2014 FIAT PANDA REVIEW
What’s Hot: Funky styling, drives well, TwinAir is a gem
What’s Not: It’s a bit of a pricey Panda
X-FACTOR: Fun to drive, endearingly cute and Italian to its core.
Vehicle Style: Light hatchback
Price: $16,500 driveaway (Panda Pop) to $24,000 (Panda Trekking)
|1.2 petrol 4cyl / 5sp man (Pop)||51kW/102Nm||5.2|
|0.9 turbo petrol 2cyl/5sp man (5sp auto)||63kW/145Nm||4.2 (4.1 auto)|
|1.3 turbo diesel 4cyl / 5 sp man||55kW/190Nm||4.2|
What’s this? Another diminutive Fiat lobbing into the sub-$20k bracket?
And why not? A comprehensive re-think of pricing and model strategies across Fiat's Australian range has seen sales soar - especially of the tiny Fiat 500.
Of course, a $14,000 drive-away price for the 500 Pop certainly helps, but it's proving to be the right product with the right pricetag.
The arrival of the Punto gave prospective Fiat buyers a five-door option for just $2000 more than the entry-level 500 Pop. But now there’s a new budget option in Fiat Australia’s catalogue: the Panda.
The Panda slots in just above the Punto with a $16,500 drive-away price, and, despite costing slightly more than the Punto, it's actually slightly smaller.
But with funky style and city-friendly proportions, the Panda has more than a few things going for it.
The Panda trades significantly on its visual aesthetics, aesthetics that are primarily based on the 'squircle' - the illegitimate lovechild of a square and a circle.
The speaker grilles are peppered with them, the inner radius of the steering wheel is a gigantic squircle and there are even squircles embossed into the rooflining.
Opt for a mid or high-grade Panda, and you also get squircle-themed upholstery.
The things might be everywhere but it’s actually quite a fitting visual theme. The Panda is boxy, yet not. A pragmatic square with comfortably soft edges.
It's small (size-wise, the Panda sits between the 500 and the Punto), but an upright seating position means there’s adequate space for four adults.
The controls are logically laid out, and the interior is generally pleasing to the eye, but the entry-level Panda Pop has a stripped-out feel.
The wing mirrors are manually adjusted, the rear windows have to be wound down manually and there are no grab handles in the back. Even the glovebox is missing on the Pop, instead there’s just an open shelf.
Another thing to note is that the steering wheel only adjusts for rake and not reach, and on the Pop and Easy grades the driver’s seat doesn’t have height adjustment.
On the plus side, even the base Pop can be optioned with a TomTom-supplied navigation unit, which plugs into a socket on the dashboard.
For sound, the Panda Pop makes do with a four-speaker audio system rather than the six-speaker system enjoyed by the rest of the range.
Luggage volume is also decent for a B-segment light car, with 225 litres with the 50-50 split rear seats raised, and 870 litres with them folded down.
ON THE ROAD
We took a look at all four models at launch, the Panda Pop, Easy, lounge and Trekking, and sampled all three engines on offer.
The entry 1.2 litre Pop may be pretty bare inside and only have an underwhelming 51kW and 102Nm underfoot, but it actually drives alright.
It takes plenty of coaxing (not to mention patience) to get up to speed and the absence of an auto trans in the base model means you’ll be rowing through the gears plenty. Yet the light clutch and smooth gearshift means this isn’t a huge chore.
Only having five gears equates to pretty high revs at a highway cruise, however at just over 3000rpm it actually revs lower at 100km/h than the bigger-engined Punto Pop.
Fiat’s perky turbo two-cylinder TwinAir engine powers the bulk of the range, starting with the Panda Easy (available in both manual and auto) and the up-spec and auto-only Panda Lounge.
It’s by far the best engine. Torquey down low, a little slow to rev but huge fun to wring hard, the TwinAir tugs the Panda around with little complaint.
There’s just 63kW and 145Nm to employ, but the fat torque curve endows the Panda TwinAir variants with an extra dollop of driveability.
We didn’t get to sample the automatic at the launch, but it’s essentially the same DuoLogic automated single-clutch manual that’s in the 500.
The range-topping Panda Trekking gets a 1.3 litre diesel, which has a modest 55kW and a reasonably healthy 190Nm of torque.
Unfortunately, it’s extraordinarily laggy. There’s a distinct pause between pressing the throttle and the engine starting to deliver 'oomph', so it feels a lot more sluggish as a result.
Having the most torque does mean the Panda Trekking deals with hills far better, but the absence of an automatic transmission limits its appeal. It’s also no more efficient than the TwinAir.
However handling-wise, we preferred the Trekking. It feels more planted at the front, and the steering feels sharper when tipping into a corner.
Damp weather challenges it for traction, but rear-end stability is good.
In fact, put any Panda on the right road and you'll find it’s huge fun to pilot… just make sure you keep the engine on the boil.
If price is your primary motivator, skip the Panda and get yourself a 500 Pop, or a Punto Pop if you simply must have five doors.
But if you want something a little quirky, something that will stand out from the rest of the light hatch crowd yet won’t break the bank, check out a Panda Easy manual.
It’s the best configuration. You get that wonderful TwinAir engine, a decent manual transmission, good standard equipment levels and a retail price of $19,000.
And here's the problem: at $19k, the Panda Easy is perilously close to cars from the next size segment. Cars like the Nissan Pulsar and Suzuki SX4 retail for $18,990, and another grand will get you into a base model Corolla or Cerato.
But they don't have squircles.
Pricing (excludes on-road costs unless stated)
- 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