The arrival of the third-generation Panda had been a long time coming (the previous generation was launched way back in 2003). Its predecessor was a tremendous success and won International Car of the Year in 2004, the first in its segment to achieve the feat, so all in all, pressure was high.
The exterior is instantly recognisable with a design that is fresh with strong ‘Italian style.’
It’s all fine and dandy for a car to look good though, but for one of this ilk, the interior has to come up top trumps over its city car competition, meaning it has to be as spacious, versatile and safe as possible.
In terms of space, the Panda can accommodate five people plus their overnight luggage. The boot measures 225 litres, which stretches to 260 litres with the sliding rear seat in its fully forward position. With the back rest folded down it its 60/40 configuration, utility space goes up to 860 litres. The cabin also features 14 storage compartments, including a new glasses holder above the driver’s window and a capacious storage ‘pocket’ in the dashboard above the glove box.
A few unique touches also convey how well the design of the new Panda was thought through. To make life for kids more amusing while on the go, graphic patterns decorate the door panels and roof, creating an attractive ‘sky’ over their heads. The speaker in the door panel has been raised to make the pocket wider, freeing up extra space and improving sound quality. Upholstery has also been extended to improve comfort.
The radio interface sports a pleasing and intuitive look and all controls and buttons are grouped into two islands for easier use.
The entry-level Pop model features a radio with CD player and four speakers, while the range-topping Lounge model features Fiat’s Blue&Me hands-free with Bluetooth system that includes sophisticated voice recognition, USB and Aux-in ports, MP3 player and SMS interpreter with 10-button controls on the steering wheel. The system also allows the Bluetooth pairing of up to five phones that are within its operating range. An optional extra is Blue&Me TomTom Live, which combines the advantages of an infotainment system that is integrated and connected with those of a portable navigation system.
Other standard features include electric front windows and mirrors, central locking and height-adjustable steering wheel. Manual climate control is standard on the the Pop derivative, with the Lounge featuring automatic climate control.
Safety features are abundant for a car in this segment. The Panda features as standard four airbags, ABS with brake assist, electronic stability control with a hill-hold system (which will lock the brake for two seconds during uphill starts), front seatbelts with pre-tensioners and load limiter, an anti-whiplash system as well as ISOFIX anchors. Lounge trim also features rear headrests.
Both models are powered Fiat’s 1.2-litre EVO II engine, which produces 51kW and 102Nm of torque and is mated to a five-speed manual transmission. Claimed fuel consumption is 5.2 litres/100km with an emissions rating of 120g/km.
The powertrain isn’t going to get you anywhere particularly quickly - zero to 100km/h takes 14.2 seconds - but I took a Panda for a quick drive on William Nicol and around Hurlingham’s maze-like streets and wasn’t in the least disappointed.
It feels much lighter on its feet than it actually is, the ride soaks up most road imperfections very well, speed bumps don’t provide any obstacles - I accidently traversed one too fast and the Panda simply glided over - and is nippy around a decent 90o corner, even at 70km/h. All in all, the new Panda seems a great little city car.
The Fiat Panda Pop will retail for R139 990 and Lounge for R154 990, with a 3-year/100 000km full maintenance plan and warranty included. It will be available in seven body- and three interior trim colours.