The Fiat Panda is perhaps the archetypal inexpensive but stylish car. Jonathan Crouch takes a look at the cleverest 85bhp TwinAir version of the latest generation model.
Ten Second Review
The third generation Panda grows a little, gets more efficient engines like this 0.9-litre TwinAir petrol unit and feels a whole lot better bolted together. Other than that, it reprises what has been a phenomenally successful theme. It will continue to be bought by those who recognise that cheap can still mean stylish.
I'd be willing to wager that if you looked at all of the small cars sold for less than £11,000 and analysed the net worth of their owners, the data set would have an outlier in it. You'd find the normal bell curve distribution and there right at the top end, spiking on its own, would be the Fiat Panda. It's the small car bought by people who want a stylish yet unobtrusive vehicle and don't want to come across as nouveau riche. Old money, old rules.
This next generation Panda model, offered with either two or four wheel drive, is still reassuringly familiar, with a recognisable profile, but the detailing is a lot smarter, it's more efficient and quality has improved. In other words, it's still right on message. Especially in pokey, frugal petrol TwinAir guise.
The 85bhp 0.9-litre TwinAir petrol engine isn't the most refined unit you'll come across but it is incredibly efficient and surprisingly pokey, sixty from rest taking 11.2s on the way to 110mph. You even get used to its unconventional note, a putter-putter sound that seems to be exactly the kind of thing perfect for nipping through the back streets of Naples, the city where this model is made. If you are urban-bound and especially keen on cutting costs, there's the option of pushing an 'Eco' button on the dash which cuts your pulling power by nearly 50% to just 100Nm - which can be a be disconcerting if you forget it's on then suddenly need to dive for a gap in the traffic. A better option for Townies would be to specify the optional Dualogic gearbox, a kind of manual transmission without a clutch. Unless you like all that left-foot pumping of course.
Aside from engines and performance, there's plenty else for previous Panda people to appreciate in this third generation design. For a start, there's much more of a 'big car' feel to the way that it drives, thanks to suspension tweaks, greater torsional stiffness and a wider track. The result is that it turns into corners more sharply, rounding them with far less bodyroll than before, an experience aided by greater sensitivity from the electric power steering. There's also a 4x4 version for all-weather peace of mind.
Design and Build
Fiat has striven to comply with the original compact design brief but the latest Panda has grown by a few centimetres in order largely to comply with increasingly stringent safety regulations. Whilst its designers were at it, the temptation to improve passenger and luggage space was impossible to resist. With an overall length of 365cm, width of 164cm and height of 155cm, the Panda can seat five people and rather than the rather apologetic capacity of its predecessor, now features one of the largest luggage compartments in the city car segment. Practicality is boosted by a sliding split/fold rear bench. The Panda has always been a city car that can easily tackle more than just a scoot to the shops. Now that ability is further underscored.
It's easy to forget quite what a marker the Panda has laid down. It was the first city car to win the European Car of the Year award (in 2004) and was the first such car to get a diesel engine (1986). Other firsts? How about the first to offer four-wheel drive (1983) in the iconic Panda 4x4, later carried through to the neat Panda Climbing. This third generation car gets a more flexible interior that features much superior materials quality and attention to build integrity. The build process has been improved to ensure quality and vehicle reliability should be better than before.
Market and Model
Pricing for this 85bhp TwinAir Panda starts at around the £11,000 mark, so you're talking about a model-for-model premium of around £1,200 over the normal 69bhp 1.2-litre petrol variant. There's also the option of a 4x4 version, for a premium of around £2,700 over the cost of a similarly equipped 'Lounge' 2WD model.
Standard equipment on all Panda TwinAir variants includes electric windows, remote central locking, air conditioning, roof rails, a decent stereo, Dualdrive electric power steering, four airbags and body colour bumpers. The extensive options list includes alloy wheels and black pastel paint.
Though ESP stability control is unfortunately optional, safety is otherwise well covered with up to six airbags, double seatbelt pretensioners and an active anti-whiplash head restraint system. In addition, a new Low Speed Collision Mitigation system is available for the first time. This uses a laser sensor on the windscreen to scan a space a short distance in front of the vehicle to determine the risk of a collision. It is capable of automatically activating emergency braking at speeds less than 18mph.
Cost of Ownership
Expect fuel economy and emissions to be citycar sector-leading. Despite its useful 85bhp output, this petrol TwinAir records even better fuel returns (in principle anyway) than the diesel Panda model. In a TwinAir, you can expect 67.3mpg on the combined cycle - or even a bit more if you opt for the Dualogic semi-automatic transmission. That variant records just 95g/km of CO2 but even with the standard manual transmission, you still get 99g/km. Go for the 4x4 version and those returns fall to 57.6mpg and 114g/km.
Ultimately though, fuel and CO2 returns will come down to how you drive, something this Panda can also help with, thanks to Fiat's clever eco:Drive system. Here, users can download information on their driving onto a USB stick which can then be plugged into a computer at home to get information that will improve driving techniques. What else? Insurance? You'll looking at groupings of between 4 and 8 on the 1-50 scale. Oh and I can't leave this section without commenting on one final clever touch. It's here: there's no filler cap. Instead, you've got a fuel filler pipe that opens and closes automatically when the pump is inserted and withdrawn. It won't allow petrol to be pumped into a diesel car - or vica versa. Neat.
This third-generation Panda is better in virtually every regard than its predecessor. And no variant illustrates the step forward it has taken better than this petrol TwinAir model. Petrol flexibility, diesel economy and ready performance are all big draws if you can justify the price premium over the entry-level 69bhp 1.2-litre petrol Panda.
Some buyers won't be able to do that but for those who can, this Panda offers a hi-tech solution to citycar motoring that's hard to resist.