LITTLE AND LARGE STYLE SUITS PANDA
IN third generation form, Fiat's Panda aims at being all the car some buyers will ever need. It's larger where it matters, yet still small enough for its urban purpose. It's more efficient, yet can offer surprising reserves of performance. And you can make it high-tech – or specify one that's super-affordable.
There are three main engine choices for Panda people, an entry-level 69bhp petrol 1.2-litre unit, an 85bhp, 0.9-litre petrol TwinAir powerplant and a 1.3-litre, 75bhp Multijet diesel. Aside from engines and performance, there's plenty else for previous Panda people to appreciate.
For a start, there's much more of a "big car" feel to the way that it drives, thanks to suspension tweaks, greater torsional stiffness and a wider track. The result is that it turns into corners more sharply. It's a great deal quieter than before on major routes at cruising speeds too. The five-speed gearbox could be a little more precise, but you'll appreciate the way this car now takes even the nastier small urban bumps in its stride.
Inside you'll find the Panda's "squarical" design signature in several places. You'll find them in the instrument binnacle, on the steering wheel boss, the ventilation controls on the centre console – even on the seats where embossed rounded squares are there to better help air circulate between your body and the backrest.
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The dashboard itself is enveloped in a colourful frame of your choosing with a roomy storage pocket in front of the front passenger supposed to evoke a nod towards original Eighties Panda motoring.
Storage for bigger items is taken care of by a 225-litre boot that's significantly bigger than before. As for rear seat passenger space, it's now better and perfectly adequate for a couple of fully-sized adults.
Price-wise, many customers will be better off sticking with the entry-level model and spending any remaining funds on some well chosen extras.
I'd want to consider the Low Speed Collision Mitigation system. This uses a laser sensor on the windscreen to scan a space a short distance in front of the vehicle to determine the risk of a collision. Clever.
As for safety, well it's disappointing to find ESP stability control only offered as an option.
A few other Panda rivals may be a little cheaper, more refined or slightly trendier. It's got tough competition these days, no question.
But few push the boundaries of design quite like this Fiat. In a growing segment full of talented offerings, it's a key contender you just can't help liking.