FIAT Panda 100HP 2007 Road Test

Thu, 08 Feb 2007

I’m a Panda fan. I like the Panda 1.1 Active. I like the Panda diesel. I like the Panda 4x4. So why did the indisputably cute Panda 100HP not quite push all my buttons?

It looks terrific. Like a souped-up small FIAT should. A basic, upright tiny utility car with fat alloys, chunky tyres and a special grille. It’s good inside, too, with supportive seats, nice steering wheel and the same brilliant centre switchgear arrangement of all Pandas. Mine came in a gorgeous deep metallic ‘New Orleans Blue’. And it has a rorty exhaust.

I can’t work out why they gave it six gears though, because they’re all low. Even 6th only gives you 21mph per 1,000rpm. So it’s no motorway cruiser. And they’re all very close together, not just in ratio, but also in lever movement. It’s hard to feel the change of plane shifting from 4th to 5th, though, strangely, much easier to slot from 5th to 4th, or 6th to 4th for that matter.

It hates speed bumps. Can’t cope with them at all. Too narrow to straddle metre-wide speed cushions. And crashes badly over street wide flat-tops at anything more than 20mph.

But though it’s a tiny car it feels big enough from the inside to mix it with motorway traffic. You aren’t intimidated. I had to divert off the M25 a junction early and take the M4 to my destination in Oxfordshire rather than the M40. That left a tedious run up the A424 at the wrong time of day for traffic and overtaking. Yet on the way back, next day, somehow the little car redeemed itself.

It’s not actually as perky as you think it will be. A bit flat in all the gears unless you rev the nuts off it. Yet somehow, on a clear, relatively open road, it’s quite satisfying and will pull the ton no problem. It’s also reasonably economical. I averaged 37mpg, then, in traffic most of the time from West of Oxford to Surrey, it averaged 41 on the trip computer. Keep to 60 – 70 and you would too.

Where the normal Panda’s electric steering has an ultra light City mode and a normal mode, on the 100HP it’s normal or Sport. At low speed Sport feels like someone with big hands had grabbed old of the steering column and is squeezing it as hard as they can to create a bit of resistance. Since the electric steering motor is clamped around the column rather than the rack this isn’t too far from the truth, though in fact what is really happening is you are getting less assistance. It’s not as bad as the Corsa’s steering, but it’s not as good as it could be.

And while you get such goodies as air-conditioning, FIAT doesn’t dig deep enough to give you tumble folding back seats. The backrests flop down onto the squabs and that’s it.

I kicked off wanting to like the Panda 100HP. Then I was disappointed. Then its charms grew on me and I ended up liking it after all. I can’t make a rational case for this, except that for a sporty car the running costs are tiny. An official 43.5mpg combined, 154g/km so Group D VED and £125 a year. A tiny kerb weight of just 975kg.

A MINI’s the expected way to have fun. The Panda 100HP is a cheaper, more cheerful way.

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