First drive: Fiat Panda Cross
* New hardcore styling * Good off-road performance * Too expensive at £11,995...
You can always rely on Fiat to make a great-looking car, right? Well, every family has one ugly duckling, and this is Fiats. Next to the chiselled good looks of the firms other small cars, the Panda Cross has a face like a welders bench.
So why does it looks so Cross? Probably because its a new, more hardcore version of the Panda 4x4. Thats right, weve written the words hardcore and Panda in the same sentence. The styling more hardcore for starters new round headlights, chunky new bumpers, side protection strips, front foglights, roof bars, 15-inch alloys and a funky two-tone paint job.
So thats the 4x4 style taken care of, but it needs to be backed up by at least some 4x4 substance. It is. Theres permanent four-wheel drive and an electronic differential lock, which gives surprisingly good traction in deep mud. Theres more ground clearance than a normal Panda, too, and combined with the cars short wheelbase, that allows you to clamber along deeply rutted tracks without worrying about whether the car will ground out.
If anything, the Cross is even better in the sticky stuff than the normal Panda 4x4, because it has a more-suitable engine. The 4x4s 60bhp 1.2 petrol engine has been replaced by a 70bhp 1.3 diesel in the Cross, and because the diesel engines maximum pull of 107lb ft is available from 1500rpm, you have more grunt where you need it.
As good as the Panda Cross is in the wilderness, though, it quickly runs short of talent once you get back to civilisation. The ride feels very jittery on any sort of Tarmac, and you hear a lot of road-, wind- and engine noise at all speeds. It doesnt much enjoy a bendy backroad, either it feels very heavy and cumbersome for a little car, and its not particularly grippy.
Its very slow, too. All that four-wheel-drive stuff adds lots of weight, and the ordinarily perky little diesel engine struggles to cope with it all. Acceleration can be painfully sluggish at times, and youll need to stay busy with the gearbox because its not hugely flexible, either.
The biggest problem with the Cross, however, is its price. Its £11,995, and thats crazy money to pay for a Panda, even one that comes with stability control, remote central locking and a CD/MP3 player with steering wheel controls as standard. You only get two airbags included in the price, too, and these days, thats simply not good enough.
Verdict: Charming, and great off road, but flawed in most other areas.
On sale Now
Youl'l like: Size-defying off-road ability
You won't: Road manners; looks; high price