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Fiat Panda

Motoring Review

The Fiat Panda is a city car from the Italian automobile manufacturer Fiat. The first Fiat Panda was introduced in 1980, and was produced until 2003 with only a few changes. It is now sometimes referred to as the "old Panda". The second model, launched in 2003, is sometimes referred to as the "New Panda" or "Nuova Panda" i.e. in Italian of course. It was the European Car of the Year in 2004.

The first generation, which ran from 1980 to 2003, was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro. Sad to say, the Panda was designed as a modern day "peasant car", a cheap, basic, no-frills utility vehicle that would be easy to use and maintain, but thanks to the latter upgrades, it now stands in on the same platform contending with cars such as the Citroën 2CV and Renault 4. Introduced in 1980, the Panda was noted for its box-like styling, which would become the house style for Fiats throughout the 1980s.

Mechanically the first Pandas borrowed heavily from the Fiat parts bin. Engines and transmissions came from the Fiat 127 and, in certain territories, the air-cooled 652 cc two-cylinder power plant from the Fiat 126. The drive for a mechanically simple car was also evident in the rear suspension, which used a dead axle suspended on leaf springs. Later versions of the car added various mechanical improvements but this spirit of robust simplicity was adhered to throughout the life of the model.

Many design features denote the Panda's "utility car" role. Examples include a 7-position adjustable rear seat which could be folded flat to make a bed, or folded into a V shape to support awkward loads, or easily and quickly removed altogether to increase the overall load space. The first Pandas also featured removable, washable seat covers, door trims and dashboard cover, and all the glass panels were flat making replacements easy and cheap to produce. Much like its earlier French counterparts the Panda could be specified with a two piece roll forward canvas roof. The original Panda met with great success across Europe, polling 2nd in the 1981 European Car of the Year awards in its first full year of production, staying in production in some regions until May 2003.

The first Pandas came fitted with either a two cylinder air-cooled 652 cc engine or a four cylinder water cooled engine displacing 903 cc. It was designed to be a practical affordable car, mechanically simple and robust. In September 1982 Fiat added more engines to the line-up. The Panda 34 used an 843 cc water-cooled unit derived from that in the 850.

The second generation Panda, nicknamed New Panda and codenamed Model 169, first appeared in 2003. In its development phase, the new Panda was originally intended to be called "Gingo". However, this name was considered to be too similar to the Renault Twingo, so Fiat decided to continue with the name Panda.

The Panda includes an option for split rear seats, which makes the Panda a four-seater. Since September 2005, all Pandas are equipped with ABS, EBD and at least two front airbags. The gear-lever is located high on the central dashboard, which is designed to make changing gears more comfortable than with a conventional floor-mounted gearstick.

In addition to the retail success, the Top Gear Motoring Survey in 2006 ranked it 8th out of 152 cars surveyed for reliability, craftsmanship, ownership costs, driving experience and service received.

The smallest engine, the 1.1 L petrol SOHC FIRE engine, which is rated at 40 kW and found in the Fiat Seicento, has been criticized for being underpowered for the Panda, which weighs over 850 kg, and the acceleration in particular was considered to be very slow. This engine is a construction from the early 80's.

It comes on a 1.2 litre, 60 hp, 45 kW derivative of the 1,1 litre and this gives quite adequate performance in the Panda. The higher torque is a more important advantage than higher maximum power on this engine compared to the smaller 1,1 litre.

The trail of its record on the market and with competition speaks volumes of the achievements Fiat realized with this car. It didn't disappoint Fiat and it surely doesn't disappoint its buyers.

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