ROAD TEST: Fiat Panda Cross
The original 1980's Fiat Panda 4x4 is a legend – a cult car loaded with character and deep, hidden talents that's a proper hoot to drive. And the recent C21st Panda 4x4 replacement and modern re-branding was also a big hit… Capable and fun in equal measure.
So, when we heard that Fiat was to introduce a new Panda 'Cross' version as "an evolution of the SUV concept" we got excited. Cue a trip to Fiat's Balocco Proving Ground, between Milan and Turin, for a test of the new Panda Cross, which Fiat says "is a car capable both of overcoming any obstacle and attracting customers with heterogeneous tastes, ages and mobility needs." It also happens to be over half the price of any other SUV on the market, at £15,945 for the 89bhp TwinAir petrol turbo model (six-speed manual) or £16,945 for this 1.3-litre diesel, here in the UK. That's quite something...
Out in Italy face to faces with the new Cross, we're happy! First impressions are of a very cool, stylish, agile-looking and ultra-compact mini SUV with real design flair. With it's tough lower skid plate, under body protection 'armour' and muscular plastic LED lights – and in a range of vibrant, fun colours – and with its 161mm jacked-up ride height, the Panda Cross is a visual hit. We love it.
And a look at the hardware confirms that the Panda Cross is not to be sniffed at as a 4x4 either. What it lacks in size, it more than makes up for mechanically – with "Torque on demand" all-wheel drive, Electronic Locking Differential function and three modes off-road driving functionality (Auto, Off-road and Hill Descent Control), developed from the very capable Panda 4x4.
The funky little off-roader also comes with all seasons 185/65R15 M+S rubber and, compared to the Panda 4×4, the Panda Cross boasts better approach and departure angles (24° and 34°) as well as ramp angle (+1° compared to Panda 4x4). Like I said... serious stuff and not to be laughed at! The things this Cross car do off-road is quite something...
The inside too is full of personality – with a funky Cross logo branded into the headrest and comfy eco-leather and fabric seats working well with the new 'Ultrashine' dash and centre console. It's well equipped and feels roomy too – defying its small external size, in a Tardis-like manner – and easily accommodating six-footers and their gear.
Our Road Magazine staff snapper Neil Denham drove the Panda Cross on and off-road and said: "The Balocco off road course was good and very testing, but there was no soft ground, so was tested mostly on dry, concrete slopes. But the little Panda Cross pulled really well up the steep slopes, with four of us onboard. And it's capable of some pretty mad angles – although I did hit the guard on one of the slopes (probably me going too hard at it)! I gave it a boot full on the grassy, green lane sections of the course (pictured above) and it handled really well was not at all uncomfortable over the bumps. It will be interesting to see how it handles on a typical British muddy field. But out on the open road it also handled well for a small car all jacked-up, with limited body roll. But, as you'd expect from a car on all-weather tyres, there was lots of road noise at speed. And (like the original Panda 4x4) it's not great on acceleration – with the diesel a little better than the petrol turbo, thanks to greater torque on tap. Personally, I'm not sure about the looks at the front, but I think some people will like it. It's mostly a city car, but one with a sense of adventure."
Designed as an easy-park, affordable and economical city car on the one hand and an adventurous mini-SUV country bumpkin on the other and with its intelligent mixture of fine feminine features and masculine muscularity, the Panda Cross is a car with genuinely wide appeal – and we reckon it will fly out of the showrooms from September this year, and rightly so. Cool, cool car – worthy of carrying on flaying the flag of the original and recent C21st Panda 4x4 mantle. Go test one... and get ready to be surprised.