Fiat Panda Cross

Funky small 4x4 with rugged looks

6.7
wowscore
This is the average score given by leading car publications from 6 reviews
  • Great off-road ability
  • Good engines
  • Practical
  • Looks are an acquired taste
  • Some rivals are cheaper
  • No automatic gearbox
 

£15,845 - £17,745 Price range

 

5 Seats

 

57 - 62 MPG

Review

The Fiat Panda Cross is the most off-road focused Panda in the model range, and despite its small size it can take you farther across tricky terrain than most SUVs. A Land Rover Defender is more capable off-road, but everywhere else the Panda Cross is far better.

It doesn’t have many rivals, but the Jeep Renegade and Dacia Duster are similar in price and capabilities. The standard Panda 4×4 is similar to the Panda Cross, but you can tell it apart by its rugged bumpers that are designed to shrug off scratches and light bumps.

The Panda Cross’s off-road ability is unsurpassed for such a small, inexpensive car: it comes with a hill-descent assist system and a controller that sets the car up for different types of terrain – kit that’s usually found in more expensive and larger off-roaders. It’s easy to drive on the road thanks to light steering and the chunky tyres increase ride comfort on the worst of UK roads.

The Panda Cross’s interior is made of fairly cheap-feeling plastics, but the funky styling goes some way to mitigating any worries about quality. The Cross is also quite spacious for its size, but might prove too small for some taller divers. The seats are comfortable, but don’t have enough adjustability.

The Panda Cross comes nicely equipped from the factory with CD/MP3 stereo with steering wheel controls and Bluetooth phone connection, heated electric mirrors, remote central locking and fog lights. The practical splitting rear seat – which is an optional extra on the Panda 4×4 – is standard on the Panda Cross.

Cheapest to buy: 0.9-litre petrol

Cheapest to run: 1.3-litre diesel

Fastest model: 0.9-litre petrol

The Panda Cross interior is very similar to the regular Panda and retains its “squircle” theme – the gear lever, instrument gauges, dashboard buttons and even the steering wheel have a rounded square shape.

To differentiate it from lesser models the Panda Cross gets a stylish silver finish for the instrument surrounds to contrast with the matt-effect copper dash. The seats also get earth-coloured inserts to match the door cards in the same colour.

Fiat Panda Cross passenger space

The boxy shape of the Panda Cross means it’s spacious for a supermini and headroom is especially generous. However larger passengers will find it a bit narrow and legroom isn’t that great either. However, the high driving position gives a great view of the road ahead and all-round visibility is also very good. The Dacia Duster does beat the Panda for passenger space, but the cabin isn’t as stylish as the Panda’s.

Fiat panda Cross boot space

The Duster is again the better choice if you plan on carrying lots of luggage, but for a little car, the Panda Cross is surprisingly spacious. It can pack 225 litres with the rear seats up which is about half of the Duster’s 475-litre boot – but the Duster is a larger car. Thanks to a wide opening and low loading lip the boot is very usable. If you fold down the standard 60:40 spitting rear bench you can free up to 870 litres of room. That’s still far behind the Duster’s maximum capacity of 1,636 litres.

The Cross gets a higher ride height than the Panda 4×4 and this results in better ground clearance and better approach and departure angles – something extremely important when off-roading. To be able to go off-roading without breaking all the bodywork, the Panda Cross also gets plastic protection up front, under the engine and on the headlights to protect them from tree branches and rocks.

Off-road enthusiasts will tell you that tyres are one of the most important factors when off-roading. The Panda Cross is prepared here as well – it comes with all-season tyres specifically designed to cope with mud and snow. Reviewers were simply amazed by the places this small jacked-up city car can get to.

The good tyres have a large part in making the Panda Cross so capable off-road, but equally helpful is the easy-to-use Terrain Control system. It has three modes of operation: Auto, Off-Road and hill descent control. That last mode is very impressive when you have a huge slope to go down, and the electronics seemingly drive the car for you. To help with going back up the same hill you just got down from, the rear differential can send power to whichever rear wheel needs it the most, and this increases grip immensely.

On the road, the Panda Cross is still great to drive – although it’s leans more in the corners than the normal Panda 4×4, thanks to the increased ride height. The light controls, good visibility and compact dimensions means it’s very easy to navigate busy city streets and there’s a ‘City’ button that further lightens the steering and an “Eco” button that does little more than make the car slower.

When some manufacturers are offering their models with over 20 engine combinations some might criticise the Cross Panda for only coming with two engines to choose from. However, they are some of the most advanced units in the Fiat line-up. There is also no automatic transmission on offer – you get a six-speed manual in the petrol and a five-speed one in the diesel.

Fiat Panda Cross diesel engine

The 1.3-litre diesel, despite its small size, has plenty of pulling power for the light Panda and is described as refined and hushed in its operation. It’s doesn’t feel fast from a standstill, but the low-down torque works really well at slow speeds when off-roading. It’s also the more frugal engine of the two available, averaging fuel economy of 60.1mpg and emitting 125g/km of CO2 for £110 annual road tax. Reviewers recommend it over the noisier and thirstier petrol.

Fiat Panda Cross petrol engine

The 1.2-litre TwinAir two-cylinder turbocharged petrol has bags of character and is happy at high revs, but the ultimate lack of two extra cylinders translates to less performance at low speeds. However, if going off-roading is a rare event, then it’s still a worthwhile choice. In the city it’s much more lively than the diesel and the sound it makes fits with the funky image of the car. It’s less fuel efficient than the diesel at 57.6mpg, but emits 114g/km for a £30 yearly tax bill.

The Panda Cross hasn’t been crash tested by Euro NCAP, but the regular two-wheel drive Panda scored four out of five stars. The main criticism it received was the lack of stability control as standard.

However, the Panda Cross comes with stability control as standard, so should be very safe for a small car, bearing in mind that the Dacia Duster scored three stars for safety.

The Cross sits at the top of the Panda model range so it gets good equipment levels. All cars get special 15-inch alloy wheels, a stability control system with several driving modes and a locking rear differential.

The Cross also gets air-conditioning, stop/start system and Bluetooth phone connection for the stereo with music streaming. With the steering wheel mounted buttons you can dial, accept or decline calls and it can read SMS messages through the car’s speakers.

Conclusion

In a time when city SUVs are getting more and more bark, but less and less bite, the Panda Cross is a refreshing example of what a supermini 4×4 should be able to do – get you almost anywhere and still be easy to drive and manoeuvrable around town.

The Panda Cross does those things with ease. However, the Panda 4×4 is an equally good blend of all-weather grip and effortless driving for a slightly lower price. So go for the Panda Cross if you frequently damage your bumpers while off-roading, but pick the cheaper Panda 4×4 for any other reason.

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