The new model is 3.65m long, around 12cm longer than the outgoing model; it’s also six centimetres wider, at 1.64m. It gets ‘softer’, more curved styling at the front, but retains the Panda’s distinctive, upright stance.
Fiat claims it can cope with five passengers - helped by new, thinner seatbacks that free up space. The cabin gets more body-coloured mouldings in the fascia - not dissimilar to those in the 500, which shares many of the same underpinnings - and a deep dashboard pocket ahead of the passenger.
There’s a rear seat that folds and slides, and the front passenger’s seat backrest can fold forwards to become a table. The engine line-up will include a pair of two-cylinder petrol units (a 64bhp motor and a turbocharged 84bhp version), and a 1.3-litre, four-cylinder 74bhp diesel. All of these engines get stop-start as standard; the remaining option, a 68bhp, 1.2-litre petrol, does not.
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There’s no word yet on a successor to the 100HP performance model, but it’s likely. An automatic option, linked to the two-cylinder engines, will arrive soon after launch.
The Panda’s chassis set-up remains the same, with MacPherson suspension at the front and a torsion beam at the rear. The initial models will all be front-wheel drive, but Fiat has also confirmed that a four-wheel-drive variant is planned.
At launch there will be more than 600 possible model configurations, thanks to four engines, three trim levels, 10 body colours, four interior colours, two hub caps and a choice of 14in or 15in alloy wheels. Fiat is bolstering the Panda’s line-up of safety kit for the new generation; the car gets four airbags, front seatbelt pre-tensioners and daytime running lights as standard.
Also due, within a year of the Panda’s launch, is a system that detects obstacles at speeds of up to 20mph and slows the car automatically. The car will be built at Fiat’s Pomigliano factory in Naples from late autumn, taking Panda production away from the Polish plant that builds the 500. It’s due to go on sale in the UK in spring 2012. We’d expect pricing to stick closely to the outgoing car’s, so the range should start from around £8500.