Fiat Panda Review
Fun, small and cheap to run, the Fiat Panda is great value for money
Strengths & weaknesses
- Fun, individual design
- Low purchase and running costs
- Spacious and practical interior
- Newer rivals are better to drive
- Basic levels of equipment
- Not up to latest safety standards
Fiat Panda prices from £5,995 Finance from £182.10 per month
If any nation should make a small, loveable runaround it’s Italy. Famed for its crowded roads, Fiat has been creating masterful small cars since the ‘50s, cars that are capable of ducking, diving, nudging and parking.
The Panda is one of those cheeky small cars. The original, 1980 Panda was lesson in minimalism and cost-effective engineering, designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro and skilfully executed to be affordable for the people. The latest, third generation Panda attempted to build on its clever thinking when launched in 2011.
Sure enough, with cheeky looks, a spacious, practical interior and lease deals costing less than £100 a month, you can buy the Fiat Panda with your head and your heart. But you have to question the wisdom of buying any of the more expensive versions, as in many areas the Panda is showing its age.
Its low-cost, wipe-clean plastic interior is spiced up with fun design, such as panels sprinkled with tiny letters that spell out ‘Panda’ and curved square shapes - Fiat calls them squircles - for dials, displays and even the steering wheel. On a more practical note, passengers in the back can increase legroom by sliding the rear seat backwards - at the expense of boot space - and there are 14 storage cubbyholes.
The cheap starting price doesn’t buy much equipment on the basic model, though. Air conditioning costs extra and there are only two seats in the back. A three-seat layout costs more.
The Fiat Panda is designed for city driving where soft suspension soaks up speed bumps and potholes and its small engines work efficiently. The tall shape gives passengers plenty of headroom, makes it easy to climb into and has large windows for good visibility. Compact bodywork, which barely stretches beyond the wheels, makes the Panda easy to park. It’s easier still thanks to a ‘City’ mode that makes the steering feather-light for easy manoeuvring but getting comfortable can be a challenge: the steering wheel only adjusts in and out rather than up and down too.
Alternatives, including the Citroen C1, Toyota Aygo, Hyundai i10 and Volkswagen up! are not as spacious as the Panda but have interiors that feel more upmarket thanks to higher-quality materials. They are also better on fast A-roads and motorways, where the Panda’s small petrol engines strain to produce enough power, making journeys noisy and overtaking slow.
The diesel engine has more power and improved overtaking performance but is still loud and is only available on more expensive Pandas that are designed to go off-road.
Fiat has recently tidied up the Panda range. There are now two distinct ‘families’: Panda and Panda Cross. Panda comes in familiar Pop, Easy and Lounge trims with a chunky-looking 4x4 version topping them off. The latter version is powered by the more up-to-date and efficient 0.9 TwinAir petrol engine, after the company stopped offering it with a diesel engine.
Panda Cross gives the car four-wheel drive and even more rugged look than the 4x4. The list prices of the Cross models are high considering it’s just a cosmetic spruce up, so we’d save the money and pick a regular Panda 4x4 or shop elsewhere.
If you're buying new, then it's worth knowing that the Panda is off the pace when it comes to safety. It was awarded four out of five stars from the independent crash-testers Euro NCAP in 2011, which is respectable for a car from that era. But test standards have become tougher. When the Panda Cross went through the 2015 test, it only got three stars. In 2018, Euro NCAP tested the regular Panda again and cut its score to zero. Crash protection isn't up to the latest standards and some active safety features that can prevent accidents occurring are not fitted.
|Boot size||225 litres|
|Tax (min to max)||£165 to £205 in the first year; £140 from the second year|
Best Fiat Panda for...
Best for Economy – Fiat Panda 1.2 Pop
Now there’s no longer a diesel engine in the Panda line-up, the most economical model is the basic Pop 1.2 which can do 52.3mpg. The Panda Cross Waze can do the same but is more expensive.
Best for Families – Fiat Panda 1.2 Lounge
The Panda 4x4 will drive through blizzards and mudslides to ensure that your kids get to school on time. Tall suspension gives passengers a good view and diesel Pandas are best for motorway journeys.
Best for Performance – Fiat Panda 0.9 TwinAir 4x4
Despite being weighed down with four-wheel-drive hardware and extra body mouldings and equipment, the Panda 4x4 and the Panda Cross are the fastest Pandas in the range. That’s because they’re the only ones powered by the nippy 0.9 TwinAir, turbocharged petrol engine.
One to Avoid – Fiat Panda Waze 1.2
The Panda is first and foremost a cheap and uncomplicated car, and, frankly, a bit long in the tooth. It’s why, unless you really need one of the 4x4 versions, you’re better off keeping it simple. The Waze and City Cross, while attractive, add cost to a car that is too uncompetitive in many areas to justify it.
