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You sometimes have to wait a while for the good things in life and in the case of the Panda, it's taken 33 years for Fiat's supermini to reach Australia. The quirky new city car started life in 1980 as the Italian people's car – a basic, no-frills model that became a European motoring icon. Since then, more than 6 million have been snapped up around the globe.
And unlike some 'people's cars' that have morphed into premium-priced products through the years, the now vastly-reworked and amore-emitting Pandas are still within the reach of most.
Fiat has launched four Panda models, the Pop, Easy, Lounge and Trekking. Pop gets a 51kW/102Nm 1.2litre four-cylinder petrol engine and manual transmission, Easy and Lounge are powered by the dynamic little 63kW/145Nm 875cc twin-cylinder turbo TwinAir motor with a manual shift in the Easy with the $1500 option of Dualogic automatic, which is the standard trannie for the spiffier Lounge.
Trekking is a manual-only model using a 1.3litre turbo-diesel with 55kW and 190Nm on tap. Average fuel consumption figures are 5.2litres/100km for the 1.2litre and 4.2 for the twin-potter and the diesel.
One of the better-looking littlies, the Panda has a friendly face with a wide air intake and a jaunty overall look. The Trekking, likely to appeal to country folk, stands about 50mm taller than the city models.
The new design of the third generation has retained the classic four-door and lift-up tailgate formula in a more rounded body, side windows have been contoured for more visibility and the former angular third windows on the sides are now almost squared.
Inside, a comprehensive and very modern dash uses a lot of squircles – circles with rounded corners – to house its instruments and controls. The steering wheel is also not quite round. Despite the vehicle's somewhat boxy look, aerodynamics, at a drag factor of 0.32, are on a par with some Italian supercars.
PRICE AND FEATURES
With a drive-away price of $16,500 for the not-so-base Pop model, the Italian charmer could well join its Fiat 500 stablemate as a sell-out success. All Pandas get body-coloured bumpers, halogen headlights and daytime running lights, central locking, electric front windows, height-adjustable steering wheel, radio/CD/MP3 with steering wheel controls and a Blue&Me system with Bluetooth, Aux and USB connectivity.
Also standard is dualdrive electric power steering, switchable for effortless turning into tight parking spots. Turning circle in just a tad over 9m and visibility is exceptional. Safety bits include six airbags, ABS, brake assist and stability control and the Lounge adds a low speed collision mitigation system.
New seating has allowed three people in the rear pew, although legroom is a bit cramped if the front seats are occupied by anyone of larger stature than Nicolas Sarkozy. Cargo-wise, there's a smallish (225 litre) boot, which can be increased to 870 litres by laying the back seat flat. There are also 14 onboard storage spaces.
The Pop, at $16,500 drive-away, has 14-inch steel wheels, tricot seat fabric, aircon, a four-speaker audio and you have to adjust the outside mirrors by twiddling a knob by hand. The $19,000 Easy adds roof rails, Rubik design seat fabric, two more speakers, rear parking sensors and has a longer options list.
Lounge gets 15-inch alloys, foglights, dark tinted glass, two-tone leather rimmed steering wheel, auto climate control, electric mirrors, gloss black dash trim and a height-adjustable driver's seat. It costs $22,500 and the Trekking $24,000.
We drove a Pop around the city for a while, then did about 200km in a Lounge with the robotised Dualogic autobox. The four-cylinder Pop ran fine, despite its modest 51kW and its five-speed manual was light and easy, while the twin-cylinder Lounge turned out to be an impressive performer in the twisty, hilly roads on the outskirts of Melbourne.
The motor makes a quite pleasing guttural bellow and the Dualogic gearbox, which I initially didn't like, soon showed why it's so popular with the Fiatniks. Its five speeds can be switched to manual, but it does a fine job if left alone.
Italian vehicles are built to handle and the Panda does that well. It maintained its poise on the tight, wet roads, cruised along happily at 100km/h and the fuel needle barely moved off the 'full' mark after hours of driving, including a long stretch in some horrendous Melbourne city traffic.
A sturdy, comfy little classic with lots of character and chutzpah. It's essentially a city compact, but I'd happily drive one across or around Australia.
Price: from $16,500 drive away
Warranty: 3 years/150,000km, 3yr roadside assist
Capped servicing: No
Service interval: 12mths/15,000km
Safety: 6 airbags, ABS, ESC, EBD, TC
Crash rating: not tested
Engine: 0.9-litre, 2-cyl turbo-petrol, 63kW/145Nm; 1.2-litre 4-cyl petrol, 51kW/102Nm; 1.3-litre 4-cyl turbo-diesel, 55kW/190Nm
Transmission: 5-spd man or 5-spd robotised man; front drive
Thirst: 4.2L/100km; 99g/km and 109g/km (0.9-litre/diesel); 5.2L/100km; 120g/km CO2 (1.2 petrol)
Dimensions: 4.0m (L), 1.7m (W), 1.5m (H)
|Easy||0.9L, PULP, 5 SP MAN||$11,110 – 15,290||2014 Fiat Panda 2014 Easy Pricing and Specs|
|Lounge||0.9L, PULP, 5 SP AUTO||$13,750 – 18,150||2014 Fiat Panda 2014 Lounge Pricing and Specs|
|Pop||1.2L, PULP, 5 SP MAN||$9,680 – 13,310||2014 Fiat Panda 2014 Pop Pricing and Specs|
|Trekking||1.2L, Diesel, 5 SP MAN||$14,740 – 19,360||2014 Fiat Panda 2014 Trekking Pricing and Specs|
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