The Fiat Panda, after a nearly a decade in hibernation, returned in 2004 as a whole different beast. These days, it’s a five-door city car that’s bursting with character.
Its hatchback body style and large windows give it a bright, airy interior with a good dose of practicality, and there’s a choice of economical petrol, diesel and hybrid petrol engines.
It’s the perfect choice if you’re shopping for a first car and it also suits urban owners who want to keep motoring costs to a minimum.
‘Cute’ is how we’d describe the Fiat Panda’s face, thanks to high-set headlights and a cheeky mouth of a grille. The Panda’s body has an upright stance – some might call it boxy – that pairs tall doors with a high roofline. This means you don’t have to stoop as much as you do in rival city cars when getting in, and there’s lots of headroom once you’re there.
The Panda’s rear is also upright, which makes life easier when reverse parking and gives the hatchback boot a huge opening, allowing it to hold surprisingly bulky loads.
The Lounge, 4x4, and Cross versions add front fog lights, alloy wheels, body-coloured door mirrors and roof bars, which lend the Panda a quasi-SUV look.
‘Cute’ is how we’d describe the Fiat Panda’s face.
What’s it like to drive?
The Fiat Panda’s cheeky looks are matched by its fun driving style. Its suspension might not be quite as adept as the Volkswagen up!, though most bumps are absorbed and the body is controlled when turning into side streets. You can press a ‘City’ button on the dashboard to make it even lighter for tight parking spots – a feature we really like.
Most Panda buyers tend to opt for the turbocharged 0.9-litre TwinAir or 1.2-litre petrol engines. The 1.2 is ideal for town driving, and we’d opt for the smaller TwinAir if you make occasional motorway journeys. A mild hybrid was introduced in 2020 with a 1.0-litre petrol engine – this is also best suited to city driving.
The Fiat Panda’s cheeky looks are matched by its fun driving style.
The Fiat Panda’s fun interior has brightly coloured seats and a swoopy dashboard. You won’t find any soft-touch plastics here, reinforcing the Panda’s easy-going and practical feeling – everything is nicely built. You’ll notice a square theme to the dash, with the audio and ventilation controls plus analogue instruments sitting within square housings with rounded corners. It’s all very charming. The dash also incorporates the high-set gearstick.
Most versions come in Pop, Easy, or Lounge trim, and all get a four-speaker CD and MP3 player, plus electric front windows. Fun is big on the Panda’s agenda. Easy spec adds air-con and remote locking, and Lounge brings six speakers, the Uconnect entertainment system, Bluetooth, and a USB port. City and Sport trims were added in 2020.
This is a city car, so you can’t expect miracles when it comes to interior space. Having said that, headroom is excellent for everyone. Legroom isn’t so good for taller adults in the rear seats, though the bench slides to favour knee room or boot space, so you can handle trips to the cinema with several friends then flip to a setup that locks your luggage away securely for a solo getaway.
The seats themselves are soft and comfortable, and the view out of the side windows is excellent. The windscreen pillars are thick, and some models get rear parking sensors.
With the rear seats in use, the boot’s capacity matches that of the Hyundai i10. That’s to say it has enough room for a few holdalls. The seat back isn’t split on cars without the Flex Pack, so folds as one piece – with it down, you’ll be able to get a couple of suitcases in for that run to the airport.
There’ll be a step in the boot floor, which makes sliding objects in a bit tricky, but the large boot lid gives you a nice square opening to fit bulky items through. As a bonus, the front passenger seat back can be folded down if you want to fit long loads in.
Storage space for those up front is surprisingly good, with a glovebox and a separate cubby in front of the passenger, plus door bins and a tray between the front seats. You’ll also find cup holders. All these features make the Panda very practical for simple commutes and days out.
Running costs and reliability
All of the Fiat Panda’s engines are economical, with the TwinAir averaging around 45mpg and the 1.2 getting close to 50mpg in the real world.
The 1.3 Multijet diesel is capable of returning economy in the 60s, but bear in mind that these figures will drop considerably if you head for the motorway.
The newer Panda Cross with the mild hybrid engine has been examined under the latest, more accurate WLTP regime, and has an official average figure of 49.6mpg.
What we love
We love the Fiat Panda’s styling, both inside and out – it’s nimble and you’ll find it hard not to smile when one passes you on the road. Its economical engines are perfect for life in and around the town, and despite its city car dimensions, the Panda’s interior is surprisingly practical, which makes it ideal for young drivers who need to carry friends and their baggage from time to time.
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Prefer your city car with a dash of practicality, flair and low running costs? Then the Fiat Panda will serve you well. It’s surprisingly practical (some versions can even wade through mud) and most examples come with a good amount of equipment that’ll keep you and your passengers happy.
This review was