Fiat Panda hatchback review
"The Fiat Panda is a roomy and affordable city car with a strong sense of fun"
- Low purchase and running costs
- Great to drive in town
- Funky interior design
- Zero-star Euro NCAP safety score
- Could be better equipped
- Not great on the motorway
The Fiat Panda offers a more practical and utilitarian alternative to the Fiat 500 city car, but it was launched back in 2012, so it’s beginning to look and feel quite dated compared to its major rivals.
Potential buyers are certainly spoilt for choice in this class, with rivals including the Volkswagen up!, along with the likes of the Peugeot 108, Hyundai i10 and Kia Picanto – all closely matched on price and specifications. The Dacia Sandero Stepway is also a more spacious and cheaper alternative. A raft of electric superminis are also now on the scene, including the Honda e and MINI Electric. The Panda does offer a slightly different take on proceedings, with an upright shape giving plenty of space inside and a light and airy feel, while it also has a certain Italian charm about it.
A mild-hybrid petrol engine replaced the conventional petrol engine during 2020, but it's still not especially efficient. The larger 1.2-litre was the least powerful of the pair, producing 68bhp. The newer 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine with mild-hybrid assistance develops 70bhp, so you have to use all its power just to keep up with traffic. There's also a Panda 4x4 model fitted with a 0.9-litre turbo petrol engine, and we've reviewed it separately.
The mild hybrid system is a 12-volt starter generator that can harvest energy as the Panda slows down, storing it in a small battery and then re-deploying it to give the engine a small boost, or help the stop and start system work more effectively in traffic.
The Panda has been designed to excel in the city, and it shows, with light steering and supple suspension that soaks up potholes. A tall roofline makes visibility excellent, but the car’s shape also means that at higher speeds you experience crosswinds more than in less upright vehicles – the more compact Volkswagen up! feels more stable on the motorway, for example.
On the flipside, there’s lots of headroom for a city car, but there isn’t a huge amount of space for rear-seat passengers, even though the back seats can slide backwards and forwards, which is pretty unique for a city car. The main advantage of this feature is the ability to increase boot space, but it’s worth noting split-folding rear seats are an optional extra on all but the top two trim levels.
The Panda range is quite broad, spanning from pretty basic City Life to the rugged 4x4 and Panda Cross, which have unique styling and features (we’ve reviewed them separately). It’s possible to end up with quite an expensive Panda, but we’d recommend sticking to more affordable trims, particularly as the little Fiat can depreciate (or lose its initial value) quite rapidly.
Our pick is the Panda Sport trim level, which isn't much more expensive than the entry-level trim, but gets stylish 16-inch alloy wheels and a makeover. It gets essentials like a seven-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
With Euro NCAP running more stringent testing, the Panda received a zero-star rating in the latest tests. This is due to the safety standards set by the newest cars on the market. The Fiat Panda had previously been awarded four out of five stars for safety, with standard kit including anti-lock brakes, traction control and tyre pressure monitoring. In our 2019 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey (the last time it appeared in our results), the Panda came 67th out of 100 models, scoring well for front-seat comfort, interior versatility and visibility. Owners were less impressed with infotainment and the sat nav (if fitted) - they were rated 97th and 98th, and many similarly cheap city cars are much better connected.
It's characterful then, but overall the Fiat Panda is hard to recommend and badly in need of replacing with a newer generation. Compared to rivals, it's slow, lacks technology and has a poor safety rating. The Dacia Sandero Stepway is cheaper, more powerful and has a more spacious interior with a better infotainment setup.