Fiat Panda Hatchback review (2004-2011)
The 100HP has claws. The styling has been cleverly executed and the tuned suspension has raised the fun factor massively.
Driving The 100HP is as functional as a standard Panda, but it immediately feels different once underway. For starters, the City steering button has been replaced by a Sport switch that firms up resistance. Unfortunately, feedback is still artificial, but the 100HP darts eagerly into corners. Heavily reworked suspension and damping have transformed the Panda's dynamics, too. The springs are 25 per cent stiffer, the ride height 25mm lower and the front anti-roll bar is thicker. All of these alternations have given it roller-skate road manners and plenty of attitude! There's hardly any body roll and the wide tyres offer great grip. The sharp turn-in, combined with the lack of body movement, means the 100HP inspires confidence when attacking corners. More importantly, the little Panda is great fun. Upgraded brakes - including rear discs - provide decent stopping power, but the middle pedal lacks feel. However, the dash-mounted gearlever has a snappy shift, and the six ratios are well-placed. It helps keep the 1.4-litre engine on the boil - this unit has to be worked hard, but that's part of the fun. Above 5,000rpm, performance picks up. With a sharp throttle response and decent refinement, exploring the rev limiter soon becomes second nature. Even driven flat out, the sporty Panda isn't fast, yet it still raises a smile.
Marketplace Can a car the costs less than £10,000 also be sporty and entertaining to drive? The Italians certainly think so - and Fiat is hoping to maintain a long tradition with the 100HP. A quicker version of the Panda, it's armed with a 100bhp 1.4-litre engine, reworked bumpers and flared arches, plus stiffer springs, lower ride height and beefier anti-roll bar. It's no mild makeover. As such, true rivals are few - its chief opponent is Ford's Sportka, which boasts the same price tag, two fewer doors but a similar sense of fun and driving thrills.
Owning The standard Panda shape is successfully boosted with flared wheelarches, unique bumpers and a revised mesh grille, giving the 100HP a purposeful appearance. Combined with a lowered ride height and 15-inch alloys, the overall result is a chunky look that's tough and feisty. While the interior retains its mini-MPV feel, it has also been upgraded. The driver's seat is height adjustable and is more supportive than the standard car's. Mind you, you'll need to wear your narrowest shoes when driving, since the pedals are so close together. But the five-door design is practical. Two adults can fit in the rear, headroom is good and the seat backs fold individually to increase the 206-litre boot space. Factor in decent sound insulation and the Panda is a comfortable companion on longer trips. It's hardly cosseting, though, and the ride can become bouncy on rough surfaces. Standard kit includes sports seats, a leather steering wheel, air con, dark-tinted rear windows and a Bluetooth mobile phone connection. But it's a shame retained values aren't better, while a disappointing 33.4mpg average in our hands reflects the engine's rev-hungry nature. And a tiny 35-litre fuel tank accentuates this.