Fiat Panda (2012) review
by Tom Stewart (22 December 2011)
Fiat's diminutive Panda has never been a conventional supermini. Back in the 1980s it was a particularly basic, no-frills three-door city car which, with the addition of a 4x4 version, also proved very popular with rural dwellers.
Boosted by a succession of facelifts, it survived all the way through to 2003. The second-generation Panda joined the Fiat range alongside other small Fiats like the Seicento and Punto, but with its Multipla-influenced styling, the new five-door Panda differentiated itself by appearing to be a baby MPV, or a baby 4x4 MPV.
Now comes the third-generation Panda, which in addition to having to compete with cars like the VW up!, Hyundai i10, Kia Picanto plus a host of others, also faces in-house competition from the irresistibly fashionable 500, as well as the more bread-and-butter Punto Evo models. So what does the latest Panda have going for it?
The new car's exterior styling is obviously a derivation of the outgoing Panda's, with the same basic two-box proportions but with a more rounded and, ostensibly, a more contemporary appearance. Beauty is in the eye and all that, but for my money the 2012 car is less inventive, interesting and appealing than the clean-cut 2003 Panda was.
Beneath the bodywork there's a heavily revised chassis with improved safety features, plus new suspension mountings and components, while in the cabin it's all entirely new, apart from the familiar high-mounted positioning of the gearstick.
With a photo to look at I shan't waste words describing the intricate design details of the squarish wheel, instrumentation and dash, but suffice to say that much time has been spent at the drawing board in an effort to match the interior's design language with that of the exterior.
The large, open storage compartment ahead of the front seat passenger will, in most instances, be brimming with loose change, sweets, phone chargers, tissues, sandwich wrappers, iPods, lipsticks and keys within a week of ownership.
Unlike some superminis, the high-roofed Panda has ample headroom for passengers front and rear, although adults in the rear may well suffer from a shortage of legroom unless those in the front have their seats slid well forward. With rear seat backrests upright the Panda's 225-litre luggage capacity falls 26 litres short of the new VW Up!'s, and having sat in the back of both, I'd say the Up! also has more rear legroom.
If more bootspace is required then there's an optional sliding rear seat for the Panda, but that'll potentially inhibit rear legroom still further.
There were two engines to try at the Pomigliano-based launch: a 75hp 1.3-litre MultiJet diesel and an 85hp 0.9-litre TwinAir turbo petrol, both with five-speed manual gearboxes and Stop&Start. I found the slightly remapped TwinAir every bit as spirited as it is in the 500, with diesel-like pulling power and a novel twin-cylinder engine note.
Performance is quoted as 0-62 in 11.2 secs with a 110mph maximum, but the top gear ratio seemed inordinately high, presumably one measure to fool the fuel consumption testing procedure into giving it 67.3mpg combined – a figure I'll wager owners will find hard to match in real life. Accurate or otherwise, the TwinAir's 99g/km CO2 figure means zero UK road tax.
The polished, wet and congested roads on the prescribed test route of the launch weren't conducive toward assessing any car's steering and handling in extremis, although I can confirm that a mild and unexpected four-wheel drift on a slippery urban slip road, plus a couple of other instances of low road-grip understeer, felt easily controlled and just a little balletic.
Needless to say, the Panda is a doddle to drive around town, and aided by a rigid chassis and well-tuned suspension, its compliant ride isn't unduly compromised by poor surfaces.
The Panda should be in UK showrooms by late February 2012, and pricing and precise spec details are to be confirmed. However, Fiat UK expects that the new Panda variants should sell for around the same as the current models, so from circa £8500 up to around £12,500.
If that's not enough then there'll be plenty of option packs and individual options to bump the price up, including ESP, front side airbags, Low Speed Collision Mitigation, the Blue & Me satnav and media system, a robotised Duologic transmission and so the list goes on.
The new Panda is a great little car, but it lacks the city chic of both the 500 and the VW Up!, it's not quite as roomy as its MPV-style looks might have you believe and, despite its many significant improvements, it doesn't move the game on in the way that many small Fiats have in the past, or have an obvious USP. That will change, however, when the 4x4 version arrives in late 2012.