2014 Fiat Panda review
Isaac Bober’s 2014 Fiat Panda review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and rating.
FIAT IS A BRAND THAT’S known for small cars. And the Fiat Panda is one of the staples of its line-up.Indeed, the first Fiat Panda rolled off the production line more than 30 years ago (1980) and production (and sales) of the boxy town car has passed 6.4 million units globally. Despite that, the car you’re looking at here is only the third-generation Fiat Panda.
Hugely popular in Europe, the Fiat Panda is, according to Fiat and Chrysler marketing boss, Olivier Francois, “the official car for doing whatever the hell you like”. Hmm, Olivier obviously never tried fitting a child seat into the Panda … but I’ll come back to that.Anyone who has even a passing interest in cars will know Fiat for its most famous of small cars, the 500 which was known – back in 1938 when it motor-vated pre-war Italy – the Topolino. But it was the Nuova 500 in 1957 that captured our hearts and is now kept alive with the new Fiat 500.
According to Fiat press guff, “the Fiat Panda has always been synonymous with style, practicality and useability, and this latest version builds on these key ‘pillars’”.
Building on the rugged, utilitarian looks of its predecessor, the new Fiat Panda is a gentle evolution rather than a radical restyling of the popular tiddler car. Basically, where its predecessor had sharp lines or square edges this new model features softer lines and rounded corners – it’s all designed to make the Panda appear bigger than its physical dimensions suggest.
You only have to look at the large, contoured windows to see the lengths to which Fiat’s designers have gone to make the new Panda look big and breezy. Some of the style changes are more practical, like the tail-lights which sit higher to avoid potential damage from incidental rear-end bumps, and the bumper strip which adds an extra element of protection from minor damage.
BEHIND THE WHEEL
Fiat has worked hard to eke out as much room inside of the Panda as is possible and they’re to be commended for the effort. For instance, despite only being 3650mm long and with a wheelbase of just 2300mm, the Panda is able to seat five adults, although the three in the back would need to be very close friends.The dashboard is functional looking and, clad in hard-wearing but quality plastic which should suffer the knocks and bumps of everyday life without showing too much wear. All of the dials are well laid out so they’re easily read and understood with just a glance, and the overall feel from the interior is one of utilitarian rather than basic.
Apparently there are 14 hidey holes stashed around the Panda’s cabin. That may well be true, but I couldn’t find all 14 and, some of the storage spaces that are there aren’t the most useful. Finding a place to stash your keys, wallet and phone, etc, can be tricky – and the square shape of the cup holders can make storing some cups and bottles difficult.
The storage compartment ahead of the front passenger, and the glovebox below it, even if it is a little on the small side, are both neat, but I couldn’t get an iPad or Microsoft Surface tablet to fit comfortably. That said, you can sit them in the door pockets without hassle.Much has been made of the Panda’s handbrake with some outlets suggesting it makes a good armrest. It doesn’t. What it does, do, however, is work well as a handbrake… but that’s as far as it goes. And, if you drive a long distance to work each day like me (100km each way), then an armrest can be vital to making a drive less tiresome, but of course you can’t have everything in a modestly-priced package like the Panda.
There’s excellent vision out of the Fiat Panda thanks to the deep windows all around and large-ish (for the size of the vehicle) wing mirrors. And while the Panda driver’s seat is better than the Fiat 500’s, it’s still a little too perch-like to make long-distance driving comfortable.Improved sound insulation means the new Panda is quieter across a range of surfaces, with none of the booming into the boxy cabin you might expect – indeed, it’s quieter across broken bitumen than a Mazda CX-5.
ROOM & PRACTICALITY
Fiat’s press material, and plenty of other motoring sites it should be said, have praised the Panda for its practicality and versatility. This third-generation model does offer an extra 26mm of width at the front and an extra 5mm at the back compared with the previous model, and you get an extra 20mm of length – those figures, to all intents and purposes, are more or less just another way of saying there’s a bee’s appendage more room inside the new Panda compared with the old.
Clever slim-seats mean that getting into and out of either the front or the back of the Panda is easy enough, even for a six-footer like me. And the 21omm of travel (forward and backwards) for the front seats means it’s easy for taller drivers and passengers to get comfortable behind the wheel – although the steering is rake (up and down) only with no reach adjustment.The back seat can be folded in either a 50:50 or 60:40 configuration and boot space goes from a seat-up 225 litres to a decent 870 litres with the seats folded down.
Sadly, the Panda falls down as a potential small family car. The boot with the seats up is too small to hold either a pram or a stroller and, while a child seat can be fitted into the back seat, albeit with some twisting and turning and cursing to get it through the rear door opening, it makes the front seats utterly useless for anyone with legs (see our photos). Push the seat back so it’s comfortable, and there’s no room for the child’s legs.
The other problem the Panda has is the existence of that other box on wheels, the Skoda Yeti. The Skoda, thanks to its practical and flexible interior (with rear seats that can be slide forwards and backwards, and even removed altogether) is an excellent small family car – it’s what the smaller Panda is pretending to be.
