Review

Fiat Panda hatchback

Price  £9,095 - £13,795

Fiat Panda hatchback

reviewed by Carbuyer

Pros
  • Easy to drive in town
  • Well designed interior
  • Cheap to buy and own
Cons
  • Poorly equipped
  • Struggles with motorway driving
  • Four-star Euro NCAP safety rating

At a glance

The greenest
0.9 TwinAir 85hp Dualogic Lounge 5dr £12,660
The cheapest
1.2 Pop 5dr £9,095
The fastest
0.9 TwinAir 85hp Easy 5dr £11,095
Top of the range
1.3-16v Multijet Trekking 5dr £13,795

"The Fiat Panda is a cheerful city car with a versatile interior and thrifty engines."

The Fiat Panda is one of the best-selling cars in Europe thanks to its charming design, impressive versatility and very low running costs. With a starting price of £9,095 and an annual road tax bill of £30 or less, this is one of the most affordable new cars to buy and run on the market.

The Panda shares many parts with the Fiat 500, but it's a lot more practical than the chic city car. The boot can hold between 225 and 260 litres of luggage thanks to some clever sliding rear seats. It also has a tall roof, which improves legroom and headroom for passengers and gives everyone a great view out.

Our pick of the engine range is the 0.9-litre TwinAir petrol. Not only does it offer the best performance, but its distinctive exhaust note also adds to the Panda's character. The TwinAir is also the only version of the Panda that's free to tax.

The TwinAir isn't for everyone, though. We'd recommend the cheap entry-level petrol engine to low-mileage users, while the impressively economical diesel should suit motorway drivers down to the ground.

MPG, running costs & CO2

4.4 / 5

You’ll pay £30 or less in road tax

The Fiat Panda should be exceptionally cheap to run, whichever version you go for. Low-mileage drivers will be best off with the cheapest 1.2-litre petrol engine, which returns 54.3mpg and costs £30 a year to tax. The quicker 0.9-litre TwinAir petrol is more expensive to buy, but its 67.3mpg fuel consumption means it should go further on each tank and low emissions make it free to tax. High-mileage drivers should consider the Multijet diesel, as it's more economical again (72.4mpg) and costs just £20 a year to tax.

Fiat offers fixed-price servicing to help you budget for routine maintenance. The only fly in the ointment could come at resale time, as experts expect the Panda to retain slightly less value than the Hyundai i10 and Skoda Citigo after three years of ownership.

Engines, drive & performance

3.7 / 5

Panda is great in town, but it struggles at higher speeds

The Fiat Panda feels light on its feet and is happy to be driven with gusto, which makes it fun to thread through city traffic or down a country lane. At lower speeds, pressing the City button on the dashboard lightens the steering so you can turn the wheel with one finger, making the Panda a doddle to park.

The Panda feels less at home on faster A-roads, dual carriageways and motorways, due to a fair amount of wind noise and a tendency to get blown around by strong crosswinds. The Panda is fine for occasional longer trips, but the Volkswagen up! and Hyundai i10 are both more refined at higher speeds.

With 68bhp, the 1.2-litre petrol engine is best suited to town driving, taking 14.2 seconds to reach 62mph from rest. The 0.9-litre TwinAir is considerably livelier, taking just 11.2 seconds to do the same thanks to its 84bhp power output. However, its offbeat two-cylinder noise won't appeal to everyone, and you need to drive it carefully to extract the best fuel economy and performance.

Fiat's 1.3-litre diesel engine feels more conventional in comparison, with acceleration somewhere between the two petrol engines. The diesel also feels best suited to motorway driving. All three versions come with a five-speed manual gearbox as standard, but the TwinAir is also available with an automatic. However, we recommend avoiding this unless absolutely necessary, because changes gear quite jerkily. A four-wheel-drive Fiat Panda 4x4 is also available for those who enjoy the great outdoors.

Interior & comfort

3.2 / 5

Great visibility aids city driving

With a tall roof and boxy proportions, the Panda has a very light and airy feel inside, with excellent all-round visibility thanks to the big windows. This is a great feature for driving in congested towns, making the Panda easy to manoeuvre and park. The whole interior is littered with attractive rounded squares, including the buttons on the dashboard and even the gauges. It's a pleasant design, but it can't hide some cheap-feeling plastics, particularly lower down and towards the rear of the cabin.

