What's the used Fiat Panda hatchback like?
Viewed through the wide-angle lens of a historian, you might be tempted to say that no one makes small cars like Fiat. The Italian firm has been responsible for some of the most iconic urban runabouts over the past 60 years or so.
All of these diminutive tots displayed great flair on the surface and intelligent engineering underneath – enough to make them appeal to whole generations in their home country as the go-to cars of the people. The original Panda, one of those highly successful small cars, was a practical masterpiece. The second won the coveted European Car of the Year Award. This third-gen model is more efficient, more comfortable and more advanced in technology.
Now, there are plenty of these Pandas on the used market and they make very attractive purchases for those looking for economical urban motoring mixed in with a little Italian style and a healthy wedge of practicality.
There’s a choice of three engines, for one: a 68bhp 1.2-litre petrol, a 0.9 Twinair with 84bhp and a 74bhp 1.3-litre diesel. Later, post-facelift, 2020 Cross models came with only a 1.0-litre, three-cylinder mild-hybrid engine. Four-wheel drive is available on the 4x4 version and, from its launch in 2015, on the raised-up and toughened up Panda Cross model.
As for the trim levels, there are three key ones to choose from - Pop, Easy and Lounge. The entry-level model comes with electric front windows, a height-adjustable steering and hill hold assist, while upgrading to the Easy model adds remote central locking, air conditioning and roof rails. The range-topping Lounge trim gives the Panda 15in alloy wheels, front fog lights, a six-speaker sound system and Fiat's Uconnect infotainment system complete with USB and Bluetooth connectivity.
For those opting for the more rugged Panda 4x4 or the tougher Panda Cross, fear not, these both come with their own trim specification, with the former including 15in alloys, electrically adjustable and heated wing mirrors, and a height-adjustable driver's seat. The latter includes swish silver roof bars, climate control, LED day-running-lights, all-wheel drive and three driving modes, and mud and snow tyres.
On the road, the 1.2 petrol is no ball of fire, but it’s fine around town. If you regularly head beyond the city limits, then you should consider the diesel; it feels stronger and more flexible than the petrol, so is better at keeping up with traffic on faster roads. Twinair versions have a fair bit of mid-range muscle, but are gutless at very low revs and breathless at high ones.
Alas, refinement isn't great, either. The Panda's a little noisy by modern standards, and the ride's unsettled. It steers well, mark you, and its handling is safe and predictable if a little uninspiring.
Most of the fabrics and materials in the interior are of reasonable quality, and the driving position is straight and upright. There's plenty of head room front and back, although rear leg room is more limited for taller passengers. The boot is a useful size, and square in shape, so easy to load stuff into and get things out of.
So, the Panda's good-looking, cheap to run and full of charm. It’s not as much fun to drive as it once was, perhaps, and other more sophisticated rivals have come along and trumped it for agility and refinement, and definitely for safety.
But if you’re after a cheap city runabout that can do some of the things that larger cars can at a cost they cannot match, a used Panda still has a lot going for it. Do bear in mind though that Euro NCAP tested the admittedly ageing Panda in 2019 and it scored zero stars for safety.
A facelift in 2020 resulted in only the Panda Cross version being offered from new in the UK, this now equipped with a 1.0-litre, three-cylinder mild-hybrid engine. This harvests kinetic energy during braking and deceleration, which is stored in the battery. This enables the engine to shut down to conserve fuel when coasting or at a standstill, and can also be used to assist acceleration. It makes a relatively humble 69bhp and needs a fairly hefty right foot to keep up with fast-moving traffic.