Product Type: Fiat cars
Newest Review: ... I've spent on it at any time was £100 for two tyres. It sometimes feels lacking in power on the motorway when trying to overtake, but it'... more
CHEAP, BUT FAR FROM NASTY!
Fiat Panda 1.1 Active
Member Name: Richada
Fiat Panda 1.1 Active
Advantages: Does not "feel" like a cheap, small car. Superb all round visibility. Light and easy to drive.
Disadvantages: Poor radio controls. Key only opening hatchback. 135g/kg CO2 emissions nothing special.
The Panda is Fiat's offering in the now ever expanding city car market, a very small (3538mm long - 1589mm wide) five door hatchback. Forget any thoughts you may have of the original flat glassed, three door, crudely styled Fiat of the same name, this, much more chic, very much better - Polish - built one, has now been on the market for approximately three years.
The car reviewed here is also one of the very cheapest new cars that you can buy, which triggers the almost inevitable question; what is better value for money - a brand new one of these or, perhaps, a two year old Fiesta or Corsa?
WHICH SPECIFIC MODEL?
In terms of body style, a Panda's a Panda - you have no choice as to the number of doors, nor to the shape of your car, all are five door hatchbacks.
Soon after the Panda was launched I drove (and reviewed) what was then the top of the range, 1.2 Eleganza. That car was very fully equipped, alloy wheels, remote central locking, proper climate control etc, however at a list price of £8490, that is not exactly cheap and not really what Panda motoring is all about.
The subject of this review is the £2000 cheaper, lead in, 54bhp 1.1 Active model, which is the most sensible Panda of all. Mind you, I could also make a fair argument in favour of the stunningly economical £8160 (60+mpg) diesel, or the great new 100bhp Sporting Panda! Those two models however will have to wait their turn, I have not yet driven them, and so it's down to basics with this one.
IN WHAT CAPACITY AM I REVIEWING THIS CAR?
Embarrassing though it may be for me to admit, I have to confess that the car reviewed here belongs to my long standing favourite body shop, for the uninitiated among you, that is car body shop, as in 'panel beaters' rather than the high street variety! Yes it was three days behind the wheel of a Fiat Panda or walk whilst, my own car, a diesel Honda Accord was having some minor cosmetic surgery.
In actual fact, when I arrived there first thing in the morning, to see a line up of silver Ford Ka's and one solitary Panda, I was hoping to be offered the Panda. I have nothing against the Ka, but prefer the Panda as a more modern design.
In three days we covered 135 miles in the Panda over every type of road available in the South East of England.
Yes, it is one of the cheapest new cars that you can buy, but that does not necessarily have to translate into tiny running costs. Lada and Skoda both used to sell very cheap cars in the UK, but their running costs were relatively high thanks to heavy fuel consumption and massive (almost total in three years!) depreciation.
Whilst those days are now thankfully long gone - they were pretty bad cars in truth, now it is impossible to buy a BAD new car and this reflects in overall running costs. The 1.1 litre Panda, in Group 1 Insurance, is going to cost as little as you can pay to ensure any car, thus making it highly attractive to new, particularly young drivers.
If you are a company car driver then the 135 (meaning that you pay Benefit In Kind taxation at a mere 15%) CO2 emissions level will be of prime interest to you. That figure I am not terribly impressed with - my Accord with twice as big an engine and weighing twice as much too only emits 145gram per kilogram of CO2!
By any standards overall running costs are going to be tiny, this is where a new one of these will score over a larger, second hand hatchback. As you are about to read, its diminutive size does not disadvantage it in several other areas either.
In cold cash terms the estimated running cost over three years and 36,000 miles is 25.1 pence per mile, whilst not absolutely the cheapest car on the road to run - try a Citroen C1 or VW Fox - it is by any standards a highly economical choice all round.
PURCHASE COST 10 / 10
This car is cheap. The £6890 basic list price is merely the starting point. In a Fiat showroom you will find at least £1000 negotiable off that price AND more often than not interest free finance up for grabs too.
