By Paul Clarke
Model/Engine size: Cross 1.3 MultiJet II
Fuel economy combined: 60.1mpg
Green-Car-Guide rating: 9/10
We’ve already thrown serious off-road challenges at the Fiat Panda 4×4, and it passed the tests; now the Fiat Panda Cross has been launched, with even greater ability, as well as 60.1mpg economy – so how did that perform in off-road adventures?
• The most capable city car in existence
• Potential for good economy and low running costs
• Becoming expensive
• No steering wheel reach adjustment means a poor driving position for some people
The Fiat Panda has been around in 4×4 form for many years, and has always proved capable, helped by its light weight (1155 kg for the current diesel model) – it skips over obstacles rather than sinks into them. The latest Panda range already includes a 4×4 model, but the new Cross is designed to be even more of a serious contender off-road.
The Fiat Panda Cross is based on the Panda city car, but Fiat has added features such as four-wheel drive, a raised ride height, and, crucially, a decent set of mud and snow all season tyres.
The Cross has ‘Torque-on-Demand’ all-wheel drive, Electronic Stability Control and an Electronic Locking Differential. A new Terrain Control selector offers the choice of three driving modes: Auto, Off-Road, and Hill Descent Control.
Auto mode is for normal driving, when 98% of the torque goes to the front wheels, although if required, 100% of the torque can go to the rear wheels.
In Off-Road mode, the all-wheel drive function is permanently activated up to 30 mph. The Electronic Locking Differential (ELD) is engaged, ASR intervention is disengaged, and to improve traction on slippery terrain, the ESC system is employed to brake slipping wheels, transferring the engine’s torque to the wheels with the most grip.
Hill Descent Control (HDC) activates automatically when the speed drops below 15mph and remains in standby mode up to 30mph.
The Panda Cross is available with a 90hp 0.9 TwinAir Turbo petrol engine or an 80hp 1.3 MultiJet II diesel engine. Both engines have gained an extra 5hp. The TwinAir also gets a new 6-speed transmission with a ‘crawler’ first gear.
The Cross has oversized tyres – all-season 185/65R15 Mud & Snow tyres. Larger than those of the standard Panda 4×4, they help increase the ground clearance to 161 mm for the TwinAir version and 158 mm for the MultiJet model.
The engine’s air intake duct is raised to 739mm in the diesel version and 711mm in the petrol version to assist with fording flooded roads or rivers.
There are also improved attack angles and additional component protection.
On the road, the Panda Cross feels similar overall to the standard car, although you do feel higher up. It’s generally comfortable, but it can be noisy, especially at motorway speeds.
In our opinion the biggest – and one of the few – faults with the Panda is the lack of reach adjustment on the steering wheel, so many people can’t enjoy a comfortable driving position. The Panda is designed to be an affordable city car, so not engineering reach adjustment into the steering is understandable, but unless you have short legs and long arms it does spoil what is otherwise an excellent all-round package.
Despite this, the Panda is still amongst the class-leaders with its on-road driving dynamics, but it’s off-road where the Panda Cross excels, achieving feats that no other city car could dream of.
For the UK Panda Cross launch, Fiat set up an off-road course on a muddy country estate and in a (working) quarry. The course on the country estate was best likened to a rally circuit, but with steeper muddy inclines and descents than most rally cars could cope with. One uphill section was comprised of a hill of pure mud, and the Panda somehow managed to find some traction to climb the ascent.
There was also an even steeper descent, again just very slippery mud, and it was here that the car’s hill descent control was really tested. Going against the off-road driving instruction handbook, Fiat claims that the hill descent control works most effectively when the car is in neutral (just don’t apply the handbrake during a hairy downhill section as it switches off the hill descent control).
The rest of the course was mainly muddy tracks and the Panda managed to maintain forward momentum throughout. The car was pushed to its limits over some sections but it managed to complete the course.
Part two of the test was a specially constructed off-road course through a working quarry. Rather than resembling a rally special stage, the quarry course was much more technical and therefore slower, and involved challenges such as wading through long stretches of water that came up to the top of the car’s headlights, steep uphill and downhill rocky slopes, and axle articulation tests. Again, the Cross successfully scampered around the course – it has to be said that it was more like an excited Labrador puppy than a well-fed panda bear.
The Panda Cross is available with petrol or diesel engines. The petrol TwinAir has an official economy figure of 57.6mpg and emissions of 114g/km CO2. The diesel has an official economy figure of 60.1mpg and emissions of 125g/km CO2. If you don’t drive high mileages then the cheaper petrol model is likely to be the best bet, however you’re likely to struggle to come close to the official economy figures. If you cover higher mileages then the diesel is likely to make more sense, although there are probably better cars for covering high mileages.
The Panda Cross costs £15,945 for the TwinAir version and £16,945 for the diesel-powered model (the Panda 4×4 diesel costs £15,295, so the Cross commands a £1650 premium).
Standard equipment f the Panda Cross includes automatic climate control; Blue&Me™ Bluetooth connectivity with a USB port and steering wheel controls; a satellite navigation dock; heated electric door mirrors; remote central locking; split rear seat with rear head restraints; height-adjustability for the driver’s seat and steering wheel; front fog lights; a leather steering wheel and gear knob; ESC system with ELD and Terrain Control; and specific 15-inch alloy wheels and all-season 185/65R15 M+S tyres.
Optional equipment includes a Winter Pack (heated windscreen and heated front seats – £250); rear parking sensors (£250); tinted rear windows (£155); and City Brake Control system (£250).
We like the Fiat Panda 4×4, and so it’s not a surprise that we also like the Panda Cross. With its genuinely extremely impressive off-road ability, it’s simply the most capable city car that exists. It also has bags of character and it’s fun. Although the price is creeping up (at almost £17,000 for the diesel model), it’s still the most affordable ‘proper’ 4×4 that you can buy. It makes complete sense in small villages in the Alps, and would also be a sensible choice for people who want an affordable compact car with all-year round ability in places such as Wales, the Lake District and Scotland. Let’s hope that Fiat finds a way to engineer a reach adjustable steering column in the next model to ensure that the majority of drivers can achieve a comfortable driving position. The Fiat Panda Cross is awarded a Green Car Guide rating of 9 out of 10.
Fuel economy extra urban: 61.4mpg
Fuel economy urban: 56.5mpg
CO2 emissions: 125g/km CO2
Green rating: VED band D – £0 first year
Weight: 1155 kg
Company car tax liability (2014/15): 21%
Insurance group: 7
Power: 80 bhp
Max speed: 99 mph
0-62 mph: 14.3 seconds
Euro 6: Yes