While both the Easy and Lounge specification Fiat Panda come with the award-winning 875cc Twinair turbocharged four-cylinder which produces 63kW and 145Nm, the variant I tested is the Pop which comes standard with a bigger 1.2-litre naturally-aspirated four-cylinder. But, despite being bigger, the 1.2L engine makes less power and torque, producing 51kW at 5500rpm and 102Nm at 3000rpm.This engine gets its power to the road through a five-speed manual transmission and via the front wheels. Fuel consumption is a claimed 5.2L/100km combined and that plays out with the 5.4L/100km I achieved over the course of my week with the Panda (I travelled more than 900km).
Despite only weighing 950kg (without passengers and luggage), the Fiat Panda Pop’s 1.2-litre four isn’t a particularly smooth engine. And you really do have to keep stirring the gearbox and keep the revs up to ensure you can keep up with traffic on the highway – and that’s not pleasant, as the deeper you go into the rev range the coarser the engine becomes.
Indeed, show the Panda at a hill and speed quickly falls off as you start rowing back down through the gears in an attempt to maintain momentum, which you can only do by plumping for a low gear and mashing the throttle into the floor. Our road test editor, Paul Murrell reckons the engine’s weakness comes from it being an older-style eight-valve unit rather than a modern 16-valve engine, and I reckon he’s spot on.
One other gripe I have with the Fiat Panda is its doughy clutch action and short first and second gear; it’s almost impossible to move away from a standstill smoothly. And it doesn’t get any better once you’re up and running with that doughy clutch making for less than smooth gearshifts.
RIDE & HANDLING
Despite feeling quite tall when you first climb behind the wheel, the Fiat Panda is a surprisingly nimble and fun-to-drive little car. The type of suspension at the front and the back remains unchanged from the previous generation car, but the MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear have been tweaked for both improved noise insulation and handling.
At low, middling, or high speed, around town, on the highway or on a twisting road, the Fiat Panda impresses with handling that’ll surprise and delight. It’s comfortable across broken patches of road with good body control and recovery, in stark contrast to the Fiat 500 which tends to skip across poor surfaces.That said, bigger hits are less well controlled at the front than they are at the back, with the nose feeling a little too spongey over the sharp speed humps you find in suburban streets.
The revised suspension, Fiat says, has slashed body roll by around 35% over its predecessor and I’d believe that, because while the Panda still rolls through corners it’s not worrying. And despite understeer being improved by 20%, the Panda, when lent on, even slightly, will still push its nose wide of the corner – a slight lift of the throttle is all that’s needed to bring it back onto line, though.
The steering is light in its action which is great for parking in tight spaces and manoeuvring around town, but there’s enough weight and feel to ensure you remain connected to the doings of the front wheels at highway speeds too.
Fiat is adamant the new Panda is one of its best-built cars with the highest-level of quality control the brand has seen. Indeed, every new car before rolling off the production line cops a photometric scan to check the bodywork (against a master example) for any imperfections. From there each new car undergoes a static noise check to listen for things like the noise of the seats sliding in their rails, or the windows and doors being opened and closed. No excuses then, Fiat.
Back in the real world, most small cars tend to be less well insulated than their bigger, more volume-oriented siblings. That’s not the case with the Panda. Thanks to a decent amount of insulation the Fiat Panda’s a pretty quiet place to be, although there’s a faint whistle of wind noise at highway speed due to the square shape of the car.
The plastics used throughout are hard-wearing and seem to be of a reasonable quality to ensure the Panda will stand-up to daily abuse. And the carpets while certainly not what you’d call luxurious seem tough and should hide stains reasonably well. The Fiat Panda is covered by a three-year, 150,000km warranty which includes roadside assistance during the warranty period.
PRICING & EQUIPMENT
The Fiat Panda Pop I’m testing here is listed at a drive-away price of $16,500 but it’s not a cut-price, bare bones city car like some of its price-point competitors. And due to the type of vehicle that it is, it’s likely to have wider appeal than, say, a Suzuki Alto.So, what do you get for $16,500? Well, the entry-level Pop gets body-coloured bumpers, 14-inch steel wheels with covers, halogen headlights with daytime running lights, ‘Tricot’ design seat fabric (the Easy and Lounge have ‘Rubik’ design seat fabric), steering-wheel mounted audio controls, air-con, remote central locking, electric front windows (manual window winders in the back), space-saver spare tyre, and a mounting point for the cost-optional, portable Tom Tom sat-nav unit.
All Pandas feature the Blue&Me infotainment system which allows Bluetooth equipped devices such as phones and MP3 music players to be linked to the vehicle. Occupants can control the devices using voice activation via a display panel that works in concert with a microphone in the roof, or through the steering wheel-mounted buttons.
The Fiat Panda carries a five-star ANCAP crash safety rating and features a host of active and passive safety systems. It has six airbags (dual front, front side, and side curtain), and front seatbelts with pre-tensioners and load limiters. The front seats are also equipped with an anti-whiplash restraint system while the rear seats feature head restraints and combined Isofix/top-tether attachments for child seats.
ABS anti-lock brakes are fitted as standard, along with a Brake Assist System (BAS), and Electronic Stability Program (ESP), while a Hill Holder will hold the brakes for up to two seconds after the foot brake has been released to prevent the Panda from rolling backwards on an incline.
The top-spec Fiat Panda Lounge is available with Low Speed Collision Mitigation (LSCM) which can recognise obstacles in the path of the car (via a laser sensor in the windscreen) and apply the brakes if the driver fails to do so. Depending on the speed, the system can either avoid obstacles altogether or minimise the consequences of an impact.