This is the second version of the Fiat Panda Cross, following on from 2006’s idiosyncratic original. Once again, the Italian manufacturer has taken a Panda 4x4 and put a distinctive spin on its looks to make it appear rugged, in this case swathing the front end in black plastic and a perforated steel under tray, with more dark cladding round the sides and back. It’s not exactly pretty, but it does stand out as something different, being particularly eye-catching in the bright yellow paint of our test car.
Inside, a copper finish to the dash is included to differentiate it from other Pandas and the seats have larger side bolsters for more lateral support. The Cross is equipped with climate control, a CD player with MP3 compatibility, leather steering wheel and Bluetooth connectivity as standard, at £15,945 for the 89bhp TwinAir petrol model or £16,945 for this 1.3-litre diesel. Sales in the UK are expected to skew slightly in favour of the petrol.
The Cross rides 9mm higher than a comparable Panda 4x4, giving it 161mm of ground clearance as a TwinAir petrol car and 157mm for the diesel. Its 15-inch alloys are fitted with all-season mud and snow tyres, it has a 24-degree approach angle and a 31-degree departure angle, and is said to be capable of climbing a 70 per cent incline and traversing 55 per cent slopes.
A drive select switch makes the electronic locking differential move from auto torque split – in which 98 per cent of drive goes to the front wheels for road conditions – to a system where it pre-loads the rear axle in off-road mode. And here, the Panda Cross is seriously impressive. It will tackle very challenging climbs up rocky tracks, severe tilts and deep water with little fuss; brilliant for what is at heart a city car.
Whether any Panda Cross will ever get its tyres properly dirty, though, is another matter. They’re more likely to spend their time on urban roads looking the part, rather than fording any stream. Luckily, the Cross is a pleasant enough vehicle to drive, with light steering, a reasonable five-speed manual gearbox (for the diesel; the TwinAir gets a six-speeder) and a compliant ride.
It doesn’t respond well to more spirited driving, however. There’s huge amounts of both body roll and understeer, which mean it’s not as perky to hustle as other small Fiats. The Cross responds better to smooth, measured inputs and a less frenetic pace.
The diesel is £1,000 more expensive than the TwinAir but should be more economical to run. Overall, if you like its unique and arresting looks, then the Panda Cross is a suitably appealing little crossover that’s capable of taking you far into the wilderness if you’re one of Fiat’s ‘city venturer’ target customers.