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Fiat Panda Review

Paul Murrell reviews the new Fiat Panda with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety and verdict.

IN A NUTSHELL: Fiat thinks outside the box and comes up with a rounded-off square for the new Fiat Panda city car.

PRACTICAL MOTORING SAYS: The Panda is aimed squarely (or round-corner squarely) at first car buyers, at people looking for a second family car and even at empty-nesters. We can also see it appealing to small businesses such as florists and caterers, for example, looking for a quirky small delivery vehicle – folding the rear seat forward doesn’t create a flat floor, but it looks like the rear seats could be completely removed by loosening a few simple bolts. With five doors, five seats and a reasonably spacious interior, it deserves to succeed.

Designers – you gotta love ‘em. There they sit in their designy little offices, behind designy little desks, and come up with designy little ideas that they hope nobody has ever thought of before, or if they have, that everyone else has forgotten.

Fiat’s designers came up with an odd little shape that’s a cross between a circle and a square and their obsession with this piece of design inspiration has seen them apply it to just about every element of the new Panda apart from the wheels (although if they could have worked out how to square them off, we have little doubt they would have!)

It’s on the door handles, wheel arches, speakers, gearlever knob, steering wheel controls, handbrake, on the seat backs, infotainment controls, headliner, steering wheel boss, instruments, wheels, certain windows… even the steering wheel is sort of squared off.

It’s kind of fun, although we question how long the amusement will last before the novelty wears off.

Fiat Panda offers clever packaging

Fiat Chrysler is out to turn a couple of niche brands into serious market players. Sales are already up 53.5 percent since Veronica Johns took control, and that’s impressive because the number includes not just the niche Alfa and Fiat range but also the established Chrysler and Dodge products.

Johns’ marketing approach is deceptively simple: set an attractively low entry price and drag potential buyers into showrooms. She did it with the Fiat 500 Pop and the initial allocation of cars sold out in just two weeks, forcing the factory to quickly punch through a further 1000 cars for the Australian market.

Now the Panda joins the 500, Punto and Freemont in the local line-up.

The Panda is undeniably a city car and sits right between the 500 and Punto. Once again, there’s a headline entry price: $16,500 driveaway for the Pop, rising to $19,000 (plus ORC) for the Easy, $22,500 (plus ORC) for the Lounge and $24,000 for the all-wheel drive Trekking. All come with a generous three year, 150,000km warranty, but no capped price servicing.

In Europe, the Panda scores a four-star Euro NCAP rating, but we’re told the cars have additional safety equipment for Australia, including Low Speed Collision Mitigation, six airbags, anti-lock braking with brake assist, electronic stability control and active anti-whiplash head restraints.

The Fiat Panda is undeniably a city car.

The Panda comes with a choice of three engines. Standard in the Pop is the 1.2-litre four-cylinder engine. The official zero to 100km/h time is 14.2 seconds, but it doesn’t feel as slow as the numbers would suggest. The five-speed manual gearbox is slick to operate, but highway travel would be considerably more relaxed with the inclusion of a sixth ratio. The 875cc two-cylinder turbo unit has the lowest carbon dioxide emissions of any mass-produced petrol engine in the world. It has an almost-laughable growl from the engine, much like a playful puppy and is noticeably quicker than the 1.2-litre engine (0-100km/h in 11.2 seconds). We’ve said before that the 0.9-litre TwinAir combined with Fiat’s Dualogic auto is not the happiest engine/transmission combination and the same applies in the Panda. Left to its own devices, it jerks up through the gears and in manual mode, it pays to ease off the throttle before each gear change. The 1.3-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel engine is fitted to the 4×4-inspired Trekking model. It emits a friendly diesel rumble at almost any revs and there is no auto option, limiting its appeal to the intended market. Despite being officially slower than the TwinAir (by 1.6 seconds to 100km/h), the better engine torque from lower revs makes it a more enjoyable drive.

Interior space is good by the standards of the category, with 14 storage compartments including the opening in the dashboard which is both a style element and a practical storage space. Blue&Me connectivity is standard to permit MP3 music players and mobile phones to be operated hands-free using voice activation or steering wheel mounted controls. TomTom sat nav is an option, and all models are fitted with a dashtop docking device so the unit is fully integrated.

The additional rear windows in the C-pillars improve rearward visibility (naturally, they’re rounded squares) and they merge into the rear light clusters, set high to reduce the chances of damage from minor knocks. The body kit on the Trekking model mimics those on more serious off-roaders and imparts a more rugged exterior appearance, although it is hard to take it seriously.

Fiat Panda offers a roomy and functional interior

The rear seat back folds to create a useful 870 litres of boot space and a luggage platform of more than two metres. Unfortunately, when folded, the boot floor is far from flat. With the rear seat back in the upright position, luggage space is somewhat compromised at just 225 litres.

The eco:Drive system allows really keen owners to download driving data to a USB and then uploaded to a computer for an analysis of the driver’s personal eco:Index. Way too introspective for me, although Fiat tells us the system has enabled 64,000 users to save 4300 tonnes of CO2 by improving their driving styles.

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PRICE from $16,500 (driveaway) WARRANTY three-year, 150,000 kilometres SAFETY RATING to be advised ENGINE 1.2-litre inline four-cylinder petrol, 51kW @ 5500rpm, 102Nm @ 3000rpm; 0.9-litre two-cylinder inline four-cylinder petrol, 63kW @ 5500rpm, 145Nm @ 1900rpm; 1.3-litre four-cylinder inline turbodiesel, 55kW @ 4000rpm, 190Nm @ 1500rpm; TRANSMISSION five-speed manual, five-speed Dualogic auto BODY 3.65m (L) 1.64m (W) 1.55m (H) WEIGHT 950-1040kg; THIRST 4.1-5.2L/100km (combined) 91 RON unleaded.

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Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober