Fiat has beefed up its 4x4 Panda city car to make it more capable and comfortable away from the urban jungle. The Panda Cross gets a tougher underbody, more grunt, more ground clearance and a more versatile all-wheel drive system.
A big part of the Panda Cross' off-road capability is Fiat's three-mode Terrain Control all-wheel drive system. Auto mode is fairly self explanatory: in normal driving the vehicle is 98 percent front wheel drive, but if slip is detected, up to 100 percent of torque can be automatically sent to the rear wheels through an electro-hydraulically controlled, multi-plate center differential. The system can react within 1/10 of a second.
Off-Road mode sees the Cross locked into all-wheel drive at speeds of up to to 30 mph (48 km/h). In this mode, the vehicle's Electronic Locking Differential is active and traction control is switched off so it doesn't clumsily intervene on slippery services like mud and ice.
Finally, the Panda will automatically activate its Hill Descent Control mode at speeds of under 15 mph (24 km/h). HDC uses the car's ABS braking and Electronic Stability Control (ESC) to keep the Panda at a constant speed when on steep, slippery descents. All the driver needs to do is steer.
Fiat gives buyers two engine options. The turbocharged 1.3-liter MultiJet diesel makes 80 hp (60 kW) and 190 Nm (140 lb.ft.), with peak torque from just 1500 rpm. The MultiJet engine, torquey though it may be, is unsurprisingly a little sluggish off the mark, taking 14.3 seconds to run from 0-100 km/h (62 mph), with a top speed of 159 km/h (99 mph) Remember, this is a Panda, not a Cheetah.
The diesel Panda is miserly though, with a combined 60.1 mpg (4.7 L/100 km) economy figure. The motor is coupled with a 5-speed manual gearbox.
The petrol option is a 900 cc turbocharged TwinAir engine. The tiny motor makes 90 hp (67 kW) and 145 Nm (107 lb.ft.) between 1900 and 3000 rpm, which propels the TwinAir Panda to 100 km/h in 12.0 seconds, with a top speed of 167 km/h (104 mph).
The TwinAir is not quite as economical as the diesel, with a combined economy figure of 57.6 mpg (4.9 L/100 km), but does pack an interesting gearbox. Instead of the 5-speed from the diesel, the petrol engine is coupled with a 6-speed manual with a "crawler" first gear, which allows the car to roll in gear while the engine is idling.
Fiat has also improved the Cross Panda's off-road credentials through the addition of steel bash plates that protect vital components. Taller, 185/65 mud and snow tires are combined with 15 inch alloy wheels help to raise ground clearance to158 mm (6.22 in) for the diesel and 161 mm (6.34 in) for the petrol. The Panda's approach and departure angles have also improved to 24 and 34 degrees respectively, while the air intakes have been raised to allow "occasional" river crossings.
On the styling front, Fiat has tried to make the Panda Cross look rougher and tougher than a standard model with black cladding around the car, "ultrashine" skidplates at the front and back and integrated LED daytime running lamps up front.
For drivers who spend most of their time in town, the Panda can be optioned with Fiat's "City Brake Control," which can automatically stop the car at speeds up to 19 mph (31 km/h).
The Panda Cross will be available from the start of Q4 2014 in the UK, and will be priced from £15,495 (US$26,264 ) for the TwinAir and £16,945 (US$33,807) for the MultiJet.