Catch Fiat in the right mood and free insurance may also be offered - however, unless you are very young, or have a bad accident record, as already mentioned, that is not a cost that will break the bank anyway.
THE OPTIONS GAME: 9 / 10 or "How much do I need to spend to make it habitable?"
I was staggered to see just how much equipment a simple car like this comes with as standard these days. Looking around "our" Panda, I had just unlocked all four doors with a turn of the key in the drivers' one - annoyingly however the boot will only open with the key lock on the hatchback. A glance at the interior will show you that airbags are fitted left and right, the windows are electrically operated and that there is a radio cassette player mounted in the dashboard. This has, on the very latest cars, now been replaced by a radio / CD player - thus confirming the death of the humble audio cassette.
One rather useful "surprise and delight" feature on this little car is the 'see you home' headlights. With the ignition switched off, a pull on the flasher lever sees the dipped headlights stay on for about a minute after you have closed the driver's door.
The only option "fitted" to the Panda was silver metallic paint, everything else on this car from the rear wash wipe system, through the electric power steering, complete with "City" button (more anon) to the adjustable height steering column - is all standard!
I well remember my first car, a 1977 Renault 5 GTL, it had a four speed gearbox, speedometer and fuel gauge, compared to a 2007 model Fiat Panda it was a very simple car indeed, comparatively much more expensive too!
There are items of optional equipment that you could spend money on, but nothing that you actually need - to get air conditioning a bigger (1.2 litre) engine has to be specified anyway. Best advice would be to keep it simple, metallic paint if you must, but the Panda is offered in some attractive flat colours anyway. Mine would be bog standard!
DEPRECIATION 6 / 10 - Always the biggest running cost.
Theoretically, only retaining 34% of its value after three years and 36,000 miles use is a pretty poor result, especially for a car that costs so little in the first place. In hard cash terms your new Panda will be worth only £2343 in three years time. However, remembering that £1000 discount in the first place, the depreciation figure is not nearly as bad as it looks.
Having said that though, according to "What Car" figures, other sub £7000 cars do not depreciate as heavily, even a £6415 Chevrolet Matiz will be worth 36% of its original value;
a £6795 Citroen C1 - 41%,
(A £7095 Ford Ka at 28% depreciates more heavily),
£5564 Kia Picanto - 35%
(£6223 Perodua Kenari - 22%)
£6895 Peugeot 107 - 42%
£6590 VW Fox - 51%
FUEL ECONOMY 9 / 10
Having achieved 47.8mpg over 135 mixed miles in my hands, I have no doubt that most owners would have no problem in averaging well over 50mpg in the 1.1 Panda. Bearing in mind the additional cost of diesel fuel, this brings into question the logic, certainly in economy terms, of purchasing the more expensive diesel model.
I was impressed with the fuel consumption as the Panda turned out to be MUCH swifter than I was expecting it to be! I drove it hard, especially on the open road and was expecting sub-40mpg consumption from it. The lack of air conditioning obviously helps this model to sip fuel, as does the electric power steering.
SERVICE & MAINTENANCE COSTS 8 / 10: are you going to make the dealer rich?
I am not sure that a rich Fiat dealer actually exists in this country - maybe that is why they have such a dreadful reputation! With the now usual three year guarantee, another benefit of buying new, all you should need to spend out on are an annual - or 12,000 mile service.
The estimated service cost of running a 1.1 Panda for three years is £624. Only the Ford Ka is cheaper (by over £100) here, most of its class competitors will cost you around £100 more to service during the same period.
Let the "fun" begin! You want to know what this car is like to live with and to drive and be driven in…….
STYLING 7 /10: A very subjective category here.
This is a very small car, and they are notoriously difficult to style, although when done well - Smart, original Mini - they can turn into iconic designs. Sadly that will never be the case with the current Panda - it is simply too boxy and upright.
The 1.1 Active also suffers 'bottom of the range' syndrome in having black plastic bumpers and radiator grille. There is an argument saying that this is a highly practical idea in a city car - scuffs and scrapes to body coloured bumpers being the very reason for me actually driving this car right now!
