What Car? says...
Boxy, bite-size, SUV-style cars seem to have a natural ability to generate a cult following. The latest Fiat Panda is a prime example. Its no-nonsense ethos has struck a chord with enthusiasts and value-minded buyers over many years and it's a common sight in plenty of bustling European cities.
On paper, it’s a great value proposition here in the UK, and a car you might be considering along with the Dacia Sandero, Hyundai i10, Kia Picanto and Volkswagen Up. Or if you're looking at the off-road-inspired Panda Cross, than perhaps you might also be thinking about a Dacia Duster, MG ZS or Suzuki Ignis.
Low pricing isn't the be-all and end-all, though. Cheap small cars can also be good to drive, and these days there’s no need to forgo the fancy infotainment systems and other mod cons that we’ve come to expect in posher and pricier cars.
Speaking of which, the Panda has been around for yonks – although Fiat says it's a car in touch with modern times. The latest version is powered by a mild-hybrid engine, with the aim of reducing emissions while also improving performance and fuel economy.
So, does the Fiat Panda still deserve a place on your shortlist? How does it stack up against rivals? And which version should you choose if you want to buy one? Read on to find out.
And whichever car you decide best suits your needs, head to our free What Car? New Car Deals pages to find the lowest prices on most models with no hassle.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
There’s only one engine for the Panda: a mild-hybrid petrol that also features in the closely related Fiat 500. And mild really does mean means mild: it gets little more than a faint whiff of electrical assistance.
You can’t plug this car in and it can’t travel on battery power alone (a Toyota Yaris will let you potter without firing up its petrol engine). There's less electrical assistance even than in a mild-hybrid Ford Fiesta.
In fact, the Panda’s 69bhp mild hybrid-system is of the kind seen in the Suzuki Ignis. There's a naturally aspirated 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine aided by a small lithium-ion battery and tiny electric motor that, in theory, boosts acceleration.
Accelerate hard and the Panda’s engine wheezes away, transmitting plenty of vibration through the pedals. Also, its six-speed manual gearshift is clunky and vague, and not a patch on the shift in the Picanto and Volkswagen Up. As with most cars in this price bracket, there's lots of road and wind noise at 70mph. If you're looking for relative tranquility, the Hyundai i10 is better bet.
The i10 also rides a lot more comfortably. It's not that the Panda thumps alarmingly over potholes – it takes most of the sting out of sharp edges pretty well – but it bounces and fidgets around over most surfaces. That makes it rather wearing to drive for any great distance.
While its light steering is ideal for parking, it’s also vague when you are looking for that sense of connection to help you guide the nose confidently through faster corners. Combine this with significant body lean, and the Panda isn't a car with driver appeal by the bucket load. If you enjoy zipping about in a car with rewarding handling, the surprisingly entertaining Picanto demands a test drive.
If off-road handling is high on your list, then you'll be disappointed to know that the Panda is no longer offered with four-wheel drive, despite the all-terrain looks of the Cross version. We’d suggest a four-wheel-drive version of the Dacia Duster if mud-plugging is in your plans.
The interior layout, fit and finish
The first thing you'll notice from the Fiat Panda's driving seat is the ancient-looking dials and trip computer display. Now, having analogue dials is no shame in this class, but the design and typography of the Panda’s makes it hard to gauge exactly what speed you're doing, and the small digital display in the middle is about as up to date as Ceefax and a faff to work.
A height-adjustable driver’s seat is standard, but the steering wheel adjusts only up and down and not in and out, so finding a comfortable driving position isn't always easy – especially if you're tall. The seat isn't that supportive, either, and the footwell is cramped, with very little room for your left leg behind the clutch pedal. Budget cars need not be like this, as the far better driving positions in the Hyundai i10 and Kia Picanto prove.
The raised driving position at least provides a good view out the front, and the view rearwards is also decent thanks to the large rear window. Rear parking sensors are optional on all trims but there's no option of a rear-view camera, or LED headlights for a brighter view ahead at night.