2012 Fiat Panda launched with a choice of two petrol engines (69hp 1.2, 85hp 0.9 TwinAir) and one diesel (75hp MultiJet), and in a choice of three trims
2014 Fiat Panda Cross launched. Based on the Panda 4x4 but with greater off-road features.
2015 The Fiat Panda diesel engine is upgraded from 75hp to 95hp
2015 Two recalls launched for Fiat Pandas. The first involved models built at the end of 2014, which could have faulty seatbelts. The second recall affected cars built up to April 2014 which could have headlamp failure.
2016 Fiat Panda Easy+ special edition launched, with rear parking sensors and Bluetooth phone pairing for a little more than standard Easy trim.
2017 Panda City Cross launched with urban crossover looks.
2018 Panda Waze launched with urban crossover looks and featuring the Waze navigation app.
2018 Fiat streamlines the Panda range, dropping the diesel engine and creating two distinct Panda families. The engines now reflect the new WLTP test figures, and economy and emissions figures are slightly lower and higher as a result.
Understanding Fiat Panda names
The Panda is available in four trims arranged in ascending order of price and sophistication, and Panda Cross in three. Pop is the cheapest Panda trim
Engine 0.9 TwinAir 90hp
Two petrol engines are offered: a 1.2 producing 69bhp and a more modern, 0.9 that produces 90hp.
All Fiat Panda models can be bought with a manual gearbox. Some are available with an automatic gearbox, which Fiat calls Dualogic.
Fiat Panda Engines
1.2 69hp, 0.9 TwinAir 90hp
The Panda’s engine range starts off with the 1.2-litre petrol, a low-powered, four-cylinder unit that’s modestly economical, and whose main virtue is its low price. You’ll find your right foot is regularly pushed to the floor, even in town, because acceleration is sluggish. It costs £165 to tax in the first year.
The 0.9-litre TwinAir petrol engine, available with the Panda 4x4 and Panda Cross models, is better. It’s a more modern design and slightly more efficient, although these gains are on paper; many owners complain of being unable to achieve anything like the engine’s claimed fuel consumption.
The 1.3 MultiJet 95hp diesel engine is no longer available, so if you want one, you’ll need to buy a used Panda.
Power 0-60 Top Speed
69hp 14.5-14.8s 96-102mph
90hp 12.7-12.8s 101-102mph
Fiat Panda Trims
Panda Pop, Easy, Lounge and 4x4; Panda Cross Waze, City Cross, and Cross
The Fiat Panda’s back-to-basics design suits the steel wheels and plain black side mirrors fitted to the cheapest Panda Pop models. There’s a radio/CD player but no luxuries to speak of - not even head restraints for passengers in the back seats.
For those, you need to upgrade to the Easy trim level, which brings air conditioning, remote central locking and a height-adjustable seat, along with roof rails.
Lounge trim gains alloy wheels, front foglights, Bluetooth phone pairing, electric mirrors and body mouldings. Parking sensors, automatic braking to avoid crashes and a sat-nav that sits on top of the dashboard are optional on all models, and increase the price.
All three trims come with the 1.2 petrol engine only. Not so, the fourth trim, called 4x4. This has the smaller but more powerful 0.9 TwinAir petrol engine, along with chunky styling, raised suspension and, as its name suggests, all-wheel drive. It’s surprisingly accomplished on rough terrain, and can be a clever buy for anyone that wants a go-anywhere car at a budget price.
The other Panda family, called Panda Cross, comes in Waze, City Cross and Cross trims. The first two are powered by the 1.2 petrol engine, and the third by the 0.9 TwinAir. All are better equipped as standard – Waze, so-named because it features the popular Waze navigation app, has air conditioning and Bluetooth connectivity, and City Cross, climate control and off-road alloy wheels.
The Waze has a tough urban look with front and rear skid plates. The City Cross builds on this with smart alloy wheels and side mouldings. The Cross goes a step further with four-wheel drive. It’s an enhanced version of the system found on the Panda 4x4 that is meant to cope better with a variety of challenging surfaces. In case things get extreme, it has extra underbody protection as well as front tow hooks.
Fiat Panda Reliability and warranty
The Panda is getting on now and newer rivals have come along to steal its thunder. Back in 2016 it scored a higher reliability rating in the AutoExpress Driver Power satisfaction survey than the VW Golf . That’s not to say it was perfect: some owners marked the car down for rattles, and its 93rd position out of 150 proved there was room for improvement. Unfortunately, that improvement has failed to materialise. In the current 2018 survey, the Panda is notable by its absence.
Fortunately, the Panda is relatively uncomplicated, with engines that have performed well in other models. It’s covered by a three-year warranty from new, although this is limited to 60,000 miles.
Used Fiat Panda
With new Fiat Panda deals available for less than £100 a month, recent used models look even better value at under £5,000 or around £80 a month for cars that are less than two years-old - as long as you can put up with the least-powerful petrol engine.
Pandas hold their value well. You won’t find any recent models at rock-bottom prices, particularly if you are looking for the diesel-powered 4x4 or Trekking versions, which are in demand.
|Fiat Panda: used car prices||1 year old||2 years old||3 years old|
Best for performance Fiat Panda 0.9 TwinAir 4x4
Best for families Fiat Panda 1.2 Lounge
Best for economy Fiat Panda 1.2 Pop