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Fiat Panda Cross: 'Interesting-looking' Multipla spawn hits UK

What the HELL is THAT?

Torque talk

It’s an important part of car reviews to prod the dashboard, although no one does this to any car they own, and I can report that a prod resulted in a conclusion that it feels Italian and not German, which is a disappointing thing. The steering wheel and gear knob are covered in black leather.

Three driving modes

The terrain control needs you to turn and hold

Fiat misses a trick with the off-road controls by putting them where Saab put the ignition key – between the gear lever and oddly shaped handbrake. If instead it was a steering wheel-mounted control, the off-road could have aped a Ferrari Manettino.

The Fiat Panda Cross comes with two engine options: a 1.3 Multijet diesel and the wonderful buzzy 875cc two cylinder turbo TwinAir engine. The latter is used to (probably better) effect in the 500 and the Alfa Romeo Mito. The diesel pushes out 80hp and the petrol engine 90hp – down 15bhp on the Alfa implementation.

Small turbo charged engines are efficient and powerful

Small turbo charged engines are efficient and powerful: the TwinAir turbo 90HP from 875cc

The diesel naturally has more torque: 190Nm over the TwinAir 145Nm. This gives the top car a top speed of 100mph (161kmph) in diesel form and 104mph (167kmph) under petrol power. The petrol version tips the scales at 1,090kg and the oil burner is 1,155kg, so it’s not that rapid. Fiat give figures on the 0-62.5 time (0-100kmh) of 14.3 seconds for diesel and 12.0 seconds for petrol.

The 4x4 system uses two differentials and ELD (Electronic Locking Differential), an electronic coupling, to ensure that wheels which have grip get the most power, and there is an ESC (Electronic Stability Control). The multiple-clutch joint, with electro-hydraulic control, transfers up to 900Nm of torque to the rear (equivalent to the whole torque the engine can deliver) in one-tenth of a second, which means the car can react practically immediately and handle poor grip conditions.

The 1.3 engine works well but needs a sixth gear

A bigger capacity than the petrol engine, the 1.3 is a snug fit. The engine works well but needs a sixth gear

This means in slippery conditions you won’t have the wheels with the least traction spinning. The electronic differential has three modes: Auto, off-road and hill descent, which are selected from a rotary control between the handbrake and gear-lever.

In Auto, torque is shuffled between front and rear axles depending on the road surface. This will usually mean that 98 per cent of the power goes to the front, as this is the most economical configuration but as the power is needed at the back the electronics juggle it as necessary. Unfortunately there is no dashboard display to tell you what is going on.

Off road mode shuffles torque as necessary

In Off-road mode, the all-wheel drive becomes permanent, braking the wheels that are losing grip, or slipping more than the others, and transferring the drive to those with the most grip. The Electronic Locking Differential (ELD) is engaged, pre-loading the torque on the rear to achieve a integration of the 4x4 drive more quickly; it prevents ASR intervention. In this way it optimises the traction on uneven terrain. The off-road mode automatically disengages at a little over 30mph (48kmph) to save fuel.

The HDC (Hill Descent Control) mode magically controls the brakes as you go down steep inclines. It keeps the car at a constant speed acting independently and separately on the brakes. The HDC function comes into action automatically when the speed drops below 16mph (26kmph) and remains in standby mode up to 30mph (48kmph).

Terrier like in darting

The Fiat zips around bends

This isn’t a sports car and doesn’t pretend to be an Integrale, but zipping around country roads it's lively with an eager turn-in. Throw it into a bend a little too enthusiastically and the front end will understeer until the four wheel drive keeps it in check. All in all, it has much better cornering than you’d expect. On gravel tracks it proved sure-footed and over really uneven surfaces the suspension damping is pretty good.

The Panda Cross has an independent MacPherson arrangement at the front and an interconnected wheel with torsion beam layout at the rear, specifically developed for the all-wheel drive version. Compared to the semi-trailing arm solution of the previous generation, the rear suspension is lighter and provides better ride and less noise, with the same off-road performance as before.

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