Fiat Panda review

Category: Small car

The Panda has a terrible safety rating and little else to recommend it, so it's one to avoid

Green Fiat Panda front cornering
  • Green Fiat Panda front cornering
  • Green Fiat Panda rear right driving
  • Fiat Panda interior dashboard
  • Fiat Panda interior front seats
  • Fiat Panda infotainment screen
  • Green Fiat Panda right driving
  • Green Fiat Panda front left driving
  • Green Fiat Panda front cornering
  • Green Fiat Panda rear right driving
  • Green Fiat Panda right static
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  • Green Fiat Panda alloy wheel
  • Green Fiat Panda Cross body detail
  • Green Fiat Panda rear badge
  • Fiat Panda interior front seats
  • Fiat Panda interior air-con controls
  • Fiat Panda interior seat detail
  • Green Fiat Panda front cornering
  • Green Fiat Panda rear right driving
  • Fiat Panda interior dashboard
  • Fiat Panda interior front seats
  • Fiat Panda infotainment screen
  • Green Fiat Panda right driving
  • Green Fiat Panda front left driving
  • Green Fiat Panda front cornering
  • Green Fiat Panda rear right driving
  • Green Fiat Panda right static
  • Green Fiat Panda rear left static
  • Green Fiat Panda alloy wheel
  • Green Fiat Panda Cross body detail
  • Green Fiat Panda rear badge
  • Fiat Panda interior front seats
  • Fiat Panda interior air-con controls
  • Fiat Panda interior seat detail
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Introduction

What Car? says...

Boxy, bite-size, SUV-style cars seem to have a natural ability to generate a cult following – and the current Fiat Panda is a prime example.

The Panda's 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 and Kia Picanto. Or if you're looking at the off-road-inspired Panda Cross, then 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 we’ve come to expect in posher and pricier cars.

So does the latest Fiat Panda have what it takes to live up to all that and compete with the best small cars? Read on to find out...

Overview

People talk about things like “charm” and “character” when discussing the Fiat Panda, but the cold, hard facts we measure cars by prove it to be a poor choice. It's very disappointing to drive and isn’t very practical, but by far the worst thing about it is its abysmal Euro NCAP safety rating. There are, quite simply, far better small cars to choose from.

  • Individual looks
  • Decent head room
  • Good rear visibility
  • Abysmal Euro NCAP crash test result
  • Poor rear leg room
  • Slow and poor to drive
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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 Hybrid. And mild really does mean 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, which the Toyota Yaris and hybrid versions of the Peugeot 208 and Renault Clio can do. That ultimately makes those rivals more efficient. 

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.

However, you wouldn't know it. You really have to work the gears hard to make any meaningful progress and, even then, 0-62mph takes a ponderous 13.9 seconds. That's quite a bit slower than any Dacia Sandero and only slightly quicker than an entry-level 1.0 Kia Picanto.

If you accelerate hard, 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. As with most cars in this price bracket, there's lots of road and wind noise at 70mph. If you're looking for relative tranquillity, the Hyundai i10 is a 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.

Fiat Panda image
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While the Panda's 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 that with significant body lean, and this isn't a car with driver appeal by the bucket load.

If you enjoy zipping about in a small car with rewarding handling, the surprisingly entertaining Picanto demands a test drive.

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 Dacia Duster if mud-plugging is in your plans.

Driving overview 

Strengths Engine is fairly economical

Weaknesses Vague manual gearbox; rivals ride better; not very good to drive

Green Fiat Panda rear right driving

Interior

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 a small car, but the design of the Panda’s makes it hard to gauge exactly what speed you're doing, and the small digital display in the middle is a faff to work.

A height-adjustable driver’s seat is standard, but the steering wheel adjusts only up and down (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 to the front, and the view rearwards is decent thanks to the large rear window. Rear parking sensors are standard if you go for the Panda Cross or the Panda’s mid-spec Top trim, but there's no option of a rear-view camera or brighter LED headlights.

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.

Pricer versions have a proper 7.0in touchscreen, and it's 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.

