With the arrival of an undeniably attractive new Panda, a TwinAir-engined Punto, and a corresponding Alfa Romeo Mito to come, 2012 sees Fiat Group’s assault on the lucrative small hatchback market mounting.
Squircle – An Evolution of the Square
The original Panda was a resolutely angular creation, and perhaps the most deserving recipient of the moniker ‘boxy’. Giorgietto Giugiaro’s legendary design, however, cemented the utilitarian Panda’s place in automotive history, and for good reason. Twenty-three years later the second generation Panda arrived on forecourts and, although to a lesser degree, was still very much a disciple of the square. Now, more than three decades after the original, Fiat’s latest Panda is decidedly more curvaceous and looking better than ever. The third generation is still true to its design heritage, nonetheless, and so a compromise has been struck; the car’s interior and exterior are now overrun by a ‘squircle’ theme, which Fiat describe as combining “the efficiency of squareness with the pleasantness of a circle”.
Inside, the Panda is a significant improvement on the car it replaces and Centro Stile Fiat’s decision to raise the driving position and lower the beltline pays dividends that are immediately apparent. Combined with a wraparound DLO, the Panda easily feels twice its size.
The most striking aspect of the interior is the unusual dashboard, which consists of a thick band of contrasting colour to the remaining plastics that frames the radio, instrument cluster and a usefully large bucket-like storage compartment on the passenger side. Built into this band are squircle shaped climate control dials and the air vents, which are vertically mounted at each end to emphasise width. Wherever you look, the squircle motif is repeated ad infinitum and orange backlit dials on gloss black plastic lend the interior a sophisticated yet playful atmosphere. Another interesting, and typically quirky, feature are the letters ‘P.A.N.D.A’ embossed on the interior’s black plastics. Look carefully.
Design Director Roberto Giolito has also endeavored to instill a feeling of ‘robustness’ into the Panda and, from the outside, the Panda certainly conveys a sense of ruggedness yet avoids the associated clumsiness that so often goes hand-in-hand. This can be attributed to Panda’s subtle but strong lines and a sparing and considered use of black bumper inserts.
Something you might not notice at first are the ‘third’ windows set between the B and C-pillars. Fiat believes that this creates a ‘seamless graphic’ around the rear three-quarter of the Panda and, by-and-large, they are a success although from some angles look a little misplaced. It’s the front graphic, however, that has evolved most noticeably.
Three-dimensional headlights with ‘jewel’s inside are mounted higher than the previous model and also subtly curve upwards and outwards into the Panda’s defined fenders. A nose-cone feature on the bonnet and tasteful daytime running strips complete the transformation.
Due to its compact dimensions, high driving position and excellent visibility, it’s already hard to look past the new Panda when it comes to congested city driving, and that’s before you discover its coup de grâce.
TwinAir: Low-emissions Fun
Fiat’s 875cc 2-cylinder masterpiece first found a home in the rejuvenated 500, where it caused quite a stir. Now can specify your Panda, and also your Punto, with the same engine.
The TwinAir makes perfect sense in the Panda for all the same reasons it does in the 500: it’s exceptionally clean – emitting just 99g/km CO2, it doesn’t need to worked hard, and it produces a playful, charismatic exhaust note. The 85bhp it generates doesn’t look like much on paper but, like the Peugeot 208, a low kerb weight of 1050kg means that the Panda TwinAir has roughly the same power-to-weight ratio as the substantially more powerful Volkswagen Golf Bluemotion. Even in ‘ECO’ mode, where the engine’s output is limited to 75bhp to save fuel, the Panda, whilst not exactly sprightly, floats along with relative ease.
The nature of the 2-cylinder engine means that it will return more or less the same economy in most circumstances. In London’s congested streets, the Panda managed just over 40mpg with the help of an accomplished stop/start system and likewise on the motorway, cruising at 70mph (any more and the engine starts to strain a little), we achieved a little over 45mpg. Of course, sitting at 50-60mph is going to give a higher figure, but that kind of driving rarely applies in the real world. For tight, urban environments the Panda also comes with ‘City’ mode, which is activated by a steering wheel-logoed button on the dashboard. It’s a useful feature that noticeably lightens the power-steering (not that the steering is any way heavy to start with) and is generally best left ‘on’.
Fiat has recently taken the bold step of transplanting the TwinAir engine into their larger, B-segment contender, the Punto, which has also undergone a small facelift late into its shelf life.
The Punto TwinAir is likely to split opinion but we think it works well as it is sufficiently light enough to function with just 85bhp. Punto buyers will also be treated to a dual-mass flywheel, absent in the Panda, which endows it with markedly smoother power delivery while retaining the TwinAir’s signature happy-go-lucky disposition. The Punto is also available in the loud ‘Unplugged Green’ colour, which is exclusive to the TwinAir. This one, however, is in the arguably more conservative ‘Tango Red’.
The Punto is on its way out but, more importantly, the Panda has only just arrived. With an aesthetic that has matured but lost none of the charm of old, expect to see plenty on the road and, if people know what’s good for them, with a TwinAir under the bonnet.
Engine: 875cc 2-cyl turbocharged Power: 85bhp @ 5500 Torque: 107lb ft @ 1900 0-62mph: 11.2 seconds Top speed: 110mph CO2 emissions: 99g/km Economy: 67.3mpg Price: £10,750
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