Panda still fresh and funky

Fiat Panda Cross

By Bill McCarthy

The Panda name may not be that familiar to many, despite being one of the most successful city cars, so it seems hard to believe it’s been around for 40 years.

But like its sibling, the 500 and the likes of the Nissan Juke, it came left field to become a hit with buyers, with its funky looks, practicality and off-road capability – and for  those who love the planet, all of us surely, in its latest form is packed with recycled materials.

In its 40th anniversary year in 2020, the Panda also saw the best market share in its history both in its home market of Italy with 47.8 per cent and in Europe overall, achieving 17.8 per cent. It reported the best year-on-year growth in its segment, up 3.4 per cent versus 2019.

Updated for this year, is fun, quirky and cheap, starting at just shy of £12k. It is just as much at home on the rough stuff, zipping around city streets, or a style accessory at the chic wine bar. It looks the part with this model featuring red front tow hooks, front and rear bumper with silver skid plates, silver side mouldings and roof rails and dark tinted rear windows.

It now has a three model, two engine line-up, Life, new Sport version and Cross, driven here with various trim levels. Power units include the 0.9-litre Twinair 85hp in Panda 4×4 and 1.0-litre mild hybrid 70hp unit available on the rest of the range. In this 4×4 guise it is also more than capable of being a mud plugger or dealing competently with snowy or icy conditions. And leaving more illustrious and better known off-roaders red-faced.

New features include  updated bumpers, new colour options, new 16-inch alloy off-road wheels and an updated interior with seats and dashboard created from those recycled materials.

The base model offers body-coloured bumpers, 14-inch steel wheels, air conditioning and DAB radio with MP3 compatibility and USB connectivity. More goodies are added as you move up the range, with this range-topper offering all those bells and whistles.

This chunky Cross model sits high off the ground and adds LED daytime running headlights, black door mirrors, and handles, together with 15-inch alloy wheels, electrically adjustable and heated body-coloured door mirrors. Also standard on this model are Bluetooth radio with smartphone cradle, USB and Aux ports, leather bound multi-function steering wheel, electric windows to the front and fog lights. Safety is well catered for with driver, passenger and window airbags, stability control, hill holder and rear head restraints.

A bit of a box on wheels, it has a Tardis like quality inside, with masses of headroom and the legroom is also decent, certainly for the front passengers, although it is cramped in the back.

The interior is just a funky looking as the outside, with new blue and black two-tone eco-leather upholstery on the door panels and seats featuring the word Cross, with silver stitching and fabric side panels. Inside the new dashboard is made from processed waste wood.

 It looks good, but finish is not of the highest quality, it is after all a relatively low-budget car. But instruments, dials, knobs and levers all logically placed, while the funky handbrake lever can double as a hand rest. The gearshift is situated on the ‘floating’ centre console.

On the road, the lightweight, two-cylinder 0.9 litre twin air engine offers plenty of grunt around town, together with decent economy. The seemingly modest 86 bhp, boosted by the turbocharger, propels the car to 60mph in a fairly sedate 12 seconds. It seems quicker, while fuel economy of under 40mpg, is OK, but not class leading.

Handling is decent considering the shape of the car and the high off the road stance, while the ride is on the soft side and more comfortable for it. Assured and sure-footed zipping around city street, or mud plugging, it is less so on the open road and motorway where it begins to run out of puff and road noise is intrusive.

In practical terms the boot is small, at 255 litres capacity, but we still squeezed in four decent-sized shopping bags. For extra space, fold down the split/folding rear seats to open up a respectable 870 litres, while the roof bars add extra carrying capacity.

It may have been around for 40 years, but it still feel fresh and funky and priced from £11,895, affordable to buy and relatively cheap to run.


Fiat Panda Cross 0.9 Twinair
: £17,405

Mechanical: Combined 85bhp, 875cc, two cylinder petrol engine driving all wheels via six-speed  gearbox

Insurance: 10E

Max speed: 104 mph

0-62mph: 12 seconds

Combined mpg: 38.5

CO2 emissions: 163g/km

Warranty: 3yrs/60,000 miles

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