The front seats can accommodate people of most sizes, but the steering wheel only adjusts for reach, not rake. The seat squabs are also quite firm and flat, so while the Panda is fine for shorter trips, an i10 or Citigo will be more comfortable on longer journeys. Fiat has improved the Panda's suspension and the current model is far less bouncy than the old one, soaking up lumps and bumps reasonably well for a small car.

Practicality & boot space

3.5 / 5

Impressive versatility for a city car

It's possible to expand the Panda's boot space to 260 litres by sliding the rear seats forward, or you can give rear passengers more legroom while still leaving 225 litres of luggage room. The Volkswagen up! and Skoda Citigo will both hold 251 litres, while the Hyundai i10 can take 252 litres. It's also possible to fold down the rear seat, although it doesn't store flat in the floor, leaving a lip that large items have to be pushed over. A 60:40 split-folding rear seat is a £50 optional extra.

Four adults can travel in the Panda with the rear seat pushed back, and while headroom is excellent, rear legroom isn't quite as good as in the up! A total of 14 compartments are dotted around the cabin, ranging from door pockets to cubbyholes for loose change. The Panda also comes with a 'Smart Fuel' filler nozzle as standard. This does away with the need for a screw-on fuel cap, so your hands won't get dirty every time you have to fill up.

Reliability & safety

3.2 / 5

Four-star Euro NCAP score is slightly worrying

Fiat climbed three places to 27th out of 33 manufacturers in the Driver Power 2014 survey, so while it's improving, the brand still has lots of work to do to keep owners happy, particularly as it received low scores for build quality. However, Fiat did manage to finish ahead of 30th-place MINI. The Fiat Panda itself was ranked 70th out of 150 models.

The four-star Euro NCAP crash-test score is a cause for concern, even if anti-lock brakes and airbags are fitted as standard. The Panda was marked down because electronic stability control (which helps prevent skids) is only available as an optional extra, plus it only offered "weak" chest protection in side-impact tests.

The VW up! and Skoda Citigo both received five stars, however the Hyundai i10 only received four, because protection in the side-impact and whiplash tests was rated "marginal".

Price, value for money & options

4.2 / 5

Entry-level version is very basic

The Panda has a slightly higher starting price than its rivals (£9,095) and entry-level Pop trim doesn't come with air-con, remote central locking or alloy wheels, but it's still a very cheap car and attractive finance deals are available. The Easy trim sticks with plastic hubcaps, but adds air-con and six stereo speakers instead of four.

Moving up the range, the Lounge grade adds body-coloured exterior trim, 15-inch alloy wheels, electrically adjustable heated door mirrors, front foglights. Bluetooth, USB and MP3 player connectivity is a £265 optional extra and includes steering wheel controls, but this seems a bit stingy – Bluetooth is standard on the Hyundai i10 Premium and VW up! High up! – models which also include standard split-folding rear seats.

A Trekking model with a raised ride height, mud and snow tyres and off-road body styling is available, as well as a Panda 4x4 with four-wheel drive for impressive go-anywhere ability.

What the others say

4 / 5
based on 2 reviews
4 / 5
"Cheap to buy, efficient TwinAir engine and fun to drive, but limited rear legroom, not enough kit, and a cheap interior."
"Fiat brings the unique Twinair engine to bear again here. It pulls like a bubbly little locomotive, and in the lower gears out-performs the ability of those little tyres to apply all the surge. In fifth, no other tiny car has this sort of effortless motorway fast-line smarts. If you drive it like that the economy won’t be special, but if you go gently you can stretch fuel. And the notional economy potential is what gets it its low-tax 99g/km CO2 rating."
4 / 5
"In practice the Panda is indeed comfortable. Even over some genuinely terrible road surfaces it never actually became jarring, and while it certainly woggled around quite a bit it remained controlled and generally engaging."
"It's now a more attractive design with rounded off edges and an attractive interior, complete with square steering wheel (very Austin Allegro) plus square design detailing across the dashboard. Materials have been improved and Fiat says attention has been paid to ensuring the Panda works well not just in town but outside of it too."
Last updated 
10 Sep 2014

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