Quick Drive: 2014 Fiat Panda Cross review

Fiat Panda Cross

Fiat Panda Cross?

A day at the launch of the new-for-2014 Fiat Panda Cross gave us an opportunity to put the Cross thoroughly through its paces off-road. Updated looks and even more capable than the already surprisingly-good offer-road Panda 4×4, here’s a brief of what’s new and what’s better about the rather serious 2014 Panda Cross.

Quick facts

  • New chunky, tough, and practical body styling
  • Even more capable  off-road ability than the Panda 4×4 off-road
  • Better approach, depart, and breakover angles
  • Huge 70% gradient climb, and 55% lateral drive angle
  • Improved ground clearance at 158 – 161 mm
  • More powerful 0.9 TwinAir petrol and 1.3 MultiJet II diesel engines
  • Now features Terrain Control selector with Downhill Descent Control
  • ‘Crawler’ 1st gear
  • Features protective steel underbody shields
  • 400 mm (16″) water wading ability

Exterior:

The Fiat Panda Cross is genuinely capable off-roader, and its styling betrays this. Almost every part of the exterior has some practicality, instead of simply being for show. You’ll notice the front and rear lights have thick plastic protective surrounds, the front has high-up fog lamps for when you’re wading through deep water, or particularly muddy terrain.

Unseen, the air intact duct has been raised to 739 mm (29″) in the diesel, and 711 mm (28″), meaning that the wading depth is an impressive 16-inches (400 mm). Back to the styling, and overlapping each front corner is more anti-scuff heavy-duty plastic trim, a substantial silver ‘ultrashine’ skidplate featuring Fiat’s signature ‘Squircles’ (squared-off circle) cut out to allow more air to get the radiator, and something rather cool – a hefty bright-red towing eye each side. Likely for pulling out embarrassed owners when their overweight 4×4 gets stuck.

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In line with most new cars, the Panda Cross features eye-melting LED daytime running lights in the lower section of the front – recessed for protection. Sturdy unpainted plastic trim has been fitted all the way around the Panda Cross, and again there’s another skid plate at the rear.

Noticeable are the stylish 15″ alloy wheels, wrapped in large no-nonsense 185/65 R15 four-season Mud & Snow tyres. We’ll be putting these to the test over some harsh terrain soon, but for now that’s about all on the exterior. Overall, personally I think the Fiat Panda Cross is a very cool-looking vehicle, and certainly unique in its category as an SUV.

Interior

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Inside the Panda Cross, the cabin differs only in its colour schemes from the standard Fiat Panda. To go with the rugged exterior looks, the Cross features earthy tones and natural fabrics are used too. The seat bolsters and door panels are trimmed in a deep mud-brown hue, while the dash comes in a rather splendid copper colour, with sections of ‘ultrashine’ silver trim to match the exterior skidplates.

Aside from that, it’s the same good stuff as its sibling: comfortable seating front and rear, lots of leg and head room with big pieces of glass making for a light and airy cabin. You’re sat higher up than the standard Panda, adding further to the fact that this is a real – albeit small – SUV. The buttons and dials on the simple dash are large, well-marked, and glove-friendly – great for those cold winter days. One thing that differs on the Panda Cross it that it has a Terrain Control dial, mounted behind and below the gearstick. We’ll talk about this in the next section.

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The Fiat Panda Cross is by far the most expensive model in the range, and whilst you’d expect a fairly decent amount of standard equipment you’ve also got to factor in that the 4×4 system is what has pushed up the price. However, the optional extras are very well priced and the standard spec includes: automatic climate control, Blue&Me Bluetooth connectivity with a USB port and steering wheel controls, a satellite navigation dock, heated electric door mirrors. More will be revealed on the full test of the Panda Cross when it’s available.

The reasonably-priced optional extras mentioned include a Winter Pack (heated windscreen and front seats) at £250 and the City Brake Control for £250, which won a ‘Euro NCAP Advanced’ titled award for its contribution to road safety.

