REVIEW DATE: 08 Feb 2008
This is a novelty. A sporty Fiat Panda might not be the most obvious choice but the 100HP edition looks promising. Andy Enright reports
Unless you're an Italian resident, the Fiat Panda Cup probably doesn't mean much. A rally series of 130bhp 1.2-litre Pandas prepped by Supergara di Vezza d'Alba, it has proved an ideal way of getting young talent into the sport at the grass roots or, perhaps, bamboo shoots. Where it becomes relevant to British car buyers is when spin-off cars appear in our dealerships and the first properly sporty Fiat Panda, the 100HP, sets out to convince UK customers that the Panda makes a decent base for a fun hatch.
As its name suggests, there's a 100bhp engine under the bonnet - although it isn't the aneurysm about to happen that is the rally car's 1.2-litre unit. Given that this engine is unlikely to be stripped down and inspected after every outing, Fiat has wisely chosen to install a powerplant in a more relaxed state of tune, in this instance the 1.4-litre 16v FIRE engine. These things are relative though. Peak power arrives at a heady 6,000rpm which means that you'll really need to pick this car up by the scruff of the neck and fling it down the road if you're to get the best out of it. Even the peak torque figure of 97 lb/ft doesn't make itself felt until 4,250rpm.
Still, there are other Pandas that fulfil that brief very well. The 100HP is all about painting a massive grin on its driver's face as it grips and goes out of a tight roundabout or down a bumpy country lane. It's not just a car with a few cosmetic tweaks either. Aside from that engine, it also features all round disc brakes that are ventilated up front, revised springs, dampers and bushes, plus fifteen inch wheels shod with 195/45 15 tyres. A kerb weight of just 1,015kg means that performance is lively.
Thrash the Panda 100HP off the line and you should see 60mph come and go in 9.5 seconds, while a maximum speed of 115mph is possible. Despite the 100HP's undoubted verve, it'll still manage a combined fuel economy figure of 43.5mpg with modest 154g/km emissions. Priced at £10,260 on the road, and with a low insurance rating (group 5), this looks as if it could suddenly be a very popular choice with younger drivers looking for a car that serves up fun without the big bills.
The exterior has come in for some mild treatment. As well as the seven-spoke alloys, there's a chromed tailpipe and body-colouring for the door handles and mirrors. Revised side skirts give the Panda 100HP more of a ground-hugging look than its more workaday siblings and a tailgate spoiler and front foglamps also make the standard equipment list.
"It looks the part, it's practical and it's a heap of fun to drive. What's not to like?"
Inside, there's a darker grey dashboard and the steering wheel and gear knob are trimmed in leather. There's also a nod to added practicality with split fold rear seats, a height-adjustable driver's seat, Bluetooth hands-free technology and automatic climate control. There's also a Sport button which controls the sensitivity of the steering and the throttle. When Sport is depressed, the amount of electrical assistance to the steering is decreased, offering more feel, while the throttle pedal also becomes more sensitive to small inputs.
The interior design is classic Fiat, with a high mounted gear lever and a no frills look to the fascia. Fiat have also responsibly insisted that the car is fitted with a decent complement of safety kit. Structural solidity is the first factor in this equation and the Panda features body structures that at first cushion impact and then direct energy away from the rigid passenger compartment. You can choose no fewer than six airbags if you wish, although driver and passenger airbags are standard.
Despite measuring only 3,540mm from bumper to bumper, the Panda offers a decent amount of interior space, helped by a generous height of 1,530mm and that wheel at each corner design. Room up front is fine for two big adults, but rear legroom will naturally be a little pinched if four burly blokes squeeze in. Still, for two adults and two children it works very well. Luggage space is adequate, access to the hatch being helped by a very low loading sill. That split folding rear bench helps when transporting long or bulky items.
Fiat looks to have the constituent ingredients for success here. Panda 100HP is inexpensive and affordable, it looks the part, it's fun to drive and decently bolted together. What's not to like?
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