Road Test – Fiat Panda Cross – 4×4 Diesel
Model/Engine size: 1.3 16v MultiJet Cross
Fuel economy combined: 54.3 mpg
Green-Car-Guide rating: 7/10
The Fiat Panda Cross delivers 54.3 mpg with emissions of just 136 g/km CO2, making it the most economical 4×4 you can buy, but is it also capable off-road?
We’ve already driven the petrol Panda 4×4, and after a long wait, the diesel 4×4 became available in the UK at the end of 2008, under the name of the Panda Cross.
The petrol Panda 4×4 was light and nimble off-road, but was horribly slow. The diesel version isn’t actually much faster – it still takes an appalling 20 seconds to reach 62 mph – but because it’s a diesel it has more torque than the petrol, so it feels happier on motorways and A-roads.
The other big difference with the petrol model is the looks. The petrol version is almost indistinguishable from the normal two-wheel drive road-going Panda. However the Cross has various bits of extra trim with new round headlight and tail light designs, and although it may be a bit predictable in order to hint at its off-road pretentions, we think it looks much better. But the most vulnerable bits, the extreme corners of the bumpers, are not protected by plastic mouldings.
Our initial drive in the Cross reminded us just how narrow the Panda is – the first time you look across to your passenger you’re shocked as to how close to you they’re sitting.
As well as feeling like you’re in a very narrow car, you also feel high up, somewhat vulnerable, and on display to the world through all the glass. This translates into varying degrees of concern as you go into your first corner, when the car just doesn’t instil confidence in its stability through bends.
The next thing that happens is that you’re very aware of how noisy the thing is, especially at higher speeds or if you hold it in a gear at high revs. It really sounds like it needs to be put out of its misery, or at least that another gear is needed to lower the revs on the motorway.
Of course it’s just a 70 bhp 1.3-litre MultiJet turbodiesel engine powering the car, and its aerodynamics aren’t great – the big chunk of plastic stuck on the rear of the roof can’t help with it cutting cleanly through the air.
If you avoid long, high-speed journeys then the Panda is perfectly acceptable to live with on a daily basis. Access in and out of the car is easy, and it feels spacious inside, although it’s very short. However that means that it’s easy to park. It comes with a ‘City’ button on the dash which lightens the steering for use in urban areas. It’s very easy to forget to switch this on and off, so rather than a button we’d certainly prefer to see a steering system like most other cars that automatically gives you some lightness at low speed and more weight at higher speeds.
The dash overall is reasonably fit for purpose, and the stereo controls on the steering wheel are a useful aid, but the ‘mode’ buttons on the right of the instrument binnacle look very cheap and nasty, and seem to have very limited functionality.
The gear lever is positioned quite high up, mounted on the base of the dash, but it’s actually not a bad position. What must cause confusion is a lever to adjust the driver’s seat height, which is positioned right next to the handbrake and people must have mistakenly grabbed the seat adjustor instead of the handbrake.
The seats themselves were in a very light cream colour, which isn’t hugely practical for either a small family car or an off-roader, and whilst the cabin feels spacious and airy, the boot is very small.
Standard equipment includes ESP including hill holder, air conditioning, radio and MP3-compatible CD player, and electric power steering.
So the Panda is a practical car for most day-to-day tasks, as long as you don’t want to get anywhere quickly and in a relaxed state, and as long as you don’t need a huge boot.
But now we need to find out if it was worth Fiat sticking a four-wheel drive system in the Panda. There’s certainly no point in buying a Panda Cross if you’re never going to use the promise of the off-road capability, so, conversely, if you buy one to exploit its off-road potential, how far will you get?
The Cross has permanent all-wheel drive, raised ground clearance, independent front and rear supension, a very short wheelbase, and short front and rear overhangs. In theory, this all makes for a very capable car off-road. It also has decent off-road tyres, and if things get sticky, an electronic locking differential. Added to all this is a diesel engine rather than the petrol in the normal Panda 4×4, so you’ve got more low-end torque – 145 Nm at 1500 rpm.
So how does this work in practice? The Cross has lots of traction, it’s small, light and nimble like its petrol brother, which results in it being more capable than you might imagine, and also quite a lot of fun. On the off-road route across the top of North Wales, which was mostly gravel and rocks, with a few large holes and ditches where the road had been washed away, the Panda had no problems whatsoever. Muddy forest tracks again posed no serious challenge, and it even made it across newly-ploughed fields, although this was the one environment where it was starting to feel out of its comfort zone. If you want more off-road ability in these situations then you’ll need a car with more ground clearance and larger wheels and tyres.
After its on and off-road testing, did it achieve the official 54.3 mpg? No, more like 43 mpg. But this is actually not bad for very mixed routes that included lots of motorways and off-road driving.
The Panda Cross is a great choice for someone who needs a good degree of off-road ability, and who also wants decent economy. It has flaws, the major one being the noise levels above 60 mph. Of course it also has space limitations. But for £13,190, there are bound to be some compromises.
£13,190 for the diesel Cross compares to £11,005 for the 1.2 petrol Panda 4×4, and we’d recommend to spend the extra money on the diesel.
Perhaps more than anything, the Panda Cross is interesting. It looks different, and it does something more interesting than the average car. That makes it fun, and reasonably green, so it gets our thumbs up. It gets a Green Car Guide rating of 7 out of 10 . Making the car more relaxed, and so more economical, at motorway speeds would win it more marks. But in the meantime the Panda Cross is one of the cheapest ways, both in terms of purchase costs and running costs, to acquire respectable off-road capability, and if we get a repeat of the 2010 snow in the future, then the Panda is likely to provide uninterrupted mobility through the chaos.
Fuel economy extra urban: 67.3 mpg
Fuel economy urban: 42.1 mpg
CO2 emissions: 136 g/km
Green rating: VED band E – first year £110
Weight: 1090 Kg
Company car tax liability (2010/11): 19%
Price: £13,190 (From £7,665 – £13,190)
Insurance group: 2
Power: 70 bhp
Max speed: 94 mph
0-62 mph: 20 seconds