REVIEW DATE: 09 Oct 2008
You might think that buy purchasing a little citycar with a tiny engine, you're already doing your bit for the environment. Well it depends which one. Some, like Fiat's Panda ECO models, are greener than others. Jonathan Crouch reports
Fiat's Panda may still be one of the class-leading citycars but it doesn't have class-leading emissions, especially not in petrol form where it can't even break the 130g/km barrier. To keep interested buyers who might otherwise be put off by that, Fiat is offering two slightly tweaked 'ECO' petrol models with much greener credentials.
When the second generation Fiat Panda was launched in 2004, no one much cared about CO2 emissions. These were amongst the figures buried in the smallprint somewhere near the back of the owners' manual and only those with a standing order in place for Greenpeace cared about them. Fast forward five years or so and it's very different. Much larger cars than the Panda can beat the unremarkable CO2 showing of its 1.1 and 1.2-litre petrol models, both of which are unable to crack the 130g/km barrier. They certainly can't approach the sub-120g/km level that would slide their owners' tax banding into a more affordable Band B.
This of course is a job that Fiat's engineers are busily addressing in developing engines for the third generation Panda, but in the meantime, there are two ECO models featuring some simple stopgap measures to lower the CO2 footprint to a more acceptable level. So simple in fact that you wonder why they didn't just wheel them out to the whole range - but that's another story..
The ECO measures don't affect the performance on offer, either from the 1.1-litre Active version or the 1.2-litre Dynamic. Which is just as well as this was hardly neck-snapping to start with, with sixty from rest taking between 14 and 15 seconds on the way to a top speed of either 93 or 96mph. However, the low rolling resistance tyres that contribute to the ECO's saintly CO2 figures may not offer up as much grip as the standard ones, so bear that in mind on wet days.
"The Panda's back in the hunt with growing number of petrol citycar buyers who've one eye on both the environment and their tax bills.."
Few will regret shelling out a few hundred pounds extra for the 60bhp 1.2-litre 8v unit which is the most popular engine option. Its eco performance aside, the 1.2-litre engine is one of the Panda's greatest assets. True, 60bhp may not sound a whole hill of beans, but when fitted to the Panda it gives it enough go to make it a good deal more versatile than many citycar rivals. It's almost as if the citycar sector can be subdivided into those models which you'd never contemplate taking a longer journey in and cars like the Panda that are well up to motorway cruising. Part of the reason for this is that the Panda 1.2 features a four-cylinder engine, whereas many of its rivals have to work a three-cylinder unit that much harder to keep pace. At typical motorway speeds, the engine is a little vocal but not too intrusive and wind and road noise are well suppressed.
The Panda's silhouette is by now a familiar one, with deep, bow-shaped side windows and blacked-out door pillars. It's a fundamentally good, space-efficient piece of design with fully 68 per cent of the car's length occupied by the passenger compartment - one of the largest in its class.
The Panda offers a choice of no less than four different rear seating layouts. There's a one-piece bench with two or three places, a 50:50 split option or a sliding 50:50 arrangement with rake adjustable backrests and ISOFIX attachments. This can boost total boot space by up to 30 litres if rear legroom is not a priority.
Fiat have gone to great lengths to instil a big car feel in the Panda and the amount of soundproofing pays dividends. Fiat claim the Panda is the only car in its class to have 99 per cent of its interior surface lined, and this certainly helps both the perception of quality and noise suppression. The Panda will pull from low speeds cleanly and the gearshift is probably the best in the citycar class. The clutch feels like a well engineered item as well, being progressive in its action, making stop/go progress easy to manage. The 'City' button takes all the weight out of the steering system and makes three point turns an exercise in effortless wheel twirling.
The Active ECO's standard equipment list includes more than you might think. There's an immobiliser, driver and passenger airbags, ABS anti-lock braking with EBD, electric power steering, 'Follow Me Home' headlights and electric front windows. The Dynamic ECO also gets remote central locking, colour coded bumpers and a CD/MP3 player. These two newcomers cost just £100 more than the standard versions on which they are based.
Equipment levels have been recently boosted across the Panda range and options include big car features such as smart windscreen wipers, follow me home headlamps, ESP stability control, a Hill Holder function, parking sensors, an MP3 stereo system and Bluetooth mobile phone compatibility.
Apart from the special, low rolling resistance tyres, both the ECO models use a low viscosity engine oil which helps them reach their low CO2 emissions level of 119 g/km in each case. If you really want low CO2, then the 1.3-litre Multijet diesel model returns 114g/km - but there's a significant premium to pay to own one of those.
As with any Panda, fuel consumption is pretty but the ECO cars take this even further. Both Active ECO and Dynamic ECO models return 42.8 mpg in the urban cycle, 68.3 mpg extra urban and 56.5 mpg combined. Bear in mind that the CO2 reductions see a reduction of the VED tax band from C to B, so there's an immediate tax saving of £85 to owners. Insurance for all models is relatively cheap, with at group one for the 1.1-litre car and group 2 for the 1.2. Residual values have proven to be strong, at least by Fiat standards, the Panda proving a popular used proposition.
With the Panda having been around for so long, we'd normally be counselling you to look at other more recent additions to the citycar sector but such is the excellence of its basic package that it still remains amongst the class leaders and is probably easier to get the right deal on.
The changes necessary to create the Panda ECO are so straightforward that you wonder why (a) Fiat didn't include them when the car was first launched or (b) simply roll them out to all the current 1.1 and 1.2-litre models rather than just these special editions. In the end though, all that really matters from Fiat's point of view is that they're back in the hunt with growing number of petrol citycar buyers who've one eye on both the environment and their tax bills.
The results below show the top PANDA deals on buyacar
|Fiat Panda 1.1 Active ECO 5dr hatchback|
|Fiat Panda 0.9 TwinAir  4X4 5dr hatchback|
|Price £12,639||Save £1,311|
|Fiat Panda 1.2 Easy 5dr hatchback|
|Price £7,995||Save £1,555|
|Fiat Panda 0.9 TwinAir  Easy 5dr hatchback|
|Price £9,795||Save £955|
|VIEW MORE DISCOUNT PANDA DEALS|
|For PANDA ECO|
|OVERALL||7.2 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||8|
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