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.
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!