Our cars: Fiat Panda - April
Week ending April 26
Driven this week 151 miles
Fiat Panda review
This month I finally got round to fixing a couple of the Panda's enduring niggles. Or at least I tried. Neither of the problems was exactly major – the alternator belt had been slipping for a while and the driver's door handle had a habit of coming away in my hand when I pulled it – but clearly they needed sorting.
I booked the car in at Wilsons of Epsom, which was easy enough because they slotted me in with just two days' notice. I was told they'd investigate the problems while I waited and to bring the car in at 8.30am. However, when I arrived the service adviser informed me that they wouldn't be able to look at the car until the afternoon, and that I couldn't have a courtesy car because there were none left.
I made my displeasure known and the car was swiftly taken through to the workshop to be looked at. It quickly transpired that neither problem could be resolved that day, because a new alternator belt and door handle were needed, and neither part was in stock. The good news is that both parts have now been ordered and, as I expected, the work will be carried out free of charge under Fiat's three-year/60,000-mile warranty.
The staff at Wilsons were always polite and courteous, and even gave the car a clean before returning the keys to me. Hopefully the experience will be as painless when I return to have the parts fitted. Oh, and I must remember to top-up that screenwash!
By Will Nightingale
Week ending April 19
Driven this week 288 miles
Fiat's original launch for this generation of Panda was utter chaos, with striking workers and riot police outside the event HQ at the Naples factory that builds it (and which has received hundreds of millions of pounds of investment as a result).
Still, out of that near-farce, and in the clear light of everyday use, it's good to see that it's as easy to warm to this Panda as it has been countless small Fiats over the past 40 years. It is supremely well judged, I think, for city use, with great manoeuvrability, excellent visibility, a supple ride and - with our car's 1.2-litre, four-cylinder engine - decent refinement. If I'm popping into town at lunchtime, or going into central London for a meeting, the Panda's is one of the first sets of keys I look for.
I've seen other hacks fawning over Fiat's two-cylinder TwinAir unit in this car, but I can't imagine myself ever recommending that engine over our four-pot. True, its roots may lie in the 'FIRE' engines that powered the original Uno back in the eighties, but it's eager, willing to rev and smooth right up to its red line. By contrast, the TwinAir is gruff, harsh and full of unwanted vibration.
If that weren't enough, our engine's real-world fuel economy is no worse, and it's cheaper to buy in the first place. I call that a no-brainer.
By John McIlroy
Week ending April 12th
Driven this week 300 miles
I spend too much time in the Big Smoke and its sprawling suburbs, so I have a lot of time for cars that make tight, busy urban roads easier to navigate. The Panda is one of them. It's quite square-shaped, with big windows and an upright seating position, so is easy to see out of, which makes it easy to judge in narrow gaps. It’s also sprightly enough off the mark, which makes dealing with traffic easy.
However, I’d agree with Will Nightingale’s comments on the equipment. How does a near-£10k supermini get away without air-con or remote locking? As a final niggle, I got very fed up of the indicators, which blink five times rather than the standard three every time you dip the stalk. It’s an unnecessary amount of indicating. Irrational, I know, but it frustrated me anyway.
Week ending April 5
Driven this week 102 miles
The Panda spent an evening this week in the custody of our friends at Pistonheads. Reporter Alex Robbins gave us his thoughts:
'An evening spent sprinting across South London in the Panda shows it in arguably its best light. The snuffly 1.2-litre engine is a surprisingly characterful thing in this environment; there’s just about enough oomph to nip into gaps and buzz away from traffic lights. Meanwhile, the quick steering makes each roundabout easy to negotiate, even if it doesn’t offer an awful lot of feel.
'That said, the aux belt screech we identified a couple of months ago isn’t getting any better, meaning a trip to the dealers could be inevitable. I find it surprising that a car of this age has succumbed to such a problem, especially as on the whole the Panda feels better put-together than Fiats of old.
'As charming as its driving experience might be, it can’t disguise a paucity of standard equipment, which makes the £8900 asking price increasingly difficult to justify.'
By Will Nightingale