The Fiat Panda was first introduced in 1980 and has been a constant presence in the European small car market ever since.
An all-new version of the Panda has just been launched and is positioned just above the Fiat 500 in size, making it Fiat’s second smallest car.
It’s just as well it isn’t meant to be the smallest anymore, because like all new models these days, it is bigger than the car it replaces.
The new Panda is certainly a more curvy package than older models were and looks quite good to my eye.
The rear end is almost vertical, maximising space in the necessarily small boot, and the Panda’s folding rear seat is also available with a sliding option for the first time, which will increase boot space if you don’t have any rear passengers or if they don’t need legroom – babies, for example.
Under the bonnet, Panda buyers have a choice of three engines, all of which are fairly familiar and sensible.
Petrol buyers can choose between Fiat’s much-hyped but sometimes disappointing 900cc TwinAir turbocharged unit and a new 1.2l petrol engine – by far the most sensible choice for the vast majority of Panda buyers, especially for urban use.
Drivers wanting a diesel can choose Fiat’s 1.3l MultiJet2 unit, which will deliver oodles of torque and should work well for higher mileage drivers, for whom the £2,000+ extra cost might be worthwhile.
There’s also a lockable glovebox. In total, the new Panda has no fewer than 14 storage spaces of various sizes.
Buyers can choose to specify the optional Blue&Me infotainment system, which enables bluetooth-enabled like phones and MP3 players to be linked to the car for voice-activated control and playback through the car’s stereo.
It’s also possible to specify the Blue&Me TomTom2 LIVE, which is a sat nav unit with live traffic that plugs into a special socket in the top of the dashboard – removing the need for dangling wires but enabling it to be removed when not needed.
The Fiat Panda is no longer a cheap car. On the road prices start at £8,900 – almost £1,000 more than the the £7.995 starting price for the new Volkswagen Up! or the new £7,900 Kia Picanto – both of which are excellent small cars.
What’s more, the entry level Panda doesn’t get the kind of specification that’s standard on cars like the Picanto – there’s no air conditioning, alloys or remote central locking unless you pay more.
Frankly, it seems a bit tight fisted and although the Panda is a perfectly good car, its cheeky charm would not be enough to persuade me when set against the more tangible benefits offered by some of its competitors.
For more information, visit www.fiat.co.uk.