The Fiat Panda isn’t as achingly hip as its sibling, the 500, but the boxy shape resonates with those for whom poverty-spec cars are inherently cool. It doesn’t seem to be trying too hard, which is quite some feat in today’s crowded market, and appeals as a consequence, an appeal thats helped by the stripped-down interior and versatile carrying capacity; it is, perhaps, the North Face day-sac of the car world.
The Twin-Air engine is, in complete contrast, very of-the-moment. Its performance is lively, it ticks every eco box there is (on paper, at least), and it sounds wonderful; surely the two must be an irresistible combination? Well, they should…
The Panda is boxy and attractive, but isn’t going to win any beauty pageants. It lacks the functional simplicity of the original but, nonetheless, no one is going to run you out of town for harbouring Quasimodo.
Its tough looking design, and thoughtful; light and airy and absolutely fit for purpose. If you see hints of the Citroen Berlingo
and Renault Kangoo in there you shouldnt be surprised, because both have been welcomed by thousands of families and both are now too expensive and faux-posh to be considered by just about anyone now. But that toughness is neatly offset by a smiling face, a welcoming visage, and that tones the whole effect down nicely, even if it fails to disguise the fact that this new Panda is just a heavily revised version of the old one.
The interior is square (or squircular, apparently). Very square, with square door handle, square instruments, square gear knob, and even a quartic steering wheel, which for my generation conjures up memories of the Austin Allegro. Oh dear. The materials used are decent though, and it seems to revel in the fact that its a cheap car; its honest, it isnt pretending to be something that it isnt. I like that.
It isn’t completely convincing ergonomically, though. The seats look simple – and are comfortable – but traces of ‘Italian Ape’ DNA exist; I couldn’t get the steering wheel close enough for my taste, and so I was resigned to driving with a slight hunch that gave me neck ache after 50 miles.
The Panda’s versatility isn’t in dispute, though. It transforms into a convincing van very quickly and holds more than you might imagine, thanks to the bodyshell’s square shape, although adults will find the back seat doesnt give them masses of legroom.
The little Fiat handles rather well, considering its humble role; understeer is there, but it’s a neat handler, especially when you lighten the steering using the ‘City’ button. You can dive deep into roundabouts and use that fabulous engine’s torque to heave you round and catapult you through – and if you don’t want to play the Pandas upright driving position and easily visible corners allow pin-point placement for any journey from city commute through to motorway run. The ride can be a bit fidgety at lower speeds but it does smooth out as you go faster.
Overall, it’s a harmonic car, the Panda, soft-edged and rounded, which makes for a satisfying drive; it brakes well, steers sharply, and rolls quite a lot – those who drove a 2CV in their formative years will love it while those who appreciate a harsh, stiff ride (something that is mistaken too often for good handling) will be mildly alarmed at first. Persevere, and you’ll find it hangs on harder than you initially thought and brings a smile to your face, which is nice and an unexpected bonus given the price.
The TwinAir engine is a wonderful little unit, sparky, and noisy, and brimming with life – it just isn’t economical, OK? I managed just under 40mpg, which will be the sort of figure that an enthusiastic driver should expect. Driven conservatively you might get 50mpg, but you won’t get more.
But there is more to life than saving a few pence on your commute; it drives like a Dodgem and sounds like an old English motorbike, with an uneasy, offbeat thrum thanks to that twin cylinder layout. There is turbo lag galore, but you learn to start accelerating just a smidge earlier than usual, and with that adjustment everything works very well indeed.
Value for Money
The basic Fiat Panda TwinAir starts at 10,750, but I imagine that you should treat that as a starting price, rather than the amount youll be writing a cheque for, as dealers will be keen to do a deal. Oh, and dont ruin a cheap car by loading it with extras; you dont need em, so go poverty-spec-and-proud!
Just remember that the running costs will be higher than the paperwork would have you believe; Fiats engineers are the best in the business at optimising their cars to get the most economical performance under the official fuel consumption test runs.
is an easy car to love and – possibly – a harder one to live with. It’s loud, snarky, infuriating, and adorable. Imagine Amy Winehouse at the age of forty, living in the countryside, with an Aga and a Labrador; good fun, but tiring, and you might just prefer Felicity Kendal for the long haul.
And who is dear, sweet Felicity? Probably one of the Mii
mob, which have the same basic honesty as the Panda but are better to drive, although if you like your fun a bit raw-edged and funky, then the little Fiat takes some beating.