Fiat Panda review
The Fiat Panda is a characterful city car with lots of practical touches, but isn't the most fun to drive
The Fiat Panda is a city car offering something a little different to rivals such as the Hyundai i10 and Skoda Citigo. But while some newer competitors can’t match the Panda’s personality or style, they do offer more modern designs and additional space.
Still, the latest Fiat Panda is bigger than previous incarnations, and there are plenty of storage spaces dotted around the cabin, as well as a generously-sized boot that expands easily thanks to a sliding rear bench.
With decent ride comfort, sprightly handling and excellent all-round visibility, the Panda is a terrific town car. On longer motorway trips, a lack of refinement from the petrol engines can become tiresome, though.
Interior trim quality doesn’t always match that of more premium rivals, but the latest Panda is developing an excellent reputation for reliability in our Driver Power satisfaction surveys.
Fiat has a well established reputation for building highly popular city cars, with iconic models such as the Topolino, built from 1936 to 1955, and the original 500, which was produced between 1957 and 1975.
The Panda first picked up the torch all the way back in 1980 when the Giugiaro-designed original went on sale. It had a longer life than even its famous forebears, with 4.5 million examples being sold globally over 31 years in various markets. The new generation Panda, introduced in Europe in 2003, was never going to repeat that trick, but remained popular in spite of the arrival of the trendy new Fiat 500 in 2007.
In 2011, Fiat introduced this latest, third-generation Panda. It looks less basic, and as a result has a more characterful, trendy feel – although it retains the second-generation car’s upright, boxy shape. And while the previous model was built in Poland, this car is assembled at Fiat’s plant in Naples, where the Alfa Romeo Alfasud used to be built.
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There is a wide range of trim levels, too. Kicking things off is the sparsely equipped entry-level Pop, but move up to the higher-spec Lounge models and you'll get features such as alloy wheels and air-conditioning. Sitting in the middle of the Panda range is the Easy trim level, while buyers can also choose the Trekking model, which features some rugged-looking body cladding.
The Fiat Panda 4x4 is another version with off-road styling, although it does have all-wheel drive to back this up and help in the rough stuff. There’s also the even more extreme Panda Cross, which adds extra ride height and hill descent control to the standard Panda 4x4 package.
Engines, performance and drive
Around town, the Fiat Panda really shines thanks to its high driving position, excellent visibility and light controls. The soft suspension also means it easily soaks up bumps in the road.
The City button on the dash is also handy as it lightens up the steering – so much so that you can make light adjustments with one finger – and makes squeezing in and out of tight gaps in town much easier.
The Panda handles well on the open road, too, but sadly the engines can struggle. It’s a shame, as their lack of refinement means rivals like the Hyundai i10, as well as the near-identical Skoda Citigo, SEAT Mii and Volkswagen up! city car trio, have a distinct advantage on longer motorway journeys, especially when compared to more affordable petrol-powered versions of the Fiat. The diesel is a little better in this regard, but unfortunately it’s only available in the most expensive Panda Trekking trim level, or in the Panda 4x4.
The Panda engine line-up comprises two petrols and a single diesel. The 84bhp 0.9-litre twin-cylinder petrol TwinAir engine is the most fun choice; not only does it serve up the most responsive performance, it also makes an entertaining noise as it goes about its business.
But while the TwinAir model is the fastest in the Fiat Panda line-up, you still shouldn’t expect earth-shattering performance. It claims 0-62mph in 11.2 seconds, has the highest top speed at 110mph and the turbocharger provides more mid-range grunt than other engines in the line-up. We don't find it anywhere near as efficient as Fiat's official figures suggest, though.
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The 68bhp 1.2-litre petrol engine needs to be worked hard, and at motorway speed it sounds thrashy. It’s also pretty slow, with a 14.2-second 0-62mph time, so we wouldn’t recommend this version.
That just leaves the 94bhp 1.3-litre MultiJet diesel. Although it delivers more power and torque than the TwinAir, it has nothing like the rev range and so takes a couple of tenths longer to sprint from 0-62mph. That’s just enough overtaking pace, and the engine will settle down to reasonably refined cruising speeds on the motorway, too. It’s just not nearly as engaging as the Panda TwinAir.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
All of the engines in the Fiat Panda range promise impressive fuel economy figures, but the 1.3-litre MultiJet diesel comes out on top, claiming 72.4mpg. However, it also emits 104g/km of CO2, which just takes it over the threshold for free road tax, which is a pity.
The 0.9-litre TwinAir petrol model is exempt from road tax, as it emits 99g/km of CO2. It also claims respectable 67.3mpg fuel economy, although our tests have indicated that you'll struggle to get anywhere near that in real-world driving. This needn’t be a major problem given the typically low mileages owners of cars like the Panda tend to cover, and some drivers will feel a small drop in efficiency is a reasonable price to pay for the TwinAir’s engaging nature.
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Our least favourite engine in the line-up from a performance standpoint, the 1.2-litre petrol, looks more attractive from a financial perspective. It claims only 54.3mpg and emits a pretty high 119g/km of CO2, which puts it in road tax band C, and means an annual VED bill of £30. However, in entry-level Pop trim, it costs less than £10,000, so is around £2,000 less to buy than the cheapest TwinAir-powered Easy model.
The 1.2-litre’s price advantage is cut to about £1,000 if you’re comparing the two engines in the same trim level, which makes it a more difficult call. We’d opt for the TwinAir because it’s so much more rewarding to drive.
All engines benefit from efficient, fuel-saving stop/start technology, which cuts the engine when idling, so no Panda is going to be a frequent visitor to the filling station pumps.
