Review: 2018 Panda TwinAir Cross

Review: 2018 Panda TwinAir Cross
 

Fiat’s Panda TwinAir Cross doesn’t quite deliver on economy claims but it is a sprightly little thing — and built for comfort — writes Thomas Falkiner

TwinAir? What the hell is that? Sounds like a running shoe. Please explain.

Okay, so TwinAir is basically marketing speak for Fiat’s unusual but kind of cool two-cylinder engine. First seen in 2010 it was one of the first motors built to embrace the now in-vogue concept of automotive downsizing. In this instance, getting a small engine to match the power of a bigger one but burning less fuel in the process.

That makes sense to me. So out in the real world, does it? Really?

Honestly, no, it doesn’t. In city driving the Panda TwinAir Cross was averaging 8.7/100km — even with the performance-neutering Eco Mode on. Cruising the highway, this figure dropped to 7.9l/100km. After a week of mixed conditions the bright orange, 1980s-style trip computer registered 8.1l/100km. Not bad but also not what I was expecting, considering that I could match this figure in some rival cars driven by less complex four-cylinder mills. When it comes to economy I’d have to come to the conclusion that TwinAir equals HotAir.

Well, that sucks. I presume performance isn’t great either?

Nah, performance is surprisingly sprightly. I was expecting this thing to be more sloth than bear but it proved quite the opposite. Thanks to turbocharging and a relatively high compression ratio (google if you don’t know what that is), this teeny motor propels the Panda at quite a lick.

Once you move out of that stupidly short first gear and provided that you’re not in Eco Mode (it really does put a damper on things), you’ll never have a problem keeping up with traffic in the city or out on the freeway. Revved hard, the TwinAir engine also makes a fantastically rorty noise: a kind of booming, diesel-petrol-motorbike bellow which, if anything, gives the Panda an enduring character.

I’ve heard you need the proportions of an orangutan to get comfortable in Italian cars. Does this ring true here?

While this has been — and sometimes still is — the case with many cars built in fair Italia, I found the innards of the Panda Cross accommodating. The seats are comfortable and supportive and all the important controls are conveniently close to hand. Having said this I was saddened by the lack of reach adjustment on the steering wheel. What is this, Fiat, 1996?

Though if anything does need serious criticism it’s the phenomenally crap UConnect infotainment system that not only feels like a relic but is also confusing and difficult to use. Apparently it offers Bluetooth connectivity — there were buttons on the steering wheel alluding to this feature — yet even after a week of driving I couldn’t work out how to sync up my iPhone. Super Infuriating.

My little cousin owned the old Panda 100HP. Is this Panda as fun to drive?

Ah man, does your cousin have good taste — that was a mega little hatchback. The Panda Cross, though not as overtly sporty, does come from the same gene pool and is consequently quite a nice thing to hustle through bends at speed despite its lofty profile. It also turns into corners beautifully thanks to the lack of engine weight up front. Fortunately, and unlike in the 100HP, the ride is reasonably comfortable despite the short wheelbase, coping well with most poor surfaces.

One last question — why is this particular Panda cross? Who did what to upset it?

You do know that cars, like fish, don’t have any feelings, right? So in this context the word “Cross” simply refers to this Panda’s crossover sensibilities. It’s one half regular hatchback, one half pseudo mini 4×4. Parked next to its regular sibling you’ll notice that the Panda Cross sports a higher ground clearance (161mm) plus special all-weather tyres for better grip across varying terrains.

Fiat also grafted in special underbody protection to minimise mechanical damage over gnarly obstacles as well as raising the engine’s air intake duct to 711mm for improved water wading. There’s also switchable all-wheel drive for driving through muck and mire as well as hill descent control for tackling steep drop-offs. So if you’re keen for a bit of light off-roading action without breaking the bank then the Panda TwinAir Cross could just be what you’ve been waiting for. – Thomas Falkiner

Fast Facts: 2018 Fiat Panda TwinAir Cross

Engine: 875cc
Power: 66kW at 5 500rpm
Torque: 145Nm at 1 900rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
0-100km/h: 12-seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 167km/h (claimed)
Fuel:8.1l/100km (achieved combined)
CO2: 114g/km
Price: From R249 900