They say time flies when you’re having fun, and that’s certainly been the case with our Fiat Panda Cross. The rugged city car-cum-off-roader has been on our fleet for just over six months, and it’s seen plenty of action in that time.

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From some surprisingly hardcore off-roading – where it put far more expensive and ‘capable’ models to shame – to clocking up plenty of motorway miles, the sheer breadth of talent puts the Fiat up there with my favourite cars on our fleet.

Mind you, it’s not been without its foibles. While the driving experience is hard to fault, the infotainment system has left me and others pulling our hair out. Fiat’s Blue&Me set-up was developed with tech giant Microsoft a decade ago, but it’s not the most user-friendly system on the market.

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On the Panda, it incorporates a TomTom sat-nav unit that sits in a cradle mounted on top of the dash. It can be removed easily, but that’s just about where the ease of use stops.

It’s not a very intuitive system, plus it’s rather slow to respond when setting up most options. Yet it has to be the Bluetooth phone connection that leaves steam coming out of most users’ ears. The set-up is fiddly to say the least, as you have to scroll through various settings just to set up the connection. 

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Then, it takes far too long to pair your smartphone, as the system spends ages searching for it. And once you think you’re all paired up and ready to go, it simply refuses to work – usually when you’re on the move and can’t do anything about it. All in all, it really is very irritating.  

The radio has been another bone of contention. The lack of DAB has frustrated some of my more tech-savvy colleagues, but even FM mode is rather frustrating. Finding your favourite station and staying locked on to it is very awkward – there’s always a slight fuzz and hiss from the speakers, which becomes distracting as you constantly try to tune the radio in properly.

In my last update, I reported that the paint on one of the wheels had started to flake off; but thankfully, this has now been rectified by Fiat under warranty, so the Panda Cross is looking lovely again. 

Putting these negatives aside, it will be a sad day when Fiatcomes to collect the car, as I’ve really enjoyed living with the diminutive off-roader. It’s very practical for its size, and I’ve managed a few trips to the tip with the boot crammed full of garden waste and other bulky household items.

The plastic boot liner and metal-backed rear seats are excellent, as they are a lot easier to clean than a carpeted boot after a messy trip to the recycling centre. And although the boot isn’t the biggest around with the rear seats up, it still has plenty of room for a weekly shop. Plus, most importantly, the bag hook means my bottles of wine don’t smash on the journey home...

The driving experience is the Panda’s strongest suit, though, as it puts a smile on the face of anyone who gets behind the wheel. The high seating position provides great visibility, while my grandchildren Evie and Oscar love seeing where we’re going out of the big windows. There’s plenty of room for them and their car seats in the back, too.

Most Panda Cross owners won’t tackle much more than a muddy track, but it’s reassuring to have four-wheel drive there. It just adds another string to the Fiat’s bow, and makes it a car that I will sorely miss.

I’ve been a volunteer first aider at Auto Express for around nine years now. My training’s come in handy on a few occasions to deal with cuts and bruises, the odd fainting fit and even a cardiac arrest on the forecourt at Watford Gap Services on the M1 that saw the air ambulance called out to assist.

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First aid knowledge is useful to have, but I was intrigued when Auto Express reader and Community First Responder (CFR) Gary Hammond got in touch. Gary’s a volunteer for the South Central Ambulance Service, which has just taken delivery of a Fiat Panda Cross response vehicle. With my interest piqued, we took our Panda Cross down to the Stoke Mandeville Ambulance Station in Aylesbury, Bucks, to find out more.

Gary has been a CFR volunteer for around four years, and he explained: “We provide early and often vital intervention for patients suffering life-threatening emergencies, using life-saving skills and equipment like an automated external defibrillator.”

Up until a couple of weeks ago, Gary had to use his own vehicle when on a call-out, but thanks to some serious fundraising, the South Central Ambulance Service now has a fully liveried and kitted out Panda Cross. And it fits the bill perfectly, according to Gary. 

“My first call-out in the Panda Cross was to someone who lived up a rutted track, which would have taken its toll on my own car,” he said. “But the Panda took it all in its stride and got me there safely and quickly.” 