Cheaper versions of the Panda make do without a modern touchscreen infotainment system like those offered in most rivals. Instead, they get a 5.0in display, plus an AM/FM and DAB radio that incorporates Bluetooth connectivity. This set-up feels like a blast from the past and isn’t very user-friendly, either.
Pricer versions have a proper 7.0in touchscreen, though – which is actually pretty decent by the standard of what you get in many similar-priced alternatives. The operating system is fairly user-friendly and comes with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring as standard.
While no rival comes with particularly plush fixtures and fittings to relish, the i10 does at least look smart, while the Picanto and Volkswagen Up feel screwed together well. The Panda, on the other hand, features a palette of pretty low-rent plastics that have an undesirable flimsiness.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
There's a reasonable amount of space for people in the front of the Fiat Panda and storage is okay, too – there are a couple of cupholders and some fairly shallow door bins. The tall body means head room is good, but leg room isn't particularly generous. The Hyundai i10 is roomier, for example, and the Dacia Duster (which is in the same price range) offers way more space.
That's even more the case when you move to the rear, where the Duster also has a distinct advantage. Rear leg room in the Panda is tight, and trying to seat three adult passengers in the back will be a proper old squeeze.
The Panda’s boot is a practical shape. In terms of outright capacity, though, it’s even smaller than those of the i10 and Volkswagen Up. Again, if you want more luggage space for similar money, check out the Dacia Sandero or Duster, or the MG ZS. As standard, the Panda features a 60/40 split-folding rear bench, but the seats don’t slide or recline.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
The Fiat Panda used to be a dirt cheap runaround, and while it's still one of the cheaper new cars you can buy, it isn't the bargain you might expect. The starting price is way above the Dacia Sandero, Hyundai i10 or Kia Picanto for example, and roughly on a par with the much larger Dacia Duster.
If you're hell-bent on buying a Panda, do check out our New Car Deals pages, where you'll usually find healthy discounts.
Fuel economy figure is good but not spectacular, despite the efforts of that mild-hybrid motor. You'll get far better fuel economy from a full hybrid like the Toyota Yaris, especially around town – although that's a much more expensive car to buy. CO2 emissions for the Panda are respectably low, though, at well below 100g/km.
By far the most worrying thing about the Panda, and one of the main reasons we've given it a one-star rating, is its woeful safety rating. Automatic emergency braking (AEB) isn't even available as an option, and when it was crash-tested by safety experts Euro NCAP in 2018, the results were damning. Adults in the front are at risk of chest and leg injuries, while those sitting in the back fared even worse, with a high risk of chest and neck injuries.
Children in the rear are so vulnerable that NCAP gave the Panda no points for the child occupancy crash test – no other car has set a lower bar. Indeed, the Panda's results were so bad that its overall score is zero out of five. No, that's not a typo: zero out of five. It didn’t fare much better when tested by security experts Thatcham. The organisation awarded the Panda just two out of five for its resistance to theft, and one for guarding against being broken into.
Reliability isn't its saviour, either. As a brand, Fiat as a brand finished rock bottom in the 2021 What Car? Reliability Survey – way below Dacia, Hyundai and Kia. Like all Fiats the Panda comes with a two-year manufacturer warranty and a further one-year dealer warranty.
Whichever trim you buy, it won't be gushing with gadgets. If you must buy a Panda, keep it cheap and go for the entry-level City Life, which has electric front windows and air-conditioning as standard, but not a lot else. Don't bother with the pricier trims. In fact, you'd spend your money more wisely on a Hyundai i10.
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|RRP price range
|£14,765 - £16,240
|Number of trims (see all)
|Number of engines (see all)
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)
|MPG range across all versions
|57.6 - 58.9
|Available doors options
|3 years / No mileage cap
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)
|£725 / £800
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)
|£1,450 / £1,600