The original Fiat Panda, which was produced in Italy right up until 2003, was a car many had a soft spot for. It was one of the most unpretentious cars ever made, embodying cheap and cheerful motoring and combining it, in four-wheel drive guise, with startlingly impressive off-road performance and robustness.
This newest Panda has a pretty heavy burden on its shoulders then, carrying a beloved name but also the requirements modernity brings. Trying to make its case here is the off-road styled Panda Cross – the spiritual successor to the original Panda 4×4 – and, after a week with it, we’d have to stick our necks out and say it’s the ideal car for modern life. Why? Let us explain…
1. It’s a city car… sort of
Crowded modern cities demand smaller cars and, despite the tough looks, the Panda Cross is just that – it’s 20% shorter and 10% thinner than a Ford Focus. It’s based on the Fiat 500 – a pretty titchy car in its own right – so it’s perfect for slinging around packed city streets and wedging into tiny supermarket parking spaces.
It’s not as limited as your typical city car though. Packing a leggy diesel engine, rather than the normal modern small turbo petrol, it’ll happily cruise down the motorway at 70mph while returning 45mpg or head up hill and down dale all day long.
2. It’s not as slow as you might think…
This isn’t quite the whole story though. That diesel engine also produces 140lb ft of torque, which means in-gear acceleration is actual pretty brisk – so why so tardy to 60mph? Well, most cars with a low 0-60 figure will reach 60mph in 2nd gear, but the Panda Cross has very short 1st and 2nd gear ratios.
This means you’ll need to change gear at least twice on the way if you’re trying to race off the traffic lights, but it is excellent at crawling along in slow moving city traffic. Get into 3rd and 4th gears and you’ll experience far more normal performance, while 5th is a great cruising gear.
3. It has a stylish interior that’ll withstand anything. Anything.
There are concessions to modernity inside the Panda Cross, but nothing we can particularly whine about because it looks attractive. While the original car was a rhapsody in untrimmed metal, the new one offers some isolation from the outside world and plenty of toys (albeit no sat-nav).
Everything is designed around the “squircle” motif – a rounded-off square – and counting up all the instances would require an advanced mathematics degree. Most surfaces are clad with pretty solid plastics that, oddly, look a great deal cheaper than they feel – even the smooth satin silver and bronze finishers around the dash look a bit nasty. They will, however, withstand kids, dogs and possibly even frag grenades for a lifetime.
There’s nods to the old too. The famous cloth-lined dash cubby of the original is replicated by a huge plastic bin on the passenger side, though now you get a nice glovebox hidden away underneath it.
4. It will go absolutely anywhere.
So far, much of what we’ve said could be applied to just about any Panda, but the Cross has one significant extra talent. Like its ancestor, it will go anywhere.
The Cross is optimised more for off-roading than the regular Panda 4×4, with increased ground clearance (160mm compared to 150mm) and re-profiled front and rear bumpers to allow for bigger approach and departure angles. We didn’t get stuck even once, despite attempting to drive off a one-in-three sand dune. It’ll cope with ploughed fields, farm tracks or, more likely, our annual February snow shower without complaint – ideal if you live in the middle of the North York Moors…
The short first and second gears might hamper the 0-60mph time but are used to great effect on knobbly and loose surfaces – the Panda Cross is happy to just crawl itself along in the low gears, seemingly regardless of terrain. It doesn’t even have any real detrimental effect on ride quality. It’s not the last word in off-roading – some of the larger, more expensive 4x4s will be able to tackle more severe stuff – but the Panda Cross is a city car and what many larger cars have to drive round, it can slip straight through.
5. It’ll help you survive a zombie apocalypse
Modern life means modern worst-case scenarios and should humanity transform into a shuffling zombie horde, we can’t think of many other cars are worth mentioning in the same breath.
Alongside having enough room for a family of four and a faithful canine companion, the reasonably sized boot should cope with all the chainsaws, flamethrowers and axes you’d need. That diesel engine will happily return 45mpg whether you’re pelting down the motorway, straight over a field or through a throng of flesh-eating undead – though the 35 litre fuel tank might be a minor chink in the armour, as you can only expect a 400 mile upper limit on the range.
The Panda Cross captures just about everything that made the original Panda 4×4 so brilliant and loveable without the slavish adherence to making it look like its forebear. Just as the Fiat Panda 4×4 was one of the best all round cars of its day, the 2015 version is the perfect car for modern life. It’s just a pity it costs as much as a Ford Fiesta ST, really…
Panda-ing to public opinion
If you’re taken with the Panda or believe the zombie apocalypse is nigh, check it out in our car configurator to see how much you could save. Or, for more options, head over to our deals page to see our latest discounts.