Fiat Panda hatchback
"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 arriving on the scene, including the Skoda Citigo e iV, 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 charm about it.
A mild-hybrid joins the conventional petrol engine for 2020 but neither are particularly efficient. The larger 1.2-litre is 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 are also four-wheel-drive Panda models, and we've reviewed the Panda 4x4 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 you experience crosswinds more than in shorter vehicles – the more compact Volkswagen up! feels more stable, 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. 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 Pop 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 Easy trim level, which sits just above the entry-level Pop version. It gets essentials like remote central locking, rear head restraints and a height-adjustable driver’s seat, along with practical features like roof rails. The Pop now gets air-conditioning as standard but otherwise it’s a little sparse.
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 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. 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.