The Fiat Panda Cross may look rather familiar – not because of its closely related siblings, the Trekking and 4x4, but because the idea of an extreme Panda has existed before, back in 2008 as part of the previous version's range. The new Panda made its debut in early 2012 – and the off-road-focused Trekking (two-wheel drive but with enhanced traction control) and 4x4 followed later that year. Now Fiat says it’s time for an even tougher version, hence the resurrection of the Cross. The Panda Cross is based on the Panda 4x4, but adds even more equipment aimed at those that choose to regularly go off road rather than those who find themselves in sticky stuff from time to time. Apart from all-wheel drive it adds hill-descent technology a higher ride height, plus increased body protection. There’s a new plastic-cladded front and rear bumper, metal skid plates front and rear, LED daytime running lights and redesigned foglights. The wheelarches and side sills also get plastic cladding and there are roof bars. Those redesigned bumpers and the increased ride height mean the approach and departure angles are slightly better than the 4x4’s as well. There's only the one specification, and a choice of two engines – the 89bhp 0.9-litre Twinair petrol (with a six-speed manual gearbox) and the 79bhp 1.3-litre diesel engine with a five-speed ’box.
What’s the 2014 Fiat Panda Cross like to drive?
The all-wheel drive system is paired with a torque-on-demand transmission that sends power to the appropriate wheels when necessary, but in normal driving 98% of the pulling power is sent to the front wheels. Hill-descent control also comes as standard, as part of a three-mode drive selector, together with a set of oversized all-season tyres wrapped around 15-inch alloy wheels. The suspension has also been tuned to cope with harsher surfaces and has been raised to create around 16cm of ground clearance - around 1cm more than the standard Panda 4x4. All of this means the Cross is a very capable thing when you venture off road. In fact it's as capable as much bigger SUVs. We tested the Cross on a selection of wet and muddy off-road tracks through a UK forest and in a quarry and it coped admirably. It requires a fair amount of revs to get up slippery inclines, despite those all-weather tyres, but the hill-descent control means it is very assured down equally steep descents. The improved approach and departure angles are better than those of the Nissan Qashqai, while the Panda's air intake has been raised for improved wading capability – it tackled water that almost came up to the car's bonnet on our test route. As with the 4x4 version, the Cross gets an electronic locking differential and a system to distribute power from axles with wheels losing grip on tough off-road sections. The Panda's low kerb weight also helps, plus the Twinair-powered model has an unusually low first gear – designed to help the car crawl at low speeds for off-road use – that helps this little engine to provide plenty of pull on even the toughest climbs. Yes, the diesel engine has extra pulling power at its disposal, and is happier than the petrol on steep hills, but the eagerness with which the Twinair wants to rev helps you maintain the momentum that is crucial to keep this little car moving in rough terrain. On the road, the Cross rides better than other front-wheel-drive Pandas, remaining comfortable over rough and broken urban road surfaces. Even large bumps don't cause much discomfort. There's slightly more body lean in bends, but overall body control is still decent enough. The steering isn't particularly precise, but it's light and easy, especially in the Twinair version, so it still makes a convincing city car; the high driving position and excellent all-round vision mean it's extremely easy to manoeuvre, too.
It is noisy, though, with wind, road and engine noise all making their way into the cabin, especially at higher speeds. Choose the diesel and there's a healthy 140lb ft of torque on offer, but the engine sounds agricultural at all times and drones on the motorway, despite getting more soundproofing than the same engine in the 4x4. The Twinair engine's 107lb ft might seem less fitting, but it’s surprisingly capable and is the better of the two on the road. While a little slow off the mark, there's enough mid-range muscle to keep pace with traffic and it's certainly the quieter of the two engines at cruising speeds, although vibrations can be felt through the pedals. The diesel is the more economical of the two, on paper at least. If has an average fuel economy of 60.1mpg and CO2 emissions of 125g/km. The petrol emits 114g/km and averages 57.7mpg – although previous experience with this engine suggests you'll be very unlikely to come close to that figure – our True MPG results for the Trekking Twinair were 34.4mpg.
What’s the 2014 Fiat Panda Cross like inside?
As well as the off-roading equipment, the Panda Cross is very well equipped. You get bespoke fabric and leather upholstery, a copper-coloured dashboard, Bluetooth, climate control, CD player with Blue&Me and a USB connection, electric door mirrors and remote central locking as standard. Other than that, it’s business as usual, so there are the same chunky, user-friendly dashboard controls, while the materials feel solid and functional rather than plush. Despite the height adjustable driver's seat, some people will wish it was set lower, and it is a shame that the steering wheel doesn't adjust for reach as well as height, but despite this it's not too difficult to find a comfortable position. The fact that the Panda has five doors makes it more practical than some rival city cars, and there's excellent front and rear headroom. It's just a pity that rear legroom is a little tight. You don't get as much boot space as you do in the Seat Mii, Skoda Citigo and VW Up, but the Panda’s boot is well shaped and none of those rivals is available with four-wheel drive. The Cross also comes with the clever folding front and rear seats that are reserved for higher-spec models. Electrically adjustable door mirrors and 15-inch alloys are also standard, while sliding rear seats, sat-nav and Fiat's city braking system are extra. A heated windscreen and heated front seats are also available as part of a winter pack.
Should I buy one?
The Fiat Panda Cross is a genuinely charming little car. It rides well, is fantastically well equipped for such a small car and has unparalleled off-road ability in its class, so it's great fun off road and not too bad on it.
However, head really has to rule heart and the Panda Cross is very expensive. You'll have to stump up £15,945 for the Twinair and £16,945 for the Multijet diesel. That’s a heck of a lot of money for a pumped-up city car (nearly £2k more than the equivalent 4x4), albeit one with genuine off-road ability.
Is it worth the extra? No. If you genuinely need a road car that you can take to the hills in at the weekend we'd recommend the Panda 4x4, or looking at the similarly priced Dacia Duster, or even the Skoda Yeti Outdoor, as fun as the Cross is.
What Car? says
Fiat Panda Cross Twinair
Engine size 0.9-litre petrol
Price from £15,945
Torque 107lb ft
0-62mph 12.0 seconds
Top speed 104mph
Fuel economy 57.7mpg
Fiat Panda Cross Multijet
Engine size 1.3-litre D
Price from £16,945
Torque 140lb ft
0-62mph 14.3 seconds
Top speed 99mph
Fuel economy 60.1mpg