Standard versions of the Fiat Panda have insurance group ratings of between two and seven, so buyers should have no trouble getting cover cheaply. Nevertheless, some rivals like the Skoda Citigo are available with group one insurance, which might be significant if you’re shopping for a first car.
As the city car sector has exploded with new contenders, their traditionally strong residuals have begun to weaken a little. Fiat has never been one of the strongest performers for used values, either. That said, considering the low initial purchase price, the depreciation isn’t too dreadful. Our experts predict the Fiat will retain 42.7 per cent of its new price after three years.
Interior, design and technology
The Fiat Panda is a cute-looking choice in the city car market, with bags more exterior appeal than the slightly conservatively styled Volkswagen up! and the generic-looking Kia Picanto; for many owners, the Panda’s design will have been the deciding factor. With its upright stance, bold details and eye-catching blend of straight lines and curves, it certainly stands out.
The interior of the Fiat Panda continues the sense of fun, and there are plenty of the trademark 'squircle' design cues – think square shapes with rounded corners. Chunky Tonka toy-style switchgear and bright fabrics contribute to the fun personality of the car.
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There are four trim levels in the Fiat Panda range: Pop, Easy, Lounge and Trekking. Entry-level Pop cars look a little basic with their 14-inch steel wheels, but they do get electric front windows as standard, as well as a CD player with MP3 compatibility.
Mid-range Easy models feature remote central locking and air-con, as well as a set of roof rails, which definitely adds a bit of a premium edge to the looks.
Lounge versions are even more stylish, with alloy wheels and foglights. Meanwhile, the more recently introduced Panda Trekking version gets 15-inch alloys, ESP and Hill Holder, as well as Traction Plus and some bold exterior cladding, which adds a whole lot more visual presence.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
Even the entry-level Pop comes with a four-speaker audio system with CD player and MP3 compatibility.
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The Easy trim level upgrades you to a six-speaker system, while the top-of-the-range Trekking model adds the Blue&Me set-up with Bluetooth that connects your smartphone to a dash-top TomTom navigation unit. The system also comes with steering wheel controls, and is a worthwhile optional extra on all the other models.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
With its upright stance and boxy dimensions, the Fiat Panda feels bigger than it actually is. It’s certainly a world away from the tight packaging of its predecessor.
With its high roofline, it feels airy from the driving seat, and visibility is excellent all-round. While there’s a decent amount of space up front, the steering wheel adjusts for height only – there’s no reach movement – and on most models you need to specify the optional Flex Pack to get height adjustment on the driver’s seat.
The Flex Pack also adds the valuable split-fold rear seat, a luggage net and a fold-down table – and unusually you can choose between a two or three-seat configuration for the rear bench, with either a 50:50 or 60:40 split-fold.
On the plus side, the interior is packed with handy storage, including a large tray ahead of the front seat passenger and several cup-holders.
At 3,653mm long and 1,643mm wide, the Panda is almost identical in size to the Hyundai i10, but a little over 10cm longer than the Volkswagen up! and 20cm longer than a Toyota Aygo. For comparison, the larger Fiat Punto supermini is 4,065mm long.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
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The rear bench does feel a bit cheap, but it slides backwards or forwards to create either more legroom or boot space. The boxy shape of the Fiat Panda also means there's plenty of headroom for passengers, although you do sit quite upright in the rear. Four adults can squeeze into the car in reasonable comfort, but three on the back row will be an uncomfortable squash – as in any small city car. Rear legroom will also be an issue for taller adults.
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While the Panda’s cabin might feel airy, the boot will only take 225 litres of luggage, which is 26 litres less than the Skoda Citigo can swallow. You can slide the rear bench forward to generate 260 litres of volume, but there’ll be hardly any legroom left for back seat passengers. It’s also a bit annoying to have to pay extra for that split-fold rear seat, but otherwise the Panda’s boot is reasonably practical, with a wide-opening tailgate and only a small lip to hump luggage over.
Reliability and Safety
The Fiat Panda scored only four stars in Euro NCAP crash tests, which is disappointing in a class of the market where most newcomers achieve the full five-star rating. Part of the reason for this was that ESP was a £135 option at the time of the assessment back in late 2011, but that issue was resolved immediately and the feature became standard on all models in early 2012.
The Panda’s adult occupant and child occupant scores of 82 and 63 per cent in the tests compare with those of the Renault Twingo at 78 and 81 per cent, the Hyundai i10 at 79 and 80 per cent, and the Volkswagen up! at 89 and 80 per cent.
Over the years, Fiat has struggled to shed its reputation for making cars with lacklustre build quality and reliability, and the Panda doesn't feel as durable as its immediate rivals. However, as the car is relatively simple from a technical point of view, there isn’t too much to go wrong – and this point seems to have been proven by the Mk3 model’s strong showing in the Auto Express Driver Power 2015 satisfaction survey.
Out of the top 200 cars, the Fiat Panda was ranked a highly impressive 52nd in the reliability category, while it came 88th for build quality. The car was also rated 20th for running costs. It finished in the middle of the table for pretty much everything else, except seat comfort, where it could only come 170th.
The good news is that Fiat supplies the Panda with a three-year/60,000-mile warranty, which is on a par with most rivals. However, the Kia Picanto and Hyundai i10 leave it in the shade, offering seven-year/100,000-mile and five-year/unlimited-mile packages respectively. The Toyota Aygo also comes with a five-year/100,000-mile deal.
Fiat offers fixed-price maintenance on the Panda, allowing owners to spread the cost of servicing monthly. Prices vary according to mileage and usage, but should definitely be competitive with city car rivals.