2004 Fiat Panda Active 1.1 from UK and Ireland
Small, but solid and a very enjoyable drive
Nothing. Solid as a rock.
I've recently acquired the baby Fiat as a runabout after several years of living in London and not driving. It's not a Bentley, but it's a hoot to drive and surprisingly well made and refined.
Practicality: The interior, while narrow, has good head and leg room, and easy access. The boot is quite good (200 litres) and a useful square shape. The back seat folds forward to reveal a small van-like load area. Easy to park anywhere.
Performance: It's not why I bought a small engined city car, but surprisingly refined and responsive. The 1100cc engine is actually good enough to hold its own at motorway speeds and pretty quiet -- quieter than my previous Honda Jazz and Vauxhall Corsa.
Economy: The small fuel tank (7.7 gallons) doesn't make for a Grand Tourer, but at 45-50 mpg, the Panda has a 350 mile range and sips rather than swigs petrol. The fuel gauge appears to move down faster than you think, until you remember that brimmed it's got a mere 35 litres in it!
Build quality: The biggest surprise of the lot. The four doors close with a nice heavy thunk, the panels are thick and strong, the whole car feels very solid for such a light city car (840kg), and everything is well constructed and operates well. The only exception being the rather small and tacky wing mirrors.
Reliability: Too soon to tell, but it feels very solid indeed, Germanically so, and starts every time. Gone are the "Fix It Again Tomorrow" days, apparently.
Comfort: The seats are small, with limited adjustment, but very comfortable for all that. Rear leg room limited, as you'd expect, but headroom is excellent and it's possible to get four six-footers in, at a pinch. It's easy for older people to gain access, as well, with wide opening doors and a low floor. Soaks up the bumps surprisingly well, contributing to the "bigger car" ride.
On The Road: The car feels bigger than it is, and while slow to accelerate never feels coarse and sits quietly on the motorway at 70-75mph with no problems. In the city, it is responsive, maneuverable and light to steer. I tried the City steering setting once, but the car is easy enough to drive without it. Driving position is nice and high and while not a DB9, it will keep up with traffic and overtake lorries and old gas-guzzlers with aplomb. Oh, and the gear change is the smoothest I've ever driven and the high lever position is brilliant, particularly in the city.
I got my Panda for £2000, five years old and less than 40K on the clock with a FSH. I'm fairly confident it will keep going for many years to come.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 29th November, 2009
Update July 2012:
I've had the car three years now, longer than I'd intended. The Panda is now a hard working daily companion, doing 200 miles a week on the motorway and countless local journeys. I've put 16,000 miles on it. It's never gone seriously wrong. I've toured Britain in it. It averages 47-52 MPG on heavy urban runs if driven carefully.
I will probably buy another Panda in due course.