However, in 2007, it is amazing the aesthetic affect that non-painted bumpers can have on, even, a budget car like this. Choose a black Panda of course and you can have the best of both worlds - non scratch practicality and a smart looking car!
My other beef is with the flimsy little door mirrors, which look like after-market add ons rather than being designed for this specific car.
No, even I am not going to attempt to persuade you that a Panda is a stylish set of wheels to be seen out and about in!
OVERALL BUILD QUALITY AND FINISH 8 / 10 Does it look as though it was slung together?
In a car costing this little, with apologies for harping on about the cost, one simply does not expect to find the build quality that presents itself here.
As with any other modern car assembled by computer controlled robots one tends to expect things to fit properly, but this Fiat is light years ahead of Fiats produced even five years ago. Not only does everything fit, but the (metallic silver in this case) paint finish is excellent and would sit happily on a £25,000 car too.
A personal dislike of mine are car doors that close with a tinny clang, I have come across it on some surprisingly expensive cars too. In this case the Panda's doors, including the hatchback, close with a reassuring clunk.
SAFETY 6 /10 If it comes to the worst, how well are you and your family going to come out of it.
Once again, I am not going to attempt to persuade you that you are as safe - come the crunch - in a tiny Fiat Panda as you would be in even a Fiesta sized car. The smaller the car, the more difficult it is to design safety into it.
This is reflected by a three out of five star NCAP safety rating for occupants.
However, the Panda has certain inherent safety features. It is a very stable car to drive, feeling thoroughly trustworthy in all road conditions. It also has the best all round visibility of any car that I have driven in a very long time, as far as I am concerned that is a major contribution to safety - if you can see what's coming, you're far less likely to hit it!
ERGONOMICS 8 / 10 Before I can start the engine and drive away I need to feel at home in the "working environment". The relationship between the controls and how I, the driver, am able to instinctively operate those controls is, all important. This for me is make or break, before I drive a car, if it does not instinctively "feel" right in this department then I will never like it or ultimately buy it.
Some may disagree with me, but for someone of my particular build and height the Panda's interior fits like a glove.
The, at first, odd looking gearlever position - sprouting from the centre of the dashboard - feels entirely natural, whilst the pedals and steering wheel are all located exactly where they are most convenient to use. The steering wheel is even height adjustable. Being a basic Active model, there are few knobs and switches with which to play. With the glaring exception of the radio - more in a moment - all the switches are conveniently large and very well marked.
Inconveniently, a "smoker pack" is an option - without it, as this car was, there was nowhere to plug my mobile phone hands free kit.
Unlike a Honda Civic, the Fiat Panda is a car that you can jump into and use every feature without any recourse to the hand book.
The drivers seat is set high in the car, and whilst not height adjustable, does recline. For short distances it is comfortable enough, although both my wife and I commented that due to the seat not being supportive enough, we would not want to travel long distance in this particular Panda, a pity as there was no other reason that I could find to actually put me off of undertaking any journey in it.
VISIBILITY: 9 / 10
As commented on in the safety section, this car has the best all round visibility of any that I have driven. This has a great influence when parking, in such a small car and with such excellent visibility, parking in tiny spaces between cars really is a piece of cake.
Excellent windscreen wipers clear a good area of the windscreen, very intelligently the (twin three jet) wash wipe facility does an extra sweep of the screen about ten seconds after it has cleared the screen of initial fluid. This extremely effectively wipes away those annoying after runs which on any other car that I have driven you have to flick the wipers an extra time to get rid of.
The rear wash wipe (standard even on this base model) is also very efficient - and necessary as the rear window is vertical and very prone to collecting road filth.
A point is lost here due to the pathetically small door mirrors, no, you do not need to use them so much thanks to the great all round visibility, but on a motorway they prove to be too small when pulling out to overtake.
SPACE: 8 / 10:
In reality it is only the Panda's inherently narrow interior that restricts space. There is plenty of room for four people of average height. A very tall driver will find it comfortable enough too as there is plenty of headroom.
