FIAT has provided the small 4x4 market with a tough macho machine that has the appearance of a Tonka Toy on steroids and bags of street appeal which will cut the mustard both on and off-road writes Bryan Longworth.
It is the Fiat Panda Cross which is based on the popular Panda 4x4 but has a number of features that have made it look a real tiny toughy including a chunky new front bumper, skidplate, bright red tow hooks, new head-light clusters and bonnet trim.
In addition there are oversized tyres, improved attack angles, increased ground clearance, terrain control selector offering three driving modes, electronic locking differential, hill descent control and “torque on demand” four wheel drive.
Panda Cross is as agile as a mountain goat off road where it can tackle quite difficult conditions with ease and for owners who enjoy bragging rights the vehicle will tackle a maximum gradient of 70 per cent and lateral gradients of up to 55 per cent which are quite impressive stats.
On road Panda Cross was a pleasant fun car with a nice high driving position for a commanding view of the road ahead and the Tropicalia yellow paintwork made it look really cool and would be the colour I would go for because it goes so well with the car’s rugged styling.
The five speed manual gearbox had a nice solid feel to it with gears smoothly slotting into place and I liked the chunky steering wheel and the lightly balanced steering which made driving on road especially so enjoyable.
There are diesel and petrol engines and my test car which cost £16,945 on the road had the 1.3-litre Multijet diesel power unit with a top speed of 99mph a zero to 62mph time of 14.3 seconds and combined fuel consumption of just over 60mpg although the on board computer showed it to be less than this figure which is not unusual.
The interior is roomy and comfortable and controls are quite user friendly with well styled instruments although I felt the speedometer could have been clearer and that the digital information display in the centre could also have easily included the speed of the car.
Panda Cross has plenty of standard kit on board but the test car had options totalling around £1,500 and the ones I liked best were the 15 inch smoked off-road alloy wheels at £300 and that brilliant special yellow paintwork costing £460.
With it being such a small car luggage space at the rear is rather limited as any owner would accept although this can be extended by folding the rear seat if necessary and the two rear doors make access to the back seat much easier especially for placing additional shopping and baggage in that area.
Fiat stylists have done an excellent job on the Panda Cross because in a similar way to what Citroen has done with the popular Cactus they have given it a very distinct image which attracted a lot of attention and most admirers did not even recognise it as a Panda because the appearance is so different.
As the former owner of one of the original Pandas some 30 years ago I can say that this latest offering is a small 4x4 with massive appeal and if I was in the market for such a car now I would have no hesitation in buying one.
Model: Fiat Panda Cross 1.3 Multijet.
Engine: 1.3-litre four cylinder diesel.
Output: 80hp @ 4000 rpm.
Transmission: Five speed manual.
Top speed: 99mph.
Acceleration: 0 to 62mph 14.3 seconds.
Fuel consumption: 60.1mpg combined.
CO2 emissions: 125g/km.
Price: £16,945 on the road.