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When you think of small cars  most people always think of Fiat. The original 500L of the late 1960's to the new  500 are well known for their fun and cute characteristics.  The new 2012 Fiat Panda launched in February  is a third generation car and appears  like a grown up brother to the 500 with its two extra doors. It's shape is quite  smart with  rounded profiles that follow a design principle of rounded circles or " squircles" that aims to appeal to a broader and younger  range of driver.

My test drive was with Jane Jobson who is  sales executive at Grays  Garage Warwick, a long establish family Fiat dealship. With some  24 years  experience of Fiats and Alfa Romeo she knows Italian cars well.   To give me a base line of the Panda I asked Jane to sum the car up in 5 words. She said "cheeky, stylish, soulful, nippy and comfy". By contrast Jane's view on her worst car owned was a Mini metro and one of favourite cars is the  Alfa Romeo Spyder which is full of character and Italian style.

Launched in 1980, when the customer were looking for an inexpensive, basic, no fills runabout , the original Panda was a big hit. Practical, versatile, cheap and easy to maintain. It ticked all the boxes and looked like two small square boxes with sharp edges. In 2003 a new Panda was introduced, bringing new levels of quality and refinement to the city car segment . Another instant hit, it won the car of the year in 2004 and much liked by James May of Top Gear. The 2012 model is a much more grown up car. It is a bit longer, wider, taller and rounder to be more modern and more urbanised.

The Panda comes in three versions of Pop, Easy and Lounge from £8900 to £12250 with a choice of three engines from the 900cc Twin Spark, 1.2 litre Fire petrol and 1.3 litre multi jet diesel engine. Our test car was the entry 1.2 Pop in bright red. Whilst super cars have natural appeal there is an attraction of simplicity of the Panda. With 5 doors, folding rear seats, possible roof rails the new Panda offers versatility of a practical city vehicle, to a Postman Pat type mini van and load lugger for bikes and pets. For some it will be a second or third car in the family and suited to young drivers.

On the base model the details looked generally rugged. The door panels are of firm plastic with printed PANDA words and the solid speaker grills that should be able to take knocks. The steering wheel and dash are full of squircles and feel good. Less tactile and pleasing was the action of the heater knobs which felt a little flimsy. The cabins is easy to enter and airy with plenty of leg room for rear passengers. You sit quite high and after a while the seats become quite comfy as if they have memory foam in them.

For those interested in the engine bay there is good  access to work around the engine compared to many new cars. I was disappointed with the incomplete paint finish to the underside of the bonnet and engine bay. The mixture of red and undercoat brown finish  would cost less than a £10 aerosol can of spray paint to complete back in the factory, and more importantly reflect the quality of the rest of the car.

On the move the car was smooth and comfortable. Whilst not overly rapid to 60mph (14.2 seconds) it achieves it without too much noise and fuss. Jane outlined that the The TwinAir offers more fun with its 85bhp turbocharged engine, but comes at a £1850 premium. The 1.2 Pop seems well bolted together with few creaks, even when nipping down cobbled streets of Warwick and nips around bends with ease. The Panda has a character to fit in with a wide range of locations from urban unit, to chocolate box cottages to castle as per my photo locations. The Panda is a people's cars that don't need to be flash and I would be too fussed to be dropped off at school in.


In summary, I found myself agreeing with Jane that the Panda is a very soulful and practical city car. So good was the test car that it has changed my young view on Fiat cars. By having a small car you don't have to compromise. With a Panda Less is More and good for your pocket and environment. For those with a bit more dosh  the 1.2 Lounge at £10050 which comes with a nice set of alloys, air conditioning and other toys to fiddle around with. In short – Panda Perfect – cute, practical  and loveable. A 4X4 version will shortly be in the range for those who have to cope with muddy and wintery conditions or have to herd mountain goats. 


Overall 4 Stars out of 5 

Panda is "solid" like Warwick Castle 

Detailing of squared circles or "squircles" works well



Fiat Panda Competitors are the VW UP - Skoda Citigo and Seat Mii which are based upon the same car, Hyundai i10, Kia Picanto and Citreon C1. 



Thanks to Jane at Grays for providing the featured car.

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