My wife hates small cars and had to admit that in the front of the Panda we had all the room that we required and, thanks to the high seating position, an excellent view. In truth, from the inside, the Panda really does not feel like a small car.
When you lift the hatchback another surprise awaits. I expected to see a tiny boot as in some other small hatchbacks. The boot is well in proportion with the rest of the interior and even finds room for a space saver spare wheel and tool kit underneath it.
The Active has a very simple folding rear seat, the back rest of which simply flops down onto the base, having released two catches. This is not the best design in the world as it leaves a step in the floor of the now considerable space revealed. The rear parcel shelf makes up partly for this though - a fantastically simple piece of design, no hinges, no lifting straps - no rattles either!
STYLE 6 / 10:
The very latest cars have rather improved on this one, which in all honesty was like a shrine to grey plastic inside, the black steering wheel and blue cloth seats providing the only welcome relief.
In such a small and inexpensive car you would be expecting a rather more utilitarian appearance. Cars like this of old - a Renault 5 for example - had acres of bare painted metal on show inside, crude open parcel shelves, a radio (if you were lucky) slung under the dash on a sharp metal bracket. The Panda is fully trimmed and shows more design flair than many a larger car - if only it was not all so damned GREY!
I may be being a trifle unkind here as probably the interior styling is rather more natty than the exterior. Particularly liked are the circular air vent flaps, so simple, attractive to look at and efficient that it surprises me that non-Italian car manufacturers have not copied their design.
MATERIALS, FIT & FINISH 6 / 10: Aspreys or Ratners?
You are not paying Aspreys prices, but for what you are paying the materials used are of a surprisingly good, durable quality. As with the exterior, the fit is impressively good.
Our car had only covered just over 7,000 miles and was eighteen months old. The amount of wear and dirt showing on the central cloth panel of the driver's seat was not indicative of the most practical materials being used here. A good valet would probably smarten it up no end, but I always like to see - and judge - a car "in the rough" like this.
Obviously as a body shop loan car, having been driven by all and sundry, this Panda had not had the loving care that most owners would lavish upon it. Impressive then that on the roughest of surfaces there were no interior rattles or squeaks to be heard, as good an indicator as any of a well screwed together car - at any price - that.
AUDIO & CLIMATE CONTROL SYSTEMS 5 / 10:
5 out of 5 for the simple, effective and intuitive to use heater and its' controls.
0 out of 5 for the dreadfully fiddly radio. Whilst not exactly providing top notch audio quality, the radio was adequate for a car of this type. Woefully inadequate though are the multiplicity of tiny buttons that control it.
Please Fiat, explain to me just what is wrong with a single on/off/ volume control, why do I need four minute buttons to perform these functions? Equally annoyingly, each time you turn on the ignition the radio comes on at a (much too quiet) pre-set volume, requiring you to press the tiny up volume button frantically until you can hear it.
Fortunately someone had already tuned the thing, as the tuning buttons match the on off and volume ones. This is by far the worst car radio that I have ever had displeasure of using.
Using a hand held mobile phone on the move is dangerous and illegal - increasing the volume on a Fiat Panda radio is equally dangerous and SHOULD be illegal!
ON THE ROAD……..
……Time to start it up and to offer you a driving assessment.
NOISE, VIBRATION & HARSHNESS 8 / 10 Silk purse or sow's ear?
More surprises here! The last Panda tried was the more powerful 1.2, it was driven on a hot day and the air conditioning was having to work hard, putting considerable demands on the little engine.
The 1.1 engine in this Active model I would rate as smoother and quieter, impressively so actually.
Of course there is far more to NVH than mere engine refinement. The Panda actually proved a surprisingly restful car in which to cruise at my usual 85mph motorway speed, bearing in mind that this is "flat out" near enough on a level road, the fact that everything remained smooth and acceptably quiet is a real tribute to Fiat.
Small Fiats always had a reputation for being at their best when thrashed, this one just gets on with the business in hand, you truly are not aware of going particularly fast in it, wind noise is low, the loudest noise at any speed is actually from the tyres rather than the engine.
PERFORMANCE 7 / 10 Sh*t off a shovel or a constipated tortoise?
