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Fiat Panda: Thank heaven for little cars (‘cause little cars grow bigger every day)

By Roger St Pierre

In today’s difficult climate, small cars make a whole lot of sense – especially when they come as well packaged as the latest incarnation of the Fiat Panda.

For starters you get a lot for your money, with a comprehensive spec and options sheet that even includes a computer that not only speaks to you but expects you to answer back with verbal commands.

It’s a far cry from the original Panda, which was essentially a flimsy and rust-prone biscuit tin with a wheel tacked on to each corner.

Prices for the 2012 Panda range run from a very affordable £8,900 up to £12,290. Power comes from a diminutive but surprisingly powerful little engine capable of accelerating from 0-62mph in 11.2 seconds and reaching 110 mph.

Powerplant options range from the lively 69 hp F ire version and the 75 hp 1.3 MultiJet 16-valv e up to the range’s champion in terms of eco-friendliness and coast-effectiveness, the revolutionary 85 hp TwinAir Turbo, which won 2011’s ‘Engine of the Year’ award.

Standard kit includes 15-inch alloys, electrically adjustable heated wing mirrors, a fuel-saving stop and start system, daytime running lights, air-conditioning, front fog lamps and other goodies.

Smartly styled, with soft yet bold lines and a definite Italian character, the new Panda is from a similar mould to Citroën’s Berlingo, the Skoda Yetti and the Renault Kango but to my mind it’s better executed, looking less like a delivery van derivative.

It’s masterpiece of pack aging, with a light, airy carbon, oodles of leg and headroom and a fairly spacious boot.

It performs competently and handles well, even when belting round the lanes – the word perky springs to mind when describing the driving experience.

There’s lots of attention to detail in evidence, from lots of clever little stowage spaces to a high-mounted gear-stick, a portable Tom Tom GPS system and a neat handbrake lever styled to resemble a computer mouse.

The instruments are bold and clear; the switchgear is in all the right places. It’s a car that’s easy to drive, easy to park, easy to live with and easy to love.

As the Fiat design team put it themselves: “Every detail of the Panda is designed to achieve the perfect marriage of style and functionality.”

The pert little Fiat 500 has been setting the sales charts alight of late. Look for the new Panda to follow in its wheel-marks, neatly avoiding any danger of extinction.

Belfast Telegraph


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