The Fiat Panda has been on the scene since 1980. It was invented before the term “city car” became commonplace and has remained a popular motor throughout its three generations.
The latest Panda hit British tarmac in 2012 and, at four years old, it’s a great small car to buy on the used market.
You don’t buy a Panda for performance. You purchase one because it nips around city centres like a deranged bee without fuss. It’s also a hardy motor and one that is cheap as chips to own.
The 0.9-litre TwinAir Turbo petrol, mated to a five-speed manual gearbox, is the model to hunt down for a bit of amusement around town. It will also cope with motorways, but you really wouldn’t want to commute too far in it in on a regular basis.
It will do up to 67mpg on an average run, but the diesel is the best for economy at 72mpg – and it will handle out of town jaunts better. Both models don’t cost much to run in terms of road tax either.
The 0.9 TwinAir emits 95g/km of CO2, so VED tax is zilch and the diesel will set you back only £20 per year.
Ride and handling
The delightful Fiat Panda is not the sharpest knife in the drawer in terms of handling, but it holds its own in corners with very little body roll. The car also sees off horrible lumpy, damaged road surfaces with its tuned-for-comfort suspension.
The steering is a touch too light when you want to stretch the Fiat’s legs on longer drives, but in town that is a good thing because parking is made easy. There is even a special button to make the steering as weightless as possible for city driving.
From a safety point of view, the Panda obtained a four-star rating from Euro NCAP, so it isn’t flying its colours at full mast. It scored well for adult protection at 82% and it was given a 63% child protection rating. Kit includes four airbags and ISOFIX child seat points.
The Fiat Panda comes with five doors and this, plus the fact it’s a tall car, makes it more accessible than many other city cars. It will actually take five people, but four adults, or two adults plus three small kids is the comfiest configuration.
Five adults would be a squeeze. Head and legroom is remarkable for this type of car and the cabin is practical with areas to store mobile phones and coins. The boot isn’t bad with 225 litres of space available, but this can inflate to 260 litres if you ratchet the movable rear seats forwards.
Obviously this impacts on legroom for backseat passengers, but it’s a useful feature to have if you need to fit a little more in than usual. Things get even bigger in terms of boot space if you collapse the rear seats. A whole 870 litres is available should you need it. This is just the ticket for those times when long, unwieldy items need collecting from the shops or when you need to deposit household junk at the local tip.
The Fiat comes with three trim levels – Pop, Easy and Lounge. Even on the basic "Pop" version you get respectable kit, including central locking and electric windows. You have to move to the "Easy" model if you want luxuries such as air-conditioning, while little extras such as seat height adjustment and bigger wheels are only found on the flagship "Lounge" variant.
What to know before you buy
The Fiat Panda is a pretty spirited and hard-wearing little machine. It has been around for over 35 years, so any gremlins will have been spotted and kicked to the kerb years ago. Just inspect the Panda’s bodywork, wing mirrors and wheels for grazes, scratches or parking knocks.
These are common, due to the car’s natural habitat - the inner-city. Under the bonnet the engines are well proven as Fiat uses them across its model range.
The 2011 onwards Kia Picanto is worth looking at instead of the Panda. It has good leg and headroom and will seat four adults comfortably. The boot is 25 litres less, though, at 200 litres. However, the tailgate is broad, making loading easy.
If lots needs to be stuffed in, then the seats can be collapsed to the same extended volume as the Fiat’s 870 litres. The Ford KA is also a worthy challenger. It can be found on secondhand car forecourts all over and has a bigger boot than the Picanto at 224 litres.
That is only one litre less than the Panda. It’s a better drive than both. However, the Ka is not as flexible in terms of cabin space as either the Picanto or the Panda.
The Fiat Panda is an honest, practical small car with plentiful space and comfort. It’s a pity the Italian-made motor doesn’t have a five-star safety score, but with four stars, the Fiat is a long way from being unsafe.
Its low running costs also add to its appeal as a secondhand buy, especially for first time drivers. The Panda is also an ideal second car for a family.