TURIN – Ever since its launch in 1983, the Fiat Panda 4x4 has been a market success in Italy and the nearby Alpine countries of France, Switzerland and Austria, primarily because of its unique capabilities condensed into a small, lightweight package.

Small enough to maneuver tight city streets, but big enough for cargo and with a rare-for-its-class 4x4 configuration, the Panda proved an instant hit with long-lasting appeal.

The second generation, designed by Bertone, added size, roominess and style, and the success continued, with the Panda range the biggest money maker for the Fiat brand.

But the Italian automaker believes it can do even better, injecting a touch more style and luxury with the new Panda Cross model, positioned above the Panda 4x4 and the Panda Trekking.

To start with, the Panda Cross, to make its public debut at the Geneva auto show in March, is fitted with oversized all-season tires to improve drivability and traction, while ensuring excellent on-road handling on both wet and dry surfaces.

The new model also gets 15-in. 5-spoke wheels and restyled bumpers with integrated fog lights. LED daytime running lights are incorporated into the skid plate, finished in a trendy satin titanium color and perforated with big holes.

The rear end also is revised, with a new bumper with underbody protection that echoes the design of the front skid plate, a new rear light cluster and a chrome tailpipe. Tow hooks are finished in brilliant red, emphasizing the vehicle’s off-road character.

Entry versions will be powered by an 80-hp 1.3L 4-cyl. Multijet II turbodiesel mated with a 5-speed manual transmission. Optional is a 90-hp 0.9L gasoline engine/6-speed manual combination.

Also offered is what Fiat calls its “torque on demand” system, which combines electronic stability control with an electronic locking differential.

Standard are Hill Descent control and City Brake, which at less than 18 mph (30 km/h) automatically stops the car to avoid a collision.