The Fiat Panda Cross reprises a longstanding tradition of go-anywhere Pandas. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Fiat Panda Cross is an all-wheel drive version of Fiat's city car that's been beefed up and given a whole suite of very clever traction management electronics that ought to drag it out of the tightest spots. Gnarly all-terrain tyres and an elevated ride height mean that this one has genuine off-road chops.
The Fiat Panda makes a very good citycar. The key problem is, for Fiat at least, that there are any number of other urban scoots that do much the same. Why would you choose a Panda over, say, a Peugeot 108 or a Volkswagen up! or even a Hyundai i10? Yes, the image of studied Latin nonchalance might appeal and a base Panda sitting outside a Soho espresso bar would probably be cooler than any of the aforementioned alternatives, but where the Panda really shines, where it really becomes something special is when it sends drive to all four wheels.
It may not have escaped your attention that Fiat already sells a Panda 4x4, so you might be wondering what exactly is the requirement for the car we look at here, the Panda Cross. Think of it as a Panda 4x4 plus ten per cent. It's more capable, more hardcore and just more of everything. It's what a 108, an up! or an i10 could never be.
The engines that power the Panda Cross are almost identical to those found under the bonnets of Panda 4x4s, albeit with a few more horsepower to call upon. Where the TwinAir 0.9-litre petrol unit manages 85bhp in a 4x4, it develops 90bhp at 5,500rpm in the Cross, while the 1.3-litre MultiJet petrol engine sees its peak power boosted from 75bhp to 80bhp in this guise.
The main difference between the 4x4 and the Cross is the latter's standard 'Torque-on-Demand' transmission system. This utilises the vehicle's Electronic Locking Differential and Electronic Stability Control systems to manage the engine's torque delivery in difficult driving conditions. It's controlled by the Terrain Control selector, which offers the driver three driving modes. 'Auto' offers an automatic distribution of drive between the front and rear axles according to the available grip, 'Lock' keeps the vehicle in full-time four-wheel drive at speeds of up to 30mph, distributing torque by braking slipping wheels and thus transferring the drive to those with the most grip. Finally 'Hill Descent' is fairly self-explanatory. The chunky all-season 185/65R15 tyres help sniff out grip where none seems available and the generous ground clearance (16cm for the MultiJet II version and 15cm for the TwinAir model) combine with very good approach and departure angles to give the Cross surprising clambering abilities.
Design and Build
The Panda Cross looks anything but the suburban, cutesy Panda. In fact, the front end looks a bit bitey. There's a lot of styling going on here, from the revised light clusters, the Cross-specific bumper assembly, the front fog lights punched into a melange of mouldings, skid plates and Panda-themed 'squircles'. LED daytime running lights are built into the skid plates.
Aside from the increased ride height, you might also clock the smart burnished metal finish 15-inch alloy wheels that offer more than a nod to the design of the classic TSW Venom rims of the Nineties. There are also satin titanium effect roof rails and moving to the rear, you'll also spy the beefier bumper and underbody protection, chrome tail pipe and bright red tow hooks.
Market and Model
Fiat has clearly aimed some budget at the cabin of the Panda Cross, with an interesting fabric/eco-leather seating finish and a dashboard that features a copper effect. Standard equipment includes a leather-trimmed steering wheel with stereo and phone controls, a leather-trimmed gear lever, automatic climate control, Blue&Me Bluetooth connectivity, electrically-adjustable door mirrors, a height-adjustable driver's seat and that Terrain Control selector.
City Brake Control, which has was given special recognition at the 'Euro NCAP Advanced 2013' awards, is available as an option. This system recognises the presence of other vehicles or obstacles in front of the car, braking automatically if the driver fails to intervene directly to avoid a collision or mitigate its consequences at speeds of up to 18.6mph.
Cost of Ownership
Fuel economy of both engines is identical to the Panda 4x4, despite the additional horsepower. The TwinAir will net an average of 57.6mpg, which isn't too bad for a high-riding petrol-engined hatch, although the real-world versus published economy figures of this engine have often been wildly discordant. Go for the MultiJet diesel and you will probably get proportionately closer to its claimed 60.1mpg figure.
Emissions are also fairly good although the Panda Cross probably isn't the city car to choose if you want really standout figures. The TwinAir records a figure of 114g/km while the diesel is actually a little worse at 125g/km. As with all Pandas, residual values will doubtless hold up fairly well.
It's hard not to love the Fiat Panda Cross. On the face of it, a go-anywhere citycar seems faintly ridiculous; one of those pointless symbols of urban one-upmanship. Then you think about it a bit more and it makes all kinds of sense. If you live in the sticks and need genuine all-weather ability, what options are there other than hulking SUVs? Yes, there's a Suzuki Jimny but if you want something that feels as if it could survive a head-on with a badger without putting you in a wheelchair, the Panda Cross looks a ready made answer.
Even if you're not already digging in for winter, the Panda Cross offers affordable fun for those who might just want to do a bit of green-laning of a weekend. I suspect this one will outsell even Fiat's most optimistic forecasts. If you want something that's fun and isn't going to put your driving licence at risk, the Panda Cross offers a genuine alternative.