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Fiat Panda review

The new Fiat Panda arrives in Ireland early in 2012; we've driven it.

 

Words: Graeme Lambert - @graeme_lambert

Published on: December 23, 2011

Words: Graeme Lambert - @graeme_lambert

Published on: December 23, 2011

Tech Specs

Model testedFiat Panda 0.9 TwinAir 85hp
Pricingestimated to start from €11,750
Engine0.9-litre turbocharged two-cylinder petrol
Transmissionfive-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Body stylefive-door hatchback
RivalsSEAT Mii, Volkswagen up!, Hyundai i10
CO2 emissions99g/km (Band A, €160 per annum)
Combined consumption4.2 litres/100km (67.3mpg)
Top speed177km/h
0-100km/h11.2 seconds
Power85hp at 5,500rpm
Torque145Nm at 1,900rpm

Overall rating: 4/5

Having sold over six million Fiat Pandas since the introduction of the first in 1980, the Italian firm is hoping the new model can build on that success even further. Here's the impressive new two-cylinder TwinAir version.

In the metal 5/5

It's certainly cute, and thanks to the rounded headlights and wide mouthed grille it's a much friendlier face than the old car - broadly similar to the smaller 500 in fact. Still very clearly a Panda though, and only when parked next to an older model does it become obvious how much has been altered; the high-set tail lamps, wrap around glazing and boxy shape remain.

That shape is what makes for such impressive cabin space, but the material quality, design and trim colours have taken a leap forward as well. Look closely and you'll notice the textured dash is actually achieved with tiny raised "Panda" lettering - a neat touch.

Driving it 4/5

The diesel's good, but within minutes it's clear that the diminutive TwinAir petrol is the motor to have. Not only does it endow the puny Panda with strong performance, but it also contributes to the car's character - the offbeat warble of the two-cylinder unit goading you to explore the upper reaches of the rev range.

There's little point in going too far though, the tiny turbocharger literally runs out of puff above 5,500rpm and acceleration is stalled suddenly. Still, the five-speed gearbox is light, easy to use and mounted close to the wheel - so there's no excuse for not making the most of the ratios available.

The steering is also on the light side, though the weighting that is there remains consistent. As with other previous small Fiats, a City button in the middle of the dashboard turns it finger light at anything less than 35km/h.

But it's how light the Panda is on its feet that impresses the most. The chassis reacts faithfully and quickly to inputs, with little body roll and decent grip - even if the wet weather and greasy roads on our Naples test route highlighted some traction and understeer issues. For such a small car, the ride is impressive too, remaining comfortable and compliant despite the firm edge to the springing.

What you get for your money 3/5

The Irish model range is yet to be decided, but buyers will have plenty of options when it comes to customising their Pandas - there are 10 choices of colour for the outside, and nine inside. Add that to the pair of alloy wheel designs and this makes for a total of 600 combinations available.

It's likely to be more expensive than the SEAT Mii, though the Panda does get five doors and comes with four airbags, a Brake Assist System and Daytime Running Lights as standard. And like it's VW Group rivals, the Fiat offers a removable TomTom satnav, and a robotised Dualogic automatic transmission.

Worth Noting

There's a 4x4 version of the Panda on the way as well, which isn't as strange a notion as you might think. The original Panda 4x4 turned out to be an excellent vehicle, its narrow tyres and jacked-up stance proving more than a match for snow or muddy ground. And the last generation also introduced us to the Panda Cross, an even more rough and rugged version with special body cladding and interior design.

Summary

There's only one thing holding this new Fiat Panda back from being a five-star car, and that's the estimated price - it may just be too expensive in the face of talented competition from VW's up! and its sister Skoda and SEAT models. Still, to discount it completely because of this would be unfair - the new Panda looks great both inside and out, and in TwinAir form is a hoot to drive as well.



Tech Specs

Model testedFiat Panda 0.9 TwinAir 85hp
Pricingestimated to start from €11,750
Engine0.9-litre turbocharged two-cylinder petrol
Transmissionfive-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Body stylefive-door hatchback
RivalsSEAT Mii, Volkswagen up!, Hyundai i10
CO2 emissions99g/km (Band A, €160 per annum)
Combined consumption4.2 litres/100km (67.3mpg)
Top speed177km/h
0-100km/h11.2 seconds
Power85hp at 5,500rpm
Torque145Nm at 1,900rpm