Fiat Panda 0.9 TwinAir Lounge review
by David Finlay (21 May 2012)
Much of what we have to say about the third-generation Fiat Panda has already been published in Tom Stewart's launch report of the whole range and my review of the TwinAir Easy. The reason for revisiting the car now is that we've had one to live with for a week rather than try out for a few hours.
The model in question is, as the heading has already made clear, the TwinAir Lounge, which is the slightly posher version of the Easy. (There's also a more basic trim level called Pop, but it's available only with the 1.2 petrol and 1.3 diesel engines.) Upgrading from Easy to Lounge costs £500, and in return for that you get front foglights, heated door mirrors with electronic control and 15" alloy wheels rather than the 14" steels fitted to cheaper models.
At the time of writing, and with manual rather than DuaLogic automatic transmission, the TwinAir Lounge costs £11,250, which puts it within £1000 of being the most expensive Panda you can buy. Actually, let's call it £11,815, because ESP (with hill holder), a space-saver spare wheel (to replace the puncture repair kit which in some circumstances will be as useful as a solar panel made of chocolate) and side airbags are all vital additions, at least as far as I'm concerned, but they're available only as options at £315, £50 and £200 respectively.
Spending time with the Panda made me appreciate its better qualities more than they did when I first experienced them. I became increasingly appreciative of both the ride comfort and the cornering ability, for example. And although this is a small car, it feels quite large from the front, since there is quite a remarkable amount of space there. The almost SUV-like stance makes getting in and out very easy, too, and I realise that this is going to appeal greatly to less mobile customers.
Thing is, though, a great deal of the Panda's interior is devoted to this front passenger space. There's not much room in the back - not enough to allow two average-height adults to be accommodated there if there are another two sitting ahead of them - and luggage space is just 260 litres with the rear seat in place and 870 litres when it's folded. (A sliding rear seat will improve the former figure when it's introduced later this year, but only by reducing passenger room still further.)
To put this into perspective, the Volkswagen up! city car - and therefore the almost identical SEAT Mii and Skoda Citigo - offer 251 and 951 litres in those configurations. It seems rather feeble that the Panda can't match this, let alone beat it, considering that it's both longer and taller.
I can't help liking the Panda, though. It looks quite good, and its interior design is fresh and interesting without being too attention-grabbing. Ah, who am I kidding? What I really like is the TwinAir engine, that 875cc petrol-fuelled turbocharged MultiAir-technologied two-cylinder marvel which, with a maximum output of 85bhp, is actually the most powerful unit in the range as it currently stands despite having by far the lowest capacity.
Now, 85bhp isn't a great deal, and I've heard people complaining about how slow this Panda is, but to me it has quite enough power for the job. I mean, how quick do you really want such a car to be? And then there's the fuel economy. There are stories of the 500 TwinAir being disastrously thirstier than the EU test figures would suggest, and while I couldn't bring the Panda anywhere near to the official 68.9mpg - not that I was particularly trying to - I did average around 52mpg, and thought that wasn't too bad.
This may not reflect what you or anyone else would get, and I'm not trying to pretend that it does. But for a car like this, with a notably unaerodynamic shape, driven the way I drive on the roads I most often use, 52mpg was what I would have expected and hoped for. It was, and should have been, slightly but not a great deal worse than the 54mpg I got out of the 500 with the same engine.
It would be easy to use far more fuel, however, if you drove the TwinAir the way I did the first time I tried it. To anyone who was brought up driving cars with four-cylinder engines (as I suppose most of us were), this one sounds as if it's revving only half as high as it actually is, and there's a temptation to change down a gear because you think it's struggling, or perhaps also because the vibrations are becoming so strong you start to wonder how long it will be before the paint starts being shaken off the doors.
This isn't particularly comfortable for humans, but the engine has no problem with it, as shown by the fact that my efforts to make the gearshift indicator on the instrument panel tell me to change down were rewarded only when I floored the throttle at 1500rpm in top gear.
So it seems that, if you want to get decent economy out of a TwinAir, stick to low revs and pretend you're having a vibro massage.