After that, all that remains to be said is that the Panda Cross still has as much individuality and character as the normal Fiat Panda – and it’s very loveable in that sense.

Drive, handling & off-road ability

The Panda Cross’ handling is much the same as the other Panda’s in the range. Fiat are keen to point out that although the Cross is a highly capable 4×4, it’s also just as good a city car too. On that point, although the springs are specific to the Panda Cross to allow for more ground clearance, the suspension set-up allows for a comfortable ride that brilliantly soaks up and smoothes out badly-surfaced roads, speeds bumps and any other urban offerings you care to mention.

Body roll is fine for higher speed corners too, and overall on that side of things the Cross behaves perfectly well. Gear changes from the 6-speed manual (5-speed on the diesel) are slick enough, and the mounted-higher-than-usual gearstick is comfortable to use.

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Two upgraded engines are on offer: a petrol turbocharged 0.9 litre TwinAir producing 90hp @ 5,500 rpm (5 bhp more than the previous version), and 107lb. ft. (145 Nm ) of torque between 1,900rpm and 3,000rpm. Stats for the TwinAir are: 0-62 mph in 12.0 seconds, a top speed of 104mph, combined fuel economy (UK mpg) of 57.6 mpg, and CO2 emissions of 114 g/km. This is the version I tested, and it’s a perfectly fine little thing, with an enjoyable wave of torque kicking in as you hit around 3,000 rpm. It sits at 70 mph comfortably and quietly, with seemingly little strain on the engine, and whilst any longer hilly sections see you dropping a couple of gears to cope, it’s a great little engine.

The other engine is the 1.3-litre MultiJet II Turbo-Diesel – which again is boosted by 5hp over its predecessor, to now put out 80hp @ 4,000 rpm. The maximum 140 lb ft (190 Nm) of torque is produced at just 1,500 rpm. An interesting fact is that the MultiJet II engine (including all ancillaries) weighs in at a ridiculously light 140kg! It pushes the Cross from 0-62mph in 14.3 seconds, has a max speed of 99mph, returns 60.1 mpg on a combined cycle, and produces 125g/km of CO2. Safety comes in the form of an ESC (electronic stability control) system, with ELD (electronic locking differential) and Terrain Control for the 4×4 system.

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Off-road, the Fiat Panda Cross is highly capable. Much more so than you’d think, in fact. IJourno’s have always sung praises about the Panda 4X4s ability over rough terrain, and the new Panda Cross is even more impressive, thanks in part to the Terrain Control, and also because it has a kerb weight of just 1,090 kilograms (1,155 kgs for the diesel). In brief, the Terrain Control system has three modes: Auto, Off-Road, and Hill Descent Control.

Under normal driving conditions (non-slippery), the Panda Cross is driven 98% through the front wheels, but upon losing traction, the system redistributes the engine torque between axles in just a tenth of a second (slightly less in Auto mode), via an electro-hydraulically controlled, multi-plate central differential. In fact, the Fiat system allows an entire 100% of power to go to the rear wheels, should this be necessary. Put the vehicle in Off-Road mode, and all-wheel-drive is permanently activated up to 30 mph, and is responsive to driver input. The TwinAir has a short-ratio 1st gear, classed as a ‘crawler gear’ for off-roading. Good stuff!

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In Off-Road mode, Electronic Locking Differential (ELD) is engaged, ASR (Anti-Slip Regulation) intervention is disengaged and to improve traction on slippery terrain (snow, ice, gravel or mud), the ESC system is employed to brake slipping wheels, thus transferring the engine’s torque to those wheels with the most grip. Hill Descent Control (HDC) is another clever system, and is activated automatically under 15 mph, allowing you to tackle steep downhill sections in a controlled manner, and with no input other than to steer the car. Remember to, there’s a whole 16-inches (400 mm) wading depth to use, as well as 161 mm ground clearance, 158 mm for the diesel. Not the best around, especially with cars like the Subaru XV offering 220 mm, and the Suzuki Jimny 190 mm, but it does the job apparently.

