What is it?
Fiat is enjoying a revival in the city car sector it did so much to help establish thanks to the all-round rightness of the latest Panda. Launched in 2011, it’s now established itself as a genuine rival to models such as the VW Up and Kia Picanto, after the competitiveness of the original ‘new Panda’ faded.
This renewed appeal was enhanced last year with the arrival of the super-able 4x4 model (and its look-alike front-wheel drive sibling, the cheaper and greener Trekking). These models not only look really cute but the 4x4 is also far more able off-road than you’d ever expect. Good traction and its compact dimensions make it an unlikely off-road hero.
Praise be, this is an Italian car that actually does the vibrancy part well. Pert suspension shows a charming spirit when darting about town and it can even raise a smile out of city limits too. The trade-off is a ride firmer than, say, a VW Up, but we think it’s worth it. As before, there is a DualDrive button to make the steering ridiculously light, but why Fiat feels you’d want to trade the interaction is lost on us.
On the engine front, 1.2 is the cheapest and best, but the punchier 0.9 TwinAir is the most intriguing. Its odd engine note is cute and turbo- assisted torque provides muscle beyond its means. Don’t bother with the clattery diesel though. It’s torquey too, but vocal with it, and lacks the necessary immediacy. In all Pandas, if you do switch off, Fiat has debuted a low speed collision mitigation option, which will emergency-brake if it detects a looming prang. Clever.
On the inside
The Panda has always been about practicality over style, in contrast to its 500 sibling. It’s five doors only, the interior swallows five, it’s easy to access as it stands higher than the city car norm and, inside, it’s exceedingly practical throughout. The dash is designed to stow as much clutter as you care to carry, while the design is stylishly utilitarian. It all looks and feels much more upmarket than the old Panda, and this time round it’s actually made from solid plastics, rather than packing materials.
There are six interior colour combinations to go with the 10 exterior hues, as Fiat tries to bring in a bit of Mini-like personalisation.
Fiat has broadened the model line- up with the addition of the TwinAir engine. Pop, Easy and Lounge trim lines mirror the 500, with Easy being the, err, easiest choice as it comes with air con, remote locking, roof rails and a better stereo. Choose this with the 85bhp 0.9 TwinAir and you’ll also get 99g/km CO2 and economy of 67.3mpg: perfect.