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Fiat Panda Lounge 0.9 TwinAir

Click to view picture gallery“Pride and Prejudice might keep
  you from trying out Fiat
s new Panda
  but let Sense and Sensibility
  overcome that and you
ll discover
  a fun-to-drive and surprisingly
  civilised five-door supermini

OVERSHADOWED BY THE UNDENIABLY FUNKY Fiat 500, the Panda is back in the limelight in an all-new guise. 'Sophisticated' and 'functional' are not terms that are usually found in the same object, but they are now — in the Panda.

Its distinctive angular lines combine fluently with rounded-off corners and the overall effect is of a softly curvaceous body if Rubens had painted cars and not full-figured women like The Three Graces and Venus At The Mirror, he would have painted this latest Panda.

Slide behind the height-adjustable, three-spoke steering wheel and you'll immediately appreciate the high driving position, particularly if much of your motoring takes place in an urban landscape. The tall-ish roof gives the impression you're sitting in an MPV and, in spite of its city-friendly 3.6-metre overall length, this new-generation Panda is spacious enough inside with generous front headroom and, at the other end of your body, plenty of foot room.

“Like Skoda’s Yeti,
the Panda has a versatile
and accommodating
character — think of it as
a Swiss Army Knife
designed and built
by Italians
Like Skoda's (admittedly larger) Yeti, the Panda has a versatile and accommodating character (think of it as an automotive Swiss Army Knife designed and built by Italians); one that makes it possible for its owner to do, within reason, whatever he or she wants to do.

Distinctive on the outside, the Panda is even bolder on the inside: the cabin is stylish with colourful upholstery and the striking fascia (a rich red on our test car, a colour picked up by the door panels and the two-tone seat upholstery) is well laid-out with a high-mounted gearlever easily to hand.

The design theme is 'squircular' squared circles and is present on most things from the dials to the headrests, from the steering wheel to the embossed patterns on the seats. And, if you're planning on adopting a Panda, you'll be relieved to hear that the squircular motif is carried off with panache.

Thankfully the Panda doesn't make a secret of its good points so, as with all the self-evident controls and switchgear, you won't need to consult the handbook to find anything. Driver information dials and displays are orange on black and easily read at a glance, and you can cycle through the trip computer using the button on the steering wheel.

Inside the five-door supermini body it's light and spacious and, good news for driver and passengers alike, visibility is first rate; even rearwards. The red and grey front seats are well shaped with supportive backrests. Seats are big and although the steering wheel only tilt-adjusts for height, a decent driving position is easily set.

The natty space-saving handbrake looks like a squared computer mouse but it's no flight of fancy and fits naturally into your palm as you lift it like a lid with your fingers, releasing smoothly and without effort when your thumb presses the button at the side.

Standard equipment on the Lounge brings AirCon with pollen filter (and provides a good supply of quickly-served hot and cold air), daytime running lights, electric front windows (auto one-shot; rears are manual wind-ups), Dualdrive electric power steering, electrically-adjustable heated door mirrors, radio with CD and MP3 player, roof rails, front foglights and 15-inch alloys.

“Like Noah’s ark,
the Panda’s rear cabin
is designed for pairs:
two headrests;
two seatbelts; two adult
For the record, it’s
actually wide enough to
accommodate three
Also included are Start&Stop (smooth operating and easy to turn on/off), Fix&Go puncture repair kit, a Smart Fuel refuelling system that won't let you fill up from the wrong pump, driver and passenger airbags plus window airbags, front anti-whiplash head restraints and height adjustable front seatbelts.

A number of option packs are also available including Climate, Winter, Techno, Flex, and Comfort kits to add more desirable equipment. For example, the Winter pack (250) adds a heated windscreen and heated front seats. Alternatively, specific items can be added individually: an electronic stability program with hill-holder costs 315. Specify the Blue&Me TomTom 2 Live and you can use steering wheel buttons or voice commands to operate your Bluetooth mobile and the infotainment-cum-navigation system.

Like Noah's ark, the Panda's rear cabin is designed for pairs: two headrests; two seatbelts; two adult passengers. For the record, it's actually wide enough to accommodate three and there's plenty of head- and shoulder-room; knee-room is okay for sub-six-footers.

The boot offers a reasonable 225 litres of space: with the rear backrest folded down there's room for 870 litres of cargo in a space approximately 39 x 44 inches. Loading it is easy even though the folded seatback doesn't sit completely flat and creates a six-inch step-up from the boot floor. The rigid but lightweight rear parcel shelf also acts as a luggage cover and is easily removed.

The new Panda offers a variety of powerplants: 69bhp 1.2-litre petrol; 75bhp 1.3 turbodiesel; and a turboed 875cc two-cylinder TwinAir petrol engine with a feisty 85bhp that emits an environment- and tax-friendly sub-100g/km of CO2.

Our test model was a range-topping Lounge with the 875cc twin-cylinder heart. While you might buy this Panda for reasons of economy officially it can return 67.3mpg in the combined cycle you may, like us, see an average of around 40.4mpg.

This is not down to any misrepresentation by Fiat but, and for this Fiat does have to take full responsibility, the addictive eagerness of its engine to happily rev round to the redline and entertain you with its sharp response to the loud pedal and its joyfully rorty two-pot soundtrack.

“You’d have to
be as heartless as
Miss Havisham
to say the TwinAir-
powered Panda is not
fun to drive
Given that the five-door body tips the scales at 1,050kg, the characterful 875cc engine punches above its weight to deliver 0-62mph acceleration in 11.2 seconds and a top speed of 110mph. Torque of 107lb ft is on tap at 1,900rpm, and it endows the twin-cylinder unit with zippy performance for nipping in and out of urban traffic.

Drive it as it encourages you to with plenty of revs and making the best of the five gears and you'll get around 41mpg; drive it with a greener right foot (it will prompt you to 'change up' at very low revs at what feels close to labouring the engine) and you'll be rewarded by 50+mpg. And with just 99g/km, the Panda can visit London as often as it likes without paying a penny in congestion charges. Oh, and no road tax either!

So, a willing engine that begs to be used, but is it matched by the handling? The Panda is a 'puller' rather than a 'pusher': drive is through the front wheels. While the electric power steering is on the light side, it's direct enough to go along with some pedal-to-the-metal driving.

Yes, drive like this and there's some body lean but it is taller than average and it's not a hot hatch although there's enough grip to keep it precise through the bends and corners and you in the race. The brakes deliver all the stopping power you need, as and when you need it. And you'd have to be as heartless as Miss Havisham to say the TwinAir-powered Panda is not fun to drive.

Of course, the Panda is more about comfort in the city (press the City button and the helm becomes lighter still for effortless parking) than charging about the countryside. And the ride reflects this: the majority of pesky potholes and other bumps are taken in its stride without rattling the passengers —
and the word that comes to mind here is 'civilised'.

Fiat have been producing chic city cars for decades and this latest two-cylinder TwinAir Panda is set to be yet another success. More versatile than many, it's a very easy supermini to live with. —

Fiat Panda Lounge 0.9 TwinAir | 11,250
Maximum speed: 110mph | 0-62mph: 11.2 seconds | Overall Test MPG: 40.4mpg
Power: 85bhp | Torque: 107lb ft | CO2 99g/km