While no rival comes with particularly plush fixtures and fittings to relish, the i10 does at least look smart, while the Picanto feels screwed together well. The Panda, on the other hand, features a palette of pretty low-rent plastics that have an undesirable flimsiness. 

Interior overview 

Strengths Decent infotainment system on higher-spec versions; good visibility

Weaknesses Uncomfortable driving position; rivals have better interiors; gauges hard to read

Fiat Panda interior dashboard

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, with the tall body giving a good amount of head room. Leg room isn’t particularly generous though, meaning that the Hyundai i10 feels roomier, while the Dacia Duster offers way more space. 

Front storage is decent rather than generous, consisting of a couple of cupholders and some fairly shallow door bins. 

Rear space is even less generous. Rear leg room is tight, and trying to seat three adult passengers in the back will be a proper old squeeze. Again, the Duster gives you way more space for around the same money.

The Panda’s boot is a practical shape. In terms of outright capacity, you get 225 litres, which is even less than in a Hyundai i10 or Kia Picanto. Again, if you want more luggage space for similar money, check out the Dacia Sandero or the generally larger Dacia Duster and MG ZS.

The Panda has a 60/40 split-folding rear bench, but the standard seats don’t slide or recline.

Practicality overview 

Strengths Generous front head room; boot is a practical shape

Weaknesses Not as spacious as rivals; rivals have bigger boots

Fiat Panda interior front seats

Buying & owning

Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is

The Fiat Panda used to be a dirt cheap runaround, but its price has risen over the years. The good news is that it hasn’t increased as much as most of its rivals, meaning it’ll cost you more than the entry-level Dacia Sandero but less than the Hyundai i10 or Kia Picanto. As ever, check for the latest prices on our New Car Deals pages

Thanks to the mild-hybrid motor and the tiny engine, the Panda’s fuel economy figure is actually pretty good, promising up to 58.9mpg officially. That’s more than the Picanto 1.0 DPi ISG but less than the Hyundai i10 and nowhere near as good as a full hybrid – the Toyota Yaris, for example. While the Panda’s CO2 emissions are respectably low, the Yaris’s are lower still. 

If you want to keep costs down, entry-level Panda trim is the one to go for. There’s no mistaking why its price tag is so low though, because it's not gushing with gadgets. Indeed, highlights are 15in steel wheels, air conditioning and a heated rear window.

If you must buy a Panda, we’d upgrade to Cross trim because it’s not that much more but gives you more luxuries, including the larger infotainment system and rear parking sensors. 

Meanwhile, RED and Garmin specs both add niceties such as automatic climate control, heated front seats and special styling, but are way too expensive to recommend. 

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. 

Fiat fared better in the 2023 What Car? Reliability Survey than you might expect, claiming 15th place out of the 32 included car makers. That’s above Peugeot, Renault, MG and Vauxhall but below Toyota, Suzuki and Dacia. Like all Fiats, the Panda comes with a two-year manufacturer warranty and a further one-year dealer warranty.

Costs overview 

Strengths Cheap to buy 

Weaknesses Terrible safety rating; not much standard equipment


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Fiat Panda infotainment screen

FAQs

  • No, not really. Sure, it might have a bit of a cult following, but rival small cars are better in all areas and significantly safer, based on the Panda’s zero star Euro NCAP score.

  • No – definitely not. Whether you go for the Fiat 500 Hybrid or the (much more expensive) Fiat 500 Electric you'll be getting a far superior car to the Panda. It will cost you more to buy, but will be better to drive, safer and just as practical.

  • It’s hard to pinpoint why the Panda gained such a cult following, but it’s likely because it has always been a cool boxy thing that doesn’t cost all that much to buy. For alternatives we rate more highly, see our best small cars page.

At a glance
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RRP price range £14,775 - £16,275
Number of trims (see all)2
Number of engines (see all)1
Available fuel types (which is best for you?)petrol
MPG range across all versions 58.9 - 58.9
Available doors options 5
Warranty 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
Available colours