Introduction to the Panda

I bought the Panda earlier this year, having gone from a mkI MX5 (lack of space) to a 2005 Skoda Fabia vRS. Whilst the Skoda was quite refined, reasonably quick and never failed to return less than 50mpg, it was plagued by reliability issues from the day I bought it and wasn’t especially involving to drive. After several hundred pounds and less than a year I moved it on and was left with that situation that all petrol heads enjoy when it’s somebody else’s car and money, but is always slightly stressful when it’s your own. The decision of which car swayed from the sublime (Clio 182) to the slightly dull (320d touring). Eventually I came to the Panda 100hp.

This might seem like a rather foolish choice. The Renault Sport Clio (172-182) is certainly better to drive, both down the twisting lanes that make up my drive to work and cruising along the dull motorways. The Fiesta ST offers more performance for a similar price and various German boxes can deliver me to work while using less fuel and in more comfort. But there’s something about the Panda that appeals, perhaps it’s the old underdog mindset that we Brits always enjoy. I had a diesel Panda several years ago, which enjoyed a monstrous 75hp from its 1.3 multijet engine, but it still managed to bring a smile to my face while squealing its horrific eco-tyres around the Nurburgring and transported three people and all the associated camping gear across the UK and Europe. Perhaps these memories left me with a soft spot for the Panda, but even without the found memories of the sensible Panda, the 100hp has always looked quite cool to my eyes.

 

Evo magazine ran a Fiat Panda 100hp a few years ago and the images of the gunmetal grey box flying over crests and careering around corners have remained stuck in my head. So after trying a couple and sampling some of the competition I settled on my car; a pretty standard car, with the usual relatively decent spec (for a small hatch) of bluetooth, climate control and electric front windows. This vehicle also has leather seats, though they are the same design as the usual cloth items, which don’t exactly hold you in place but then the car is so narrow there isn’t really anywhere to go when you do start to move around a bit anyway.

 

Owning the Fiat has been relatively painless so far. It’s pretty frugal on the petrol, never dropping below 40mpg and sometimes going up to over 50mpg when driven like a Granny. The ride, which came in for some criticism when the car was new, is truly awful. When in the car alone you don’t notice it as much as when passengers are being thrown up and down as if they’re attached to some kind of bungee, particularly if they’re in the back, but really the suspension/damping setup just isn’t right for the car. It seems as though the front is pretty well sorted, with an acceptable amount of roll through corners and everything seeming under control when pushing on. The rear is another story; hopping up and down over any kind of undulations and skipping to the side through corners if there are any bumps, which can be quite disconcerting. I’m not a chassis engineer, but it seems as though the rear dampers are too firm, particularly considering the lack of weight in the rear (the whole car weighs less than 1000kg).

The first 6 months with the Panda have been fun. It’s great fun down the lanes, with just enough poke from the small engine and a raspy exhaust to keep it interesting and a great little chassis to engage the driver. Being such a small car is great as well, as it almost always fits through the gaps between the legions of Range Rovers and Discoveries and tall hedges. It’s almost time for the first service in my ownership, so it will be interesting to see whether there are any currently unknown maladies, it would be shame for the little grey box to live up to all those Italian car stereotypes. I do hope not as the little Fiat has proven to be a really characterful and surprisingly practical companion so far.

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Tom Bayram

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