- Excellent off-road
- Quirky, attractive styling
- Easy to drive
- Gruff engines
- Limited driver legroom
- No five-star safety rating
Rory Reid takes the Fiat Panda Cross for an on- and off-road test through the quarries and woods of the Cotswolds, South West England, to see if it lives up to its billing.
The Fiat Panda was originally conceived as a cheap, no-nonsense city runabout for those on a budget. Times have changed, however, and it’s now a far more capable, upmarket proposition. The Fiat Panda Cross, especially, purports to offer attractive styling, good on-road manners and – most interestingly perhaps – serious off-roading chops.
“There are squircles everywhere; on the headlights, wheel arches, on the vents…”The Fiat Panda Cross is a looker – certainly in comparison to its great grandfather. Sure, it’s essentially a box on wheels, but the majority of its edges have been smoothed off, giving it a muscular, semi-rugged, stocky appearance that is ultimately pleasing on the eye.
Many of the car’s finer design details follow Fiat’s squircle (squared circle) design mantra. There are squircles everywhere; on the headlights, wheel arches, on the vents on the chrome-finish bumper, rear fog lights, and on the wing mirrors.
The Panda Cross’s designers have continued the squircle theme on the interior, too. The steering wheel feels far more like a rounded-off square than pictures suggest, while the horn, steering wheel control buttons and pretty much every other flat control surface takes the form of a squircle. Discovering new squircles is a fun game at first, though we imagine it’d drive you slowly nuts as you start to discover more.
“The driver’s seat isn’t as comfortable as we’d like. You’ll have to drive with your legs quite close together.”Theres ample room for four passengers in the Fiat Panda Cross, five at an uncomfortable push. There’s plenty of legroom in the passenger seats at the front and rear, plus the boxy silhouette means there’s also lots of headroom all round.
The driver’s seat isn’t quite as comfortable as we’d like. The transmission tunnel running down the middle of the cabin flares outwards as it climbs towards the dashboard, reducing horizontal leg space. This means you’ll have to drive with your legs quite close together. The steering wheel, meanwhile, can be adjusted upwards and downwards, but not in and out, so getting the ideal driving position might be tricky for some.
Generally speaking, the controls in the car are well laid out – the majority of the buttons and switches, including the window controls, have been placed on the centre console, but they’re logically arranged and easy to operate.
Our one gripe in this area is the speedometer and rev counter. Both squircles, these can be a bit tricky to read, or even even see if you have the steering wheel adjusted in a certain position. Trying to work out whether you’re going fast or slow enough for a given set of speed restrictions isn’t as straightforward as it should be.
The 225-litre boot, in true Panda fashion, isn’t as spacious as you may find on some of its rivals. It’s tall, but not very deep, so you may struggle with large suitcases, though you can fold the rear seats down for extra stowage.
Performance & handling
The Fiat Panda Cross does more things brilliantly than badly on the road. First, the bad: It doesn’t corner particularly well. It’s a tall car with a high ride height and a relatively high centre of gravity, so there’s a fair bit of body roll, followed by generous dollops of understeer – so we’d suggest a slow and steady approach to bends.
“The diesel sounds like a small tractor, while the petrol sounds like a large moped.”It’s generally a very refined car, but the engine noise takes some getting used to. There are two engine options available; a 1.3-litre diesel and a two-cylinder 0.9-litre TwinAir petrol, and both make an absolute racket. The diesel sounds like a small tractor, while the petrol sounds like a large moped, which is no complement to either. They’re characterful, if nothing else.
But then there’s the good: Both the diesel and petrol engines pull well, despite their apparently meagre power outputs of 80hp and 90hp, respectively. There’s ample torque for getting off the line – 190Nm in the diesel and 145Nm in the petrol – and there’s sufficient reserve to pull off cheeky overtakes of dawdling traffic on country roads.
“That 4×4 badge and its seemingly rugged looks aren’t just for show – it’s as capable an off-roader as most of us will ever need.”Where the Panda Cross excels is in its off-roading ability. That 4×4 badge and its seemingly rugged looks aren’t just for show – it’s as capable an off-roader as most of us, be that city dwellers or even farmers, will ever need. We tested the Panda Cross on the very same off-road circuit as the Range Rover Sport, and the little Cross coped remarkably well, scrambling its way through deep mud, over rocks and even through relatively deep water.
It genuinely gives even Land Rovers a run for their money, and in some cases might even surpass them, thanks to a lightweight body that doesn’t get as easily bogged down in soft terrain.
It’s not perfect off road by any stretch of the imagination; it occasionally bottoms out when trudging through deep tracks laid by larger, heavier vehicles that forged a path beforehand. Its hill-descent control system is far too conservative, meaning you traverse steep hills incredibly quickly (almost out of control it seems).
Economy & environment
The 1.3-litre MultiJet diesel engine at the heart of the Fiat Panda Cross is pretty efficient, managing a healthy 60.1mpg on the combined cycle. It’s not particularly green, however, thanks to CO2 emissions of 125g/km. The two-cylinder TwinAir petrol manages an impressive 57.6mpg, though its CO2 emissions stat of 114g/km is less impressive.
Equipment & value
The Fiat Panda Cross comes with a solid list of standard equipment. All cars benefit from automatic climate control, Fiat’s fancy Blue&Me voice control, Bluetooth and USB connectivity system, front fog lights, leather steering wheel, 15-inch alloys and all-season tyres.
The options list is easy to fathom and consists of relatively affordable additions. A £250 winter pack gets you a heated windscreen and heated front seats, and you can add rear parking sensors for the same price. £250 also gets you City Brake Control, which uses LIDAR laser sensors to detect the presence of vehicles or obstacles in front of the car, and can activate the car’s automatic emergency braking to prevent an accident.
The Fiat Panda Cross is based on the third-generation Fiat Panda, which last faced a Euro NCAP safety test in 2011, racking up four out of five stars. Driver frontal impact protection was mostly adequate or good, though rear impact (whiplash) tests were marginal. Child protection was rated as fair.
The Fiat Panda Cross is surprisingly brilliant. Ignore any negative connotations you may associate with the nameplate – this is as modern, grown up, refined, and capable a vehicle as any of its rivals. In many cases it actually surpasses those rivals, thanks to its staggering off-road ability. Mud, water, gravel – you name it, the Panda Cross will gamely make its way across any obstacle, putting a smile on your face as it does so.
It’s not cheap by any stretch of the imagination, but given the fantastic bradth of capability, this is a car that offers stupendous value for money.
|Engine||1.3 MultiJet diesel|