Another day, another orange off-roader making its way to a Geneva Motor Show launch. Although today’s is slightly more budget conscious than yesterday’s Range Rover Evoque.
Yes, it’s a FIAT Panda, and about as budget a 4×4 as you can probably get. But, it’s orange so at EngageSportMode we approve. This new version is the Panda Cross, which is based on the existing 4×4 version but adds some extra grr-factor. Don’t think of it as just a styling exercise though; FIAT promises that the Cross will more than live up to its looks, with a host of features that should let it get stuck in (or not) when the going gets tough.
Big news for the Panda Cross is the standard ‘Torque-on-Demand’ system which uses the Electronic Locking Differential and Electronic Stability Control (ESC) to juggle the engine’s torque between wheels with the most grip. This involves using the ESC system to brake wheels which lose traction, meaning torque is instead transferred to those still able to put power down to the terrain. A hill descent setting is also available from the Terrain Control Selector, meaning the little Panda Cross comes fitted with toys you would expect to find on far more expensive rivals.
A raised ride height, and oversized all-season tyres, complement the ‘Torque-on-Demand’ system to endow the Panda Cross with impressive sounding off-roader statistics like a 24° approach angle and 33° departure angle. Both those stats are better than the Evoque but, for reference, a Land Rover Defender 90 has an approach angle of 47° and a 47.1° departure angle. So whilst the Panda Cross sounds good on paper, it does still have its limitations compared to bona fide off-roaders.
Two engines will be on offer; one petrol, one diesel and both with Stop/Start technology and a 5 bhp increase over the regular 4×4 Panda. Petrol power comes courtesy of the 0.9 two-cylinder TwinAir Turbo engine with 90 bhp and 107 lb-ft of torque. Fitted with a six-speed manual gearbox – the first gear ratio is lowered especially for off-road action – the TwinAir offers an official fuel consumption figure of 57.6 mpg and CO2 emissions of 114 g/km. Diesel fans are catered for with the 1.3 MultiJet II serving up 80 bhp and 140 lb-ft of torque at only 1,500 rpm. On the official combined cycle, the 1.3 MultiJet II engine returns 60.1 mpg and its CO2emissions are just 125 g/km. FIAT hasn’t released performance figures yet, but we wouldn’t expect the Evoque Dynamic to be looking over its shoulder anytime soon.
At the front a new bumper with a titanium skid plate is the most obvious change, along with different light clusters and new fog lights. The ever omnipresent spectre of LED Daytime Running Lights also make an appearance on that skid plate, along with dinky red-painted tow hooks. Hopefully the latter are functional, and not just for show, lest a Panda Cross owner ever try to tow with them. Bigger wheel arch extensions, ‘Cross’ logo side mouldings and titanium finish roof bars feature from the side, whilst the rear end also gets a revised bumper and a chrome exhaust pipe. Whether you find it attractive or not is a matter of taste. ESM admits the Panda Cross is hardly a looker, but you have to admire the thoroughness of the off-road detailing.
Inside there’s an ‘interesting’ sounding fabric/eco-leather upholstery and a dashboard with a copper fascia?! Standard kit includes a leather-trimmed steering wheel with remote controls, leather gear knob, automatic climate control and Bluetooth phone connectivity. Final UK specification and pricing is yet to be confirmed, but FIAT promises to reveal more details closer to the Panda Cross’ scheduled Autumn release date.
It’s quite hard not to like the Panda Cross with its quirky styling and genuine 4×4 abilities. No, it’s not a performance vehicle, but it has that fun-factor which makes EngageSportMode admire it just enough to let it sneak across our radar.