We drove the Fiat Panda Cross and the Fiat Panda Lounge derivative at the launch in Durban recently. This is what we think of the little A segment run around with (some) 4×4 capability.
Fiat have really nailed it when it comes to the exterior of the all-new Panda and this is especially true for the Panda Cross and Panda 4×4.
The bright colours on offer and colour coding options for door handles, as well as the funky looking skid plate and trendy roof rack ensure that these two (there are four in total) Panda derivatives have a modern feel.
The inside of the Panda features a fair amount of moulded plastic, but despite being basic there are well-thought out features. One of those is the deep recess above the cubby hole where we could store a phone (without fear of it falling out) while it was being charged, connected to the USB port on the dash, below the phone cradle.
The fabric seats look neat and attractive and although the car is not spacious per se, but for a small car it doesn’t feel cramped and it does boast the biggest boot capacity in its segment with 225-litres that expand to 870-litres when the rear seat backrest is folded down.
The Panda does not come with a built in touch screen, but allows drivers to secure a phone in the centre on the dash board in a cradle that expands and contracts to fit most phones. We found that it held our device securely. Unfortunately, we did have trouble connecting the Fiat UConnect app to the radio via Bluetooth and as such we couldn’t test its features on this drive.
From the city to the country. We’re at the Fiat Panda launch and about to take the Panda Cross off road… pic.twitter.com/xScFTo36SM
— Leisure Wheels (@LeisureWheelsZA) August 15, 2017
What’s on offer
All four Panda derivatives come with the dinky – yet previously award winning – Eco-friendly, 0.9-litre two cylinder (Fiat dub it the TwinAir) turbo petrol engine.
The entry level Easy derivative is followed by the Lounge and both of these front-wheel-drive vehicles produce 63kW and 145Nm via a five-speed manual gearbox (with a claimed average fuel consumption of 5,0 L/100 km).
The 4×4 derivative has the same power as the Panda Easy and Lounge but gets a six-speed manual and 15-inch alloys ( as opposed to steel rims and hub cabs).
The range-topping Cross has a tiny bit more power at 66kW, to compensate for the slightly increased weight, and comes with a drive mode selector with hill descent control and an electronic locking differential.
We drove the Lounge on the tarred highways and byways of Durban heading out to the Valley of a Thousand Hills and then Killarney 4×4, where we switched to the Cross model to tackle the 4×4 trail.
Our experience of the Lounge variant was that the suspension does very little to cushion each and every bump on the paved roads and the little engine rumbles surprisingly loudly. Perhaps however it’s not the engine that’s particularly cacophonous, but that our awareness of the noise was due the inferior cabin insulation. You can’t expect the inside to be as soundproof as a German luxury vehicle though. The steering also felt a little stiff and we can’t lie to you, with the air conditioner running the car felt under powered carrying just two of us – we can imagine that a Panda filled with four or five people would really struggle. Despite these qualms it is a neat little car with a funky inside and exterior and moving to the Cross variant, the little car does offer something that no other cars in the A segment do.
The Panda 4×4 and Cross versions are equipped with a “Torque on demand” transmission system, with two differentials and one electronically controlled coupling. On the 4×4 derivative a permanent four-wheel drive system automatically distributes traction to the front and rear axles according to the road conditions.
The top-of-the-range Panda Cross takes the terrain control a step further by offering selector-controlled AWD for different driving conditions. Depending on the terrain, the driver can select three different modes.
The first is Auto mode that functions automatically like the Panda 4×4, distributing drive between the two axles as necessary. In Lock mode, for off-road use, the electronic diff lock distributes torque among the four wheels, braking the wheels that are slipping or losing grip. The final mode is Hill Descent that controls the vehicle as moves down particularly steep descents.
Off road with the Panda Cross
Our convoy of journalists in brightly coloured Panda’s stood out against the muted colours of the surrounding bush at Durban’s Killarney 4×4. Two driving instructors, one in the lead vehicle and one bringing up the rear, ushered us onto the trail with a 4×4 grading of two and in some places three.
After the first mild donga, we headed for the river and the Panda Cross, in first gear and Lock mode, performed admirably. A couple of switch backs at various banked angles, across another section of the river and then it was on to the sandy stuff.
Up a steep incline and down another (making use of the down hill assist) the Panda progressed reasonably surefootedly. There’s no doubt that it can do more off road than its segment rivals, however there is no comparison with a larger sturdier 4×4 with low range. It isn’t really fair to compare the two, so we won’t.
The Panda Cross is ideal for someone who does some gravel travel – perhaps on some nasty farm roads or getting to a game lodge on a sandy track where the middlemannetjie is not too pronounced – but we wouldn’t advise it as the vehicle of choice for those who want to tackle 4×4 trails as a sport or need to traverse terrain where ground clearance and approach and departure angles really matter.
The Big Deal
To entice buyers of older, less environmentally friendly vehicles to buy a Fiat, the company is offering up to a R40 000 discount on a Panda, on receipt of a Scrapping Certificate for the buyer’s old vehicle. You can visit Fiat’s website to read the Ts and Cs.
Fiat Panda 0.9 TwinAir Easy: R184 900
Fiat Panda 0.9 TwinAir Lounge: R199 900
Fiat Panda 0.9 TwinAir 4×4: R229 900
Fiat Panda 0.9 TwinAir 4×4 Cross: R249 900
All models come with four airbags as standard, along with a three-year/100 000 km warranty and three-year/100 000 km service plan, with intervals of 15 000 km.