2014 FIAT PANDA REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Light hatch
Engine/Trans: 51kW/102Nm 1.2-litre 4cyl petrol | 5spd manual
Price: $16,500 (driveaway)
Fuel Economy claimed: 5.2l/100km | tested: 7.9l/100km
Cute, round and cuddly... and we're not talking about our deputy 'lead-me-to-the-burgers' editor. (Hey..! - DepEd.) But that's the Fiat Panda; it's as appealing as a teddy bear.
This, the third generation Panda, kicks off with the entry level Pop configuration - our test car this week.
At $16,500 driveaway, it’s well priced, but it’s also basic.
Its cute-as-pie sibling, the Fiat 500, is walking out of showrooms in droves, outnumbering the Panda around 25:1. Does that mean you should pass over the Panda for the 500? Well, it’s better than you think.
We’ve spent a week behind the wheel of this diminutive five-door to see where it fits in the grand scheme of things.
Quality: If a car was rated solely on the amount of hard plastic in an interior, then the Panda would blitz the field. Surprisingly, though, the plastic looks okay.
In fact, it kind-of works and gives things a breezy 'toyland' feel.
Like the dashtop and door trims; they have what appears at first glance to be a cross-hatched texture. But look closely and you’ll find it’s a repeated pattern of the word “Panda” embossed into the dark plastic.
Sure, the cost-cutting is evident. The exterior door handles and mirrors are unpainted black plastic. But, in the white of our test car, they actually suit (Pandas are black and white, after all).
Apple devotees would love this little Fiat - there are app icon-like squares with rounded corners everywhere. Fiat calls them “squircles”; almost everywhere you look the squircle motif has been utilised.
Steering wheel, stereo knobs, door handles, speaker covers, cupholders - yep, everywhere.
Comfort: The seats in the Panda are excellent. Yes, the material is quite colourful and canvas-like, but the padding is great and there are small bolsters to keep you from sliding around.
The debit to the ledger is the impossibly hard headrests. The rear suffers this same issue.
The rear-seat is padded well though, and foot-room is good (though knee-room is a little too tight; this correspondent’s knees pressed into the seat back).
The driving position is very upright, almost like you’re driving a little van. Fiat has done this to maximise the room available; it works well, considering the Panda is only 3653mm long.
Equipment: Standard equipment on the base model Pop is a little lacking, but then it is a cheap car.
It comes with 14-inch steel wheels and hubcaps, there’s a four-speaker stereo (sound quality isn’t great), Bluetooth with voice control, electric front windows and a multifunction steering wheel.
The wing mirrors are adjusted manually and the rear windows are operated with traditional winders.
While its cheaper 500 stablemate gets a leather-wrapped steering wheel, the Panda makes do with a plastic jobbie.
Storage: According to Fiat, there are 14 storage spaces in the Panda, including the 225 litre boot. Lay the back seats down and there is 870 litres of capacity.
All four doors have door bins, but they’re too skinny to hold waterbottles. There are varying sizes of cupholders up front and a small coin tray, while the rear gets three tiered cupholders.
The Panda misses out on map-pockets on the seat backs, and there isn’t a glovebox, rather a small lower shelf for storing the owners manual and a large open space in the fascia for everything else.
We wish these were covered however; you’ll need to take anything valuable with you to save it being permanently on display, or stash it in the boot.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: Say what you want about the styling, but this is a great little car to drive.
It sounds like an ‘80s engine and with only 51kw and 102Nm to motivate it, it’s not what you’d call fast.
But rowing through the slick five-speed box, enjoying the darty steering and revelling in the sporty handling - the Panda is a barrel of fun to punt around the place.
And there is enough there for squirting into the traffic if a little zing is called for.
We’d like the clutch take-up to be a little earlier though and the gearing a little shorter.
That said, it’s easy to drive and, with a shift-indicator to help choosing the right ratio for the speed, it should be economical.
We did manage to register 7.9 litres/100km with exuberant driving around town.
A small debit for us is the lane-change detent on the indicator stalk.
Instead of the usual triple-flash signal, when the indicator is lightly pressed the Panda gives a five-flash indication which is far more than needed, especially when exiting roundabouts.
Refinement: Despite its boxy shape, the Panda’s drag co-efficient is 0.32, so it’s quite stable at speed.
While the engine has a nice gravelly note, the volume isn’t too intrusive. The Panda does exhibit some road noise, however.
Ride and Handling: While most European cars tend to be overly firm, the Panda strikes an excellent balance of a supple ride with good handling.
It can be confidently tipped into corners with surprising pace, and it has a very neutral balance.
The steering is light in “city” mode and adds weight (but not feedback) when in normal mode. City is the best setting, and actually feels quite natural after a while. Turn in is sharp and it’s very direct, making it quite enjoyable to wheel around.
Braking: The Pop has the thinnest discs of the Panda range, with 257mm diameter fronts which are 12mm wide.
In contrast the other three models have a 22mm width. Despite this, the 950kg Panda Pop slows with good feel through the pedal and progressive bite.
ANCAP rating: 5-Star ANCAP rating, scoring 32.78 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: The Panda’s safety-suite includes six airbags, ABS, Brake Assist System (BAS), Electronic Stability Program (ESP) and anti-whiplash head restraint system.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/150,000km
Service costs: Price depends on interval. The Panda’s intervals are set at 12 months/15,000km. Contact your local Fiat dealer for costs.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Volkswagen Polo Trendline ($16,990) - Currently the star of the light-car market, the Polo’s fabulous interior, space, and drive makes it well worth a look. But you will pay more for the privilege. (see Polo reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
It is a good little car, this Fiat Panda.
Sure, it’s small, but it’s practical, a hoot to steer and cheap to buy.
It’s also unique.
Its problem is that an equally fun-to-drive light car is already occupying Fiat's ranks and it’s $2500 cheaper.
The Fiat 500 Pop is a bargain, has the same engine and is even better looking. But it falls down on practicality.
So, if you want to drive something chic, then the 500 is the one to go for. But if you want to carry people around occasionally, or load some cargo, then the Panda is the car to choose. Pretty simple, really.
It just proves that there aren’t any grey areas with the Panda. Everything is pretty much black and white… heh heh.
Pricing (excludes on-roads except where noted)
- Fiat Panda Pop manual - $16,500 drive-away
- Fiat Panda Easy manual - $19,000
- Fiat Panda Easy auto - $20,500
- Fiat Panda Lounge auto - $22,500
- Fiat Panda Trekking - $24,000