Like our Fiat, the South Central Ambulance Service’s car features the gutsy two-cylinder turbo TwinAir petrol engine, which is great when you have to get somewhere fast. And while the Panda has compact dimensions, the boot is still big enough to hold all the equipment Gary might need, including the defibrillator and even a birthing kit.

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However, Gary does share our gripe with the Panda’s headlamps – which are dismal to say the least. Even with the angle adjusted for the extra equipment on board, they simply don’t light up enough of the road in front of you. Luckily for Gary, his Panda is due to be fitted with high-beam roof lights, which will help no end. 

Poor headlamps aren’t the only problem we’ve endured, as the paint on one of the wheels has started to flake off dramatically. Hopefully this will be covered under warranty and should be easy to fix.

Despite these niggles, the Panda Cross is still a firm favourite on the Auto Express fleet, and its cheeky character leaves most people smiling. Editor-in-chief Steve Fowler fell for its charms when he took it for a few days. 

However, while he enjoyed the drive, the fuel economy did leave him rather stunned, as it didn’t return much more than his Range Rover Sport – to extract its best performance, you have to work the Cross’ engine quite hard. Not that this poor fuel consumption detracts from the fun factor.  

Digital content editor Tom Goodlad also borrowed the keys for a trip home to Devon, where the Fiat proved perfect on the winding country lanes and was surprisingly comfortable on the motorway, too. Even staff photographer Pete Gibson was won over when he managed to fit all of his camera gear in the boot. 

While medical emergencies are slightly beyond our Panda’s reach, it’s perfect for anyone needing a dose of driving fun after a hard day in the office.

When handed the keys to a brand-new car, most owners become obsessed with keeping it clean. They think nothing of spending every weekend with either a bucket and sponge in hand or visiting their local car wash ensuring their new pride and joy remains in pristine condition. And woe betide anyone who drops the tiniest spec of dirt on the newly vacuumed carpets or leaves an innocent sweet wrapper in one of the door bins. 

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Nothing wrong with that I hear you mutter, but when I finally got my hands on our fleet’s new Fiat Panda Cross, the first thing I wanted to do was to get it as dirty as possible. And it didn’t take me long to find a muddy puddle or two to put the chunky little 4x4 to the test.

Fiat Panda Cross

The cheeky Panda is as much of a hoot to drive on the road as off it. Its lively two-cylinder 875cc TwinAir engine thrums along tunefully and it keeps pace with other road users surprisingly well. Together, we’ve already embarked on several fairly high-mileage journeys, which have included a mixture of motorways and A and B-roads – all of which the Panda has tackled with relish.   

Plus, we’ve definitely had fun on the more challenging muddy stuff. With just a turn of the terrain control switch, the Fiat becomes a very capable off-roader – albeit a small one.

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Not only does it feature a locking rear differential for extra traction in the really slippery stuff, it also has the same sort of electronically regulated hill descent control found on much larger (and much more expensive) SUVs.

Fiat Panda Cross

Plus, I love the chunky, bright-red towing eyes that poke out from the front bumper. Not only do they look great, they’ll come in handy in the unlikely event that the car needs to be pulled out of the mud.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t all been plain sailing for our Panda. Not long after it joined the Auto Express fleet, it was broken into while parked in a central London car park. The perpetrator – who has now been caught thanks to some hi-tech forensic detection – smashed the driver’s window and stole the Blue&Me TomTom sat-nav. Very annoying!

Fiat Panda Cross

National Windscreens replaced the window at a cost of £95 and Fiat kindly fitted a new TomTom and cradle for me, restoring my Bluetooth and navigation facility. It’s an intuitive set-up that features decent graphics – helping to make light work of unfamiliar locations. However, I now make sure I detach the unit and slip it into my bag every time I leave the car.

Another neat touch that I’ve been really grateful for during the recent cold weather is the £250 optional Winter Pack. This incorporates a heated windscreen – meaning no more freezing hands scraping the ice away – plus, my favourite, heated front seats, which warm up quickly and help keep me toasty even on the chilliest of days.

So far, then, I’m loving the Panda Cross, and I’m certainly in no hurry to clean it. In fact, when those around me are spending their Sunday afternoons with a bucket, sponge and chamois, I’ll be heading off the beaten track in search of more muddy adventures.

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