Whilst I didn’t manage to test the Fiat Panda Cross off-road on this occasion, I’m assured by other journalists that over demanding off-road courses (which included an extremely muddy and waterlogged bona-fide quarry) the Panda Cross exceeded expectations, even though those were high due to just how well-performing the other Panda 4X4 is. Viewing the really very cool slow-mo driving video of the Cross doing its thing, we’re left in no doubt at all that the plucky little thing is a brilliant thing even in conditions that’d throughly test even the best 4x4s on the market today.

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Fear not though, once we get our hands on the Fiat Panda Cross for a longer test period, we’ll be sure to put it through its paces thoroughly off-road. One thing I will state is that although it’s already very good when the going gets tough, I can seriously see the Panda Cross getting made more capable by enthusiastic owners adding pumped up suspension kits for more ground clearance, and perhaps a high air intake (snorkel) for ultra wading ability.

Either way, I absolutely love the Fiat Panda Cross for all its quirkiness, individuality, 4×4 proficiency, and the fact it’ll tackle city streets and motorway journeys just as competently as the other Fiat Pandas at the same time. The Panda Cross is an utterly brilliant alternative to those blingy, giant, heavy, gas-guzzling (in comparison), and expensive SUVs – which are used mainly for school runs anyway – and I don’t see a reason why you would’t buy one if you want a car that’ll do field & quarry just as capably as town & country!

Specs

Do you own a Fiat Panda Cross or Fiat Panda 4×4? What are your views on it, and what are the best and worst points? Share your thoughts and leave a comment below!

Model (as tested)  2014 Fiat Panda Cross review
Spec includes  15″ alloy wheels with four-season Mud & Snow tyres, Terrain Control, automatic climate control, Blue&Me Bluetooth + USB port and steering wheel controls, satellite navigation dock, heated electric door mirrors
Options you should spec (pirce correct Oct. ’14) Winter Pack (heated windscreen and front seats): £250, City Brake Control: £250
The Competition  Suzuki Jimny, Suzuki Swift 4×4, Skoda Yeti
Price  (April ’14) TwinAir: £15,945 | MultiJet II: £16,945
Engine  Petrol: TwinAir 90hp, 0.9 litre, two-cylinder, turbocharged | Diesel: MultiJet II 80hp, 1.3 litre, turbocharged
Power, Torque  TwinAir: Power: 90hp @ 5,500 rpm, Torque: 107lb. ft. (145 Nm ) between 1,900rpm and 3,000rpm. MultiJet: Power: 80hp @ 4,000 rpm, Torque: 140 lb ft (190 Nm) @ 1,500 rpm
Drive, Gears (as tested)  Electronic 4WD with with Terrain Control | Petrol: 6-speed manual, Diesel: 5-speed manual
Ground clearance, Wading depth,  Towing Capacity  Clearance: TwinAir: 161 mm | Diesel: 158 mm | Wading: 400 mm (16″) | Braked towing: 800 kg’s braked, 400 kg’s non-braked
Top Speed, 0 – 60 mph, Euro NCAP  TwinAir: Max speed: 104 mph | 0 – 62 mph: 12.0 seconds | Diesel: Max speed: 99 mph | 0 – 62 mph: 14.3 seconds | Euro NCAP rating: No rating as yet for current model
Fuel economy (UK mpg), CO2  TwinAir: Urban: 47.9, Extra urban: 65.7, Combined: 57.6 | | CO2: 114 g/km | Diesel: Urban: 56.5, Extra urban: 61.4, Combined: 60.1 | CO2: 125 g/km
Weight (kerb)  TwinAir: 1,090kg (2,403 lbs) | Diesel: 1,155kg (2,546 lbs)
Websites  Fiat UK, Fiat ItalyFiat worldwide

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Words: Chris Davies | Tested by: Chris Davies | Photography: Chris Davies, Matthew Davies, FIAT MEDIA

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