REVIEW DATE: 08 Feb 2008
Few thought Fiat's second generation Panda could live up to the legend of the original. Sometimes it's so good to be proven wrong. Andy Enright reports
Despite their ongoing efforts to convince us that they can and do build a wide and varied model range, it's an inescapable fact that Fiat are still largely associated with tiny city cars. From the diminutive Topolino through models like the Uno and Cinquecento, Fiat have proved masters at making tiny cars with enormous appeal. Take their Panda. Originally introduced in 1980 and still produced in Italy until September 2003, when the second generation car appeared, this has been one of Fiat's more enduring successes, notching up over four and a half million sales.
The current Panda had a great start in life, picking up the European Car of The Year award upon its introduction. This was good going considering that the original range offered only a choice of 1.1 or 1.2-litre petrol power. Fiat quickly put that right however, introducing a torquey 1.3-litre multijet diesel here in early 2005, at the same time as petrol buyers also got a 4x4 option.
As before, the entry-level 1.1-litre petrol engine is only for those on a really tight budget. Few will regret shelling out a few hundred pounds extra for the more powerful 60bhp 1.2-litre 8v unit which looks set to continue as the most popular engine option. The final petrol choice is that pokey 1.4-litre 100bhp powerplant, its output quite enough to give the Panda a decent turn of pace by city car standards (0-62mph in 9.5s on the way to 115mph). Also bound to remain popular is the 70bhp 1.3-litre Multijet diesel engine that returns quite astonishing fuel economy figures.
A tweaked exterior colour pallet and revised interior trims are about the extent of the visual changes on the current Panda. The silhouette is much as before 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 basic formula of the biggest city car in its class that's very good to drive hasn't dated at all"
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.
Build quality is better than ever, the Panda enjoying a good reputation for rugged durability. The latest model comes in a choice of ten body colours, of which five are new and there's a choice of eight cabin upholstery finishes. Fiat claims that the Panda is the only city car to have 99 per cent of its interior lined, setting new standards for quality and comfort.
The range starts with the 1.1-litre Active, from where you can then step up to the 1.2 Dynamic. Above this are the identically-priced 1.2 Dynamic AirCon and the 1.2 Dynamic SkyDome, effectively giving customers the choice of air conditioning or a vast electric sun roof. From there, the next priciest model is the 1.3-litre MultiJet Dynamic diesel, followed by the well-specified 1.2 Eleganza. There's also a 100bhp petrol 1.4. Most city car ranges would stop there but the Panda line-up finishes with some very attractive 'boutique' models. The 1.2-litre 4x4 even offers all-weather offroad ability, as does the Panda Cross.
Equipment levels have been 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.
As you might expect, no Fiat Panda is going to demand oligarch cash reserves to run, and the model around which most of the range is built, the 1.2-litre petrol, is a case in point. This car will return an average of 50.4mpg, that figure rising to 58.9mpg on a run and sinking to 39.8mpg around town. Emissions are a relatively saintly 133g/km. With a revised injection system and lighter componentry, this engine's fuel figures are better than its predecessor's and refinement has been improved by measures which help quell vibration.
If you really want to maximise fuel economy, the 1.3-litre MultiJet turbodiesel engine is the one to go for. On a relaxed motorway journey you might see more than 76mpg from this one, a car that uses the smallest and most advanced common rail direct injection turbodiesel in the world. Carbon dioxide emissions? A mere 114g/km. Alternatively, for another £100 model-for-model, there are 'ECO' versions of the 1.1 and 1.2-litre petrol models which both boast CO2 emissions of just 119g/km and significantly lower fuel consumption.
Fiat didn't have to try too hard to improve this Panda. The basic formula of the biggest city car in its class that's very good to drive hasn't dated at all, the latest flourishes merely underlining what a good buy this car is. Of course, there are rivals to consider, chief among which are the Peugeot 107/Citroen C1/Toyota Aygo triple pronged attack, but if you value space and fun behind the wheel, the Panda still has them aced. Expect this car to continue to eclipse the best the opposition can throw at it.
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 RANGE|
|OVERALL||6.8 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||8|
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