Fiat Panda 0.9 TwinAir 4×4 Cross (2018)

Fiat Cross Over

 

The easiest way to distinguish the 4×4 Cross from its siblings is obviously the expansive black cladding, but also the high-set DRLs.

Facts & Figures
Price: R262 900 (March 2018)
Engine: 0.9-litre turbo petrol two-cylinder
Power/Torque: 66 kW/145 Nm
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Fuel consumption: 4.9 L/100 km (claimed)
0-100 kph: 12.0 secs
Top speed: 167 kph
Boot capacity: 225-870 litres

What’s New?
The 0.9 TwinAir Cross and its lesser-specced 4×4 sibling, joins the Easy and Lounge derivatives with the re-introduction of the Panda range, now post facelift and decidedly in the latter half of its product cycle. All versions are powered by the 66 kW 0.9-litre 2-cylinder turbopetrol engine and whereas the lower derivatives operate on the fringe of the compact hatchback segment and trade on their added practicality and the promise of low operating costs, the 4×4 versions offer boutique (or is that glamping?) appeal by virtue of their boosted ride height, rugged-looking exterior packaging and part-time all-wheel drive, which is particularly handy in a lightweight off-roader. When the Cross and 4×4 versions were introduced, a local dealership in Cape Town famously set up demonstrations for the cars’ off-the-beaten-track prowess on a course usually reserved for testing Jeep derivatives…

The test unit came additionally equipped with 15-inch alloys, a stainless steel exhaust tip and roof rails with bicycle racks.

The Good
Distinct looks, cheeky character

The best thing about the way the Panda looks, which is not necessarily to everybody’s taste, is that the 4×4 Cross can justify its up-on-stilts stance, raised daytime running lamp clusters, Swiss-cheese-pattern front apron and swathes of black plastic cladding. The test unit supplied to Cars.co.za further came equipped with a Panda roof rail and bicycle rack accessory, which certainly looked purposeful.

We found that the dual-tone effect created by the contrast between the exterior finish and the black cladding (plus window and pillar trims) worked best with bright, non-metallic colours, such as red, yellow and, of course, white (how Panda!). The 15-inch alloy wheels (optional, steel wheels are standard) add a touch of luxury to the hatchback’s appearance and bear in mind there is a variety of extra-cost exterior (and interior) trim bits with which to accessorise and personalise the car.

Generous specification

Although the workmanlike interior of the 4×4 Cross still features the now-dated squircles design theme (square-shaped circles, most apparent in the ventilation and climate control cluster, the instrumentation pods, and the steering wheel control pods), beneath the fascia’s basic appearance hides a comprehensive specification, including climate control, electric and heated side mirrors, a leather multi-function steering wheel, a Uconnect Bluetooth-compatible audio system (with music streaming and app support, which makes the standard smartphone cradle especially handy).

The leather-trimmed multifunction steering wheel is nicely sized; note the “squircles” design motif on the fascia and dashboard.

Pairing one’s smartphone involves using the steering wheel controls and voice prompts, which is a bit fussy and, as welcome as the automatic air-con is, the positioning of the diminutive ventilation outlets limits the effectiveness of the system. Should any fluids need to be topped up (such as oil, which we dutifully added) or the tyre pressure monitor be reset, you need to cancel the warning messages through a specific sequence of the commands on the trip computer, which is a drag.

Still, the 4×4 Cross comes equipped with many safety features. ABS with EBD, electronic stability- and vehicle dynamic control (all of which enable the Drive Mode Selector to offer Auto, Off-Road and Gravity (hill descent) Control modes), is backed by rear parking sensors, front-, side and curtain airbags. The 60/40-split rear seatback has ISOfix child seat anchor points and avails useful utility space when folded down, for when you need to pack extra detritus for off-road excursions.

Although the Panda will automatically engage 4WD when circumstances demand it, the Drive Mode selector also affords “Gravity Control” mode.

Genuine off-road ability

Fiat had enough confidence in the 4×4 Cross’ prowess to introduce it to the automotive media on a challenging off-road course (replete with a mishap, but that was probably attributable to driver error), but even if you are not a member of the small-but-passionate group of enthusiasts to have campaigned a Panda on the rough stuff, it’s easy to see why the Fiat is more than capable in low-grip conditions. By virtue of its low weight, appreciable ride height, negligible overhangs, willing engine (what little torque it has, is available from low rpm) and light controls, the Panda will deal with most moderate off-road obstacles with little fret or fuss. It’s loads of fun!

We used the Drive Mode selector to test the Panda’s auto (which utilises the rear wheels for traction only when required) and off-road modes on a stretch of dirt road and found the road holding and stability of the car admirable; the system will undoubtedly be a boon on wet asphalt routes as well.

The smartphone cradle to take the hassle out of following app-driven satellite navigation instructions, the my:Car app is also available.

 

A very niche offering

While there is no argument that the Panda is well packaged for someone who seeks the practicality and affordability of a compact hatchback in combination with genuine off-road ability, we have to wonder how big that market is, in actual fact. Yes, it’s refreshing to find a product that “does exactly what it says on the tin” (as the saying goes) – the 4×4 Cross is proudly an “anticrossover” – bravo!

As Fiat does not have a big dealer footprint in the rural areas of our country, the Panda will therefore appeal mostly to townsfolk who may occasionally exploit its off-road abilities (or, at least, believe that they could wade into the wild with their Fiats whenever the mood takes them). Can the price that the 4×4 Cross commands be justified if its all-road capability is bound to be called upon only on special occasions? As the list of alternatives atop this review attests, there are more spacious compact family cars without the all-wheel drive that could rough it a little if they absolutely had to…

Price and after-sales support
The Fiat Panda 0.9 TwinAir 4×4 Cross costs R262 900, which includes a 3-year/100 000 km warranty and a 3-year/100 000 km service plan, which is great in terms of distance, but middling in duration.

The Panda 0.9 TwinAir 4×4 Cross is one of those off-road-styled compact hatchbacks that have the ability to back up its looks.