While the Panda has been around Europe since the early 80’s Australian’s have had to wait 30 odd years for the Panda to grace our shores.
I’m a big fan of Top Gear and after hearing James May crack on about his Fiat Panda over the last few years I was very interested to see how it would go when I picked it up.
Looking at the specs I wasn’t expecting a lot from the Panda when I jumped in, the Panda is probably the least powerful car I’ve reviewed but that didn’t stop me from smiling all the way home.
Now thanks to my old mate Joe I spent some time banging around in old Fiats when I was younger. So driving home in the Fiat Panda my mind was wandering back to those days, while the Panda is a new model you can’t help but feel the Fiat DNA in it.
Yes the Panda rides better, has more features, is more comfortable than the old Fiats we use to drive around in but there something so familiar about it it’s not funny to me it was like catching up with an old friend I hadn’t seen for years.
On the outside the Panda is very boxish, the design brief for the Panda was the squircle basically a square with rounded off corners and everywhere you look there’s a squircle widows, lights, the body.
On the inside the squircles continue from the dash, stereo, buttons even the centre of the steering wheel is squircle. While it sounds a touch over done it’s really not and the panda has a rather design on the inside.
The steering wheel is comfortable to hold and contains buttons for the stereo.
The instrument panel contains rev tacho one side speedo the other, there is a small lcd in between that will display information such as fuel economy.
I like the look of the dash and it’s lines while it looks simple it’s extremely functional it has an fairly large open hole plus a regular glove box.
The audio system is based on Microsoft’s Windows Mobile for Automotive, the systems allows you to connect your phone or mp3 player to the system.
The system has voice recognition and can also be controlled by the steering wheel buttons meaning you don’t have to take your hands off the steering wheel.y panel.
This Panda came with the optional Blue&Me TomTom® which allows you to connect the TomTom to car via the a slot in the dash.
Front seats which feature more squicles are reasonably comfortable, being a small car there is not as much in the way of adjustment but I did find a comfortable driving position.
Rear seat was comfortable but there is a distinct lack of leg room my teenage daughters found it squashy I got in the back and I could not get totally behind the drivers seat.
Storage room is reasonable with 225 litres of space which stretches to 870 litres with the back seats folded.
Under the bonnet this Panda was equipped with Fiat’s 0.9L twin cylinder pumping out 63kW and 145Nm. While it doesn’t look like much on paper the engine is a real little cracker.
It will get easily keep up with traffic easy due to good dose of low end torque and it really likes to rev in fact it likes to rev so much that it’s very easy for it to hit the red line very quickly.
One thing I’ve always thought about Fiat is they make great sounding engines and the Twin Air is no exception although it’s not overly noisy it’s a sweet sounding engine that again brings back memories of those old Fiat’s from years ago
No regular readers will know that because I spend a lot of time in peak hour bumper to bumper traffic fuel economy does suffer on all my reviews. But I found the fuel economy in the Panda amazing. While I did record high of 8.2L/100km but spent most of it’s time hovering in the low 6’s. In fact the Panda is the most economical car I’ve reviewed.
The Panda is also equip with an eco function and start stop technology so the engine does switch off when you stop at a set of lights but then re starts when you take your foot of the brake.
The Dualogic gearbox takes a bit of getting use to, it is essentially a manual gear box with an electronic clutch so there is only 2 pedals. Simplest way for me to put it is it’s like cross between a manual and an auto. It has two mode auto and manual mode if you leave it in auto the gear box will change gears for you like an automatic does, shift it to manual mode and as it suggests you change gears yourself.
At first it take me a little bit to get use to because there is a pause in between gears which causes it times to be a little jerky certainly not as smooth as a regular automatic.
But once I got use to its little nuances I found it quite enjoyable, if you leave it in auto mode then it quite happily change gears for you although at times I did find that it tended to change up a little to early in the rev range specially when in eco mode.
I did find the best way to get the most out of that wonderful TwinAir and the most enjoyable driving experience was to have it in manual mode so I spent most of the week driving around like that.
One thing I did find unnerving at times was that the engine did seem like it was going to stall when pulling up at a set of lights(although it never did).
On the road the Panda handled great, ride was nice and compliant it seemed to soak up the bumps rather well.
Being a Fiat it handles rather well when corner sure there is a little bit of lean but certainly not as much you might expect.
The electric assisted has a decent enough weight to it, it also has a city function which gives the steering a lighter feel for parking although I found the steering light enough so I only used it once or twice. I would suggest you use it for parking only as it does take a lot of feel from the steering. Brakes are disc and the front and drum at the rear but do offer decent stopping power.
Safety wise the panda has a full set of safety features including six airbags, ABS with Brake Assist System (BAS), Electronic Stability Program (ESP) and an active anti-whiplash head restraint system, While it does have rear parking sensors it does loose points for not having a rear view camera.
After a week I do now understand why James May likes his Panda so much, it may not be the flashiest car on the road, there may be others with more features.
But there is something the Panda has that a lot of cars specially ones in its segment don’t and that’s personality.
This Panda is an honest car it delivers what it promises nothing more nothing less, the Panda rides well, the TwinAir engine is wonderful, while its super economical, it comes with more fuel saving technology like start stop.
While back seat real estate might be in short supply and the dual logic is not as smooth as others but if your after a safe, economical car small to either do the commute to work during the week. One that’s easy to park in those tight inner city streets where parking is tight or something that is not run of the mill and has character or squircles you definitely should be have the Fiat Panda on your list.