
Standard equipment includes radio with Bluetooth and USB connectivity, smartphone cradle, automatic start/stop system, air conditioning and electronic stability control.
Rear parking sensors and automatic emergency braking are among a comprehensive list of options that'll cost you extra, however.
Engines consist of the 1.3-litre diesel in my car, mated to a five-speed manual transmission, or a 0.9-litre two-cylinder petrol with a six-speed gearbox, with not much to choose between the two in terms of performance and economy.