Fiat Panda

So my Italian love affair is soon to be over, with the departure of our long-term Fiat Panda, but in true romantic style, the experience hasn't always been a bed of roses! The juddering clutch has proved to be a real thorny issue, and one that seems not to be confined just to our test car, as several readers have written in complaining of the same problem.

  • Cheeky attitude, steering mode, dash-mounted gearlever, roof rails
  • Intermittent wiper hasn't got a variable setting, external-only opening boot

So my Italian love affair is soon to be over, with the departure of our long-term Fiat Panda, but in true romantic style, the experience hasn't always been a bed of roses! The juddering clutch has proved to be a real thorny issue, and one that seems not to be confined just to our test car, as several readers have written in complaining of the same problem. A trip to my local dealer, Wilsons of Epsom, Surrey, was obviously in order. It had the car for a day but could find nothing wrong, suggesting that when the problem occurred again, I should bring the Panda back for further investigation. However, on collecting the Fiat, the customer-care manager brought the car round and promptly stated what we'd known all along: "This car has a juddering clutch." A new one was duly ordered! The Fiat was booked in and I was looking forward to a judder-free commute. But I then got a phone call to say the wrong part had been delivered, and that a new order would have to be submitted. A week later the new clutch was fitted - hurrah. Unfortunately, I was unable to collect the car until a few days later. When I explained this, I was told that it would be left in the dealer's secure car park. Stupidly, I'd left a set of house keys in the Panda and needed to nip back to collect them. When I got to Wilsons, the Panda wasn't in the car park - but out on the road! Even after I told staff that it was staying with them for a few days - as I was on my way to a photoshoot in another test car - they only grudgingly moved it. When I eventually picked the Fiat up, the engine failure warning light refused to go out, so yet another trip to the dealer ensued. At least this time it was only a five-minute job - a connector needed adjusting, although the judder had not been completely cured and the clutch now stuck slightly when depressed fully. Despite the problems, the Panda has been a firm favourite around the office, thanks to its cheekiness and driveability. The centrally sited gearstick is comfortable to use, the facia looks great and good all-round visibility is another feather in the Panda's cap. The roof rails have also been handy on weekend trips. On the downside, RF53 EHN had a habit of leaving black streaks on the doors from the wing mirrors when it rained. But more worrying has been the disappointing 39.1mpg - even considering the stop start driving that the car has done, I expected more. Other niggles were an annoying rattle in the rear, and a bit of interior trim coming loose and disappearing. I did like my little Italian charmer, but the experience with Wilsons is a worry as Fiat pushes for better reliability and service.Second opinion Although it's not a family car, the raised height of the Panda's seats is handy for getting the kids in and out of their car chairs. But the boot is a bit tight with all the children's paraphernalia. However, even though the Fiat's controls look a bit plasticky, they're well laid out and feel solid. But if you put in a forward-facing child seat in the front watch out, as they can reach the dashboard!

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