Fiat Panda Cross reviewed

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Fiat Panda Cross

The Fiat Panda Cross comes under Tiff Needell’s microscope. As he discovers, the Fiat Panda Cross is a ‘serious off-road machine’…

Are you an up-and-coming executive with ambitions of a weekend house in the country and a Range Rover parked under your city apartment? Or perhaps you have the Range Rover but are embarrassed by its size and wish there was something smaller that was equally capable when the terrain turns to mud?

Well, I have the answer – the Fiat Panda Cross. There’s nothing new about small front-wheel-drive cars with a viscous coupling that’ll occasionally send power to the rear wheels if and when the front ones begin to spin out of control. But the Cross is something different. This is a serious off-road machine.

It’s still a cutesy town car that shares its underpinnings with the Fiat 500. But it also has the capability to be a permanent four-wheel-drive off-roader. Based on the existing Panda 4×4 model, the obvious difference is the aggressive front and rear bumpers with protective skid plates that allow steeper inclines to be attacked. But it’s under the skin of the Fiat Panda Cross that you’ll find the biggest change.

140719_F_PandaCross_23You can still have either the 90hp twin cylinder petrol engine or, for an extra £1,000, the 80hp 1.3 litre diesel – a little more economical but it’s where the power goes that changes. In place of the simple viscous coupling there’s now a pukka Terrain Control Device with three distinctive settings. In Automatic mode it’s the same 98 per cent front-wheel drive car as before. But switch to Off Road and you’re into permanent four-wheel-drive – with the electronic stability control system combining with the ABS brakes to maximise grip.

Then, position three brings you the advanced luxury of Hill Descent to safely return you from your climb. Dispatched into a quarry – filming for the new series of Fifth Gear – I couldn’t believe where this little car could take me; up 70 per cent gradients, along 55 per cent side slopes and back down the slippery slope with the Hill Descent doing all the work.

The Fiat Panda Cross waded through lakes and lapped up the challenge of a muddy field. Of course, even the best off-roaders struggle if they’ve not got the right boots on and the Cross comes with all terrain tyres fitted as standard – plus a couple of bonuses: a bigger tyre that gives a little extra ground clearance and a softer tyre wall that helps provide a comfy ride over our potholed roads. You can’t escape the fact that if you try to follow in the deep ruts made by the heavyweight off-roaders you’ll still bottom out between them.

But, by weighing only a little over a tonne, you’ve got more chance of skipping over the surface of a soft bog than even the most accomplished two-tonne mud-plugger. You’re not going to get the space or the luxurious trim with the Fiat Panda Cross, but it’s got plenty of character, with a funky interior highlighted by a bronze dashboard complete with squared-off dials matched by its odd-shaped steering wheel. With a premium of some £2,000 over the Panda 4×4 it’s an expensive small car but if you’re serious about doing some off-roading – or just want the neighbours to think you’re an all-areas adventurer – the Fiat Panda Cross is something of a bargain.

About author

Tiff Needell

Tiff Needell

Tiff Needell is a former Grand Prix driver who spent most of his professional career racing in the World Sportscar Championship including 14 Le Mans 24 Hour races where he had a best result of third in 1990. He is however perhaps better known as a former presenter of Top Gear throughout the nineties and then helped to create ‘Fifth Gear’ which enters its 14th year in 2015. Tiff recently wrote his autobiography Tiff Gear, is Director magazine’s columnist, races whenever the opportunity arises and has now rejoined Clarkson, co-presenting at Top Gear Live.

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