Such is the popularity of the “urban off-roader” that there is practically no market segment which sits without one. One of the few in the small city car A-segment is the Fiat Panda Cross, one of the model range’s two “City SUVs” from which customers can choose (the other being the Panda 4×4).
The Cross sits at the top of the Panda pecking order, costing R265 900 and offering a combination of rough-and-ready visual cues with some genuine off-road hardware.
What can I expect from the Panda Cross?
With its bespoke front bumpers and their black plastic mouldings with high-mounted fog lights, and resplendent as our test car was in Ambient White, the cross genuinely resembles the face of a panda bear from the front. Panda – the car’s – chunky crossover image is extended to the doors’ “Cross” branded side mouldings, chunky silver rear bumpers and black rear-light protection surrounds.
You’ll also notice the handy roof rails, large oblong exhaust tip and stylish, 15-inch rims wrapped in all-season tyres (more on those later).
The interior is similar to other Pandas, with the dash finish in silver on this model. The cloth upholstery on the seats is both durable and nicely designed, while the driver enjoys a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear knob. The seats themselves are comfy and raised for a good view out, but space in Fiat’s little cub is tight all round – including the boot – as one might expect.
Fiat has, however, been clever with its interior storage options. Below the high-mounted gear lever is a hidden storage compartment, in addition to the obvious crevasse in the dashboard. There’s also a handy cellphone cradle atop the dash with a USB charge port.
Oh, and look closely at that dash and you’ll see that its textured pattern is actually tiny p-a-n-d-a lettering haphazardly dotted over the surface – one of those cute details that adds to the Panda’s boutique appeal.
Is it loaded with lots of safety features and other nice toys?
The Cross is quite well spec’d. You get LED daytime running lights, heated and electrically-adjustable side mirrors, automatic air-con, electric front windows, ISOFIX child seat mountings, Stop&Start, tyre-pressure monitoring, and front and rear parking sensors.
Safety equipment includes Vehicle Dynamic Control; Electronic Stability Programme with ABS and electronic brakeforce distribution; and driver, front passenger and side airbags.
Providing the entertainment is a rather old-school looking radio with four speakers and Fiat’s Blue&Me Bluetooth and voice-control system.
What’s it like from behind the wheel
The diminutive Panda is now powered by an equally tiny 875cc, two-cylinder petrol engine. It is turbocharged and so produces 66 kW and 145 Nm, figures normally associated with larger powerplants. The TwinAir Turbo engine’s output really is strong for what it is. It feels strong; delivering good low-down torque to a putt-putt soundtrack that wouldn’t have been out of place in small Fiats of old.
Fiat claims an exceptional 4,9 l/100 km combined fuel consumption. However, this will certainly be difficult to achieve in every-day driving.
In the Cross, a slick-shifting six-speed manual transmission takes drive to all four wheels. It has a shortened first-gear that makes tackling rougher terrain easier – especially when combined with the Electronic Locking Differential and Terrain Control selector which apportion the driving force as needed. The Gravity Control mode allows for easy hill descents.
Rounding off the Cross’s all-terrain ability are the raised, 161 mm ride height and chunky all-season tyres (the largest on a Panda, at 185/65 R15). However, these present a problem on the road – where the Panda Cross will arguably spend the majority of its time – where they generate considerable levels of noise. This puts a dampener on otherwise decent levels of ride comfort.
Should I buy one, or look around?
Suggesting the Panda Cross is difficult in that it does not have any real direct rivals to which one can compare it… For (arguably more capable) 4×4 ability at the price one only has the far larger Suzuki Jimny (R263 500) to look to.
As for the plethora of “Cross” branded hatchbacks in the Panda’s class, they are all front-wheel drive only – offering the butch looks without the off-road prowess. There’s anything from the VW Cross Up! at R201 500 to the Toyota Etios Cross at R198 400.
While the Panda Cross is cute, characterful and nice to drive with genuine mild off-road ability, one has to wonder if the expense of the all-wheel-drive system is worth it.
Surely a butch-looking front-wheel drive version – at a more agreeable price – will do the trick for most buyers in this segment?
CyberStoep rating: 6,5/10