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Fiat’s squircle sure to make you smile


SQUIRCLE. It’s such fun word to say, but unless you have a pre-schooler in your house, you won’t be saying it often.

However, if you’re a new Fiat Panda owner, you’ll be saying ‘squircle’ countless times when describing its design, which won’t be to everyone’s liking, unfortunately.

This is because the squircle design element is everywhere to be found, from the headlights to the small back windows, steering-wheel hub, grouping of the audio-system buttons, ventilation-control surrounds to the speedometer, trip computer and rev-counter surrounds. Styling-wise, no one can accuse Fiat of doing it half-hearted.
But I like it. It’s quirky and makes the Panda very unique.

A few weeks ago I got to drive the new Panda for a grand total of 5km, so I was very happy to get to spend some 300km behind the wheel.

The front occupants enjoy copious amounts of space every which way. If you are someone who tends to sit quite far back though, legroom in the back does become a problem. The boot will swallow 225 litres (or a human; see photo) and 870 litres with the back seats folded down.

The Panda is available in two derivatives - Pop and Lounge - with specification and customisation options providing the differences between the two.

The Pop version really does have everything you may need from a car of this ilk. Standard features include electric front windows and door mirrors, remote central locking, manual climate control, auto-locking doors, 40/60-split Fix&Fold rear seat, ABS with EBD, four airbags and Fiat’s Dualdrive electric power steering, a system that provides the driver with two steering-weight options to suit different driving conditions. It’s a nifty option and marketing tool, but there really is no discernible difference between the two.

One glaring exception from the spec list is a USB port. The radio can play a CD with MP3s, but it ends there. In a car that tries to represent something so new and fresh, this omission is a great disappointment. The range-topping Lounge model features Fiat’s Blue&Me, an infotainment system that does pretty much everything a car three times its price can do.

But it really seems like Fiat went all or nothing here: either suffer with old school or fork out an extra R15 000 for the company’s entertainment pride and joy. Granted, that R15 000 does include other kit as well, but the USB port was the only thing I missed among them.

The Panda is powered by the same 1.2-litre petrol engine that did duty in its predecessor. It delivers 51kW and 102Nm of torque and will accelerate from zero to 100km/h in a claimed 14.2 seconds. Note that that 14.2 seconds is only the claimed figure, so on paper the Panda goes about its business very leisurely.
Somehow though, it feels very spritely around town and is more than happy to let you work the gears. It never let me down in traffic. You do pay a price for that heavy foot though, as my average consumption topped out at 7.8 litres/100km at one point (compared to Fiat’s urban claim of 6.7 litres/100km), but that is your worst-case scenario, also keeping in mind that the little engine has to work extra hard at altitude. On the open road at a steady 110km/h, the Panda returned 5.1 litres/100km, which is not bad, but far off the claimed 4.3 litres/100km.

Not that it matters, but - as I wrote before - the Panda is not afraid of a little excitement either. It will attack a corner like a little bull-terrier puppy: not all that sure on its feet, but cute and amusing nonetheless. The ride is fairly compliant, but does become bouncy over uneven surfaces.

The Fiat Panda 1.2 Pop retails for R139 995 that includes a 3-year/100 000km full maintenance plan and warranty.

That may not sound too cheap, but for that money you get a relatively spacious, versatile mini-MPV with the comfies you expect at this price. And in the end, after having time to properly put it through its paces, I highly recommend you to have a look. It will ensure smiles, and therefore deserves to be way more successful than it (sadly) probably will be.

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