This is no sports car, nor was it ever intended to be. However, Fiat have always made small cars that when driven spiritedly rise to the occasion. This, the smallest engined Panda, is no exception.
Due to its' (by 2007 standards) relatively light, 840kg, weight, the 1.1 Panda never feels slow in real world driving conditions. It had no trouble at all in keeping up with the outside lane traffic on the very undulating Brighton by-pass and felt very sprightly around town, more so indeed than my much heavier saloon car.
RIDE & HANDLING 8 / 10
This is a car of surprises and this is the biggest of the lot!
Anyone who has ever driven an original Mini will know what fun a tiny car can be to drive down a twisty road at great speed. They will also know what a literal pain in the bum it can be to drive long distance due to an appallingly choppy ride - brought about by a short wheelbase.
In the Pandas' case, you do not quite get the best of both worlds - but you do get a brilliant compromise of the two. Hats off to the Fiat engineers for getting such a small car to ride so well. It is this feature of the dynamics, along with the mini-MPV driving position, that fool you and your passengers into thinking at all times, on all types of road, that you are in a MUCH bigger car than this.
The handling, the way it turns into corners, is not in the original Mini class due to the much less communicative steering, which thanks to the electric, rather than more usual (but fuel sapping) hydraulic, power assistance, gives it a slightly indirect feel through the steering wheel. On the other hand, the steering weight is beautifully matched to that of the gear change, clutch and brake pedals.
CITY BUTTON - GIMMICK or GODSEND?
Well in my opinion - and this is after all MY review - gimmick I am afraid. The Panda's power steering is quite light enough for you to be able to park without breaking into a sweat. Pressing the "CITY" button mounted on the dashboard makes the steering wheel spin with a tiny amount of pressure from your little finger. As far as I am concerned this is simply unnecessary and VERY bad for the Panda's little tyres which are being scrubbed.
In the interests of experimentation - and this review, on a quiet country road I did try pressing the city button at 45mph to see what affect it had on the steering and handling. I am pleased to report that Fiat have designed a failsafe into it - it simply does not work above walking pace.
CONCLUSION - Would I buy one myself and would we want to drive it to Poland in a day?
Yes, and no!
I would have absolutely no hesitation in buying a Panda as a second, or city based car in preference to any of its rivals. This would include both Fiesta / Corsa type cars and the smaller, but much less practical two seater Smart.
However, for that trip to Poland - and in a day, it becomes a matter of horses for courses and the Panda is not the right car for that particular job. At least the 1.1 Active is not - the 100bhp model, with its' better seats could well be up to that particular challenge!
As it stands, the 1.1 Panda Active is a very light and easy car to drive at all speeds, requiring the absolute minimum effort from the driver. The gearchange is easy, the clutch smooth and progressive, Fiat have managed to produce a very harmoniously consistent weight to all of the primary driving controls. Probably if I had to put my finger on why I like this particular car so much, this would be it.
For anyone considering the purchase of a new, sub-£7000 car, I would thoroughly and unreservedly recommend the Fiat Panda.
FINAL SCORE: 120 / 170 - 70.6%
Putting that score into perspective are the following cars based on identical scoring criteria:
ALFA ROMEO 147 1.9JTD Lusso (5 Dr) - 67.8%
FIAT PUNTO GRANDE SPORTING 130 Mjet - 75.9%
HONDA ACCORD i-CTDi Saloon - 80.0%
HONDA CIVIC 1.8i VTEC SE - 78.2%
HONDA CIVIC 1.8i VTEC S i-SHIFT 68.8%
HONDA JAZZ 1.4 SE CVT-7 (Automatic) - 74.7%
SAAB 9-3 TiD Vector - 68.2%
SAAB 9-3 TiD Linear CONVERTIBLE (2007 Mondel) - 74.1%
VAUXHALL ASTRA TWINTOP 1.9 CDTi DESIGN - 78.8%
VAUXHALL MONARO VXR - 71.1%
VW PASSAT TDi 140 S ESTATE - 71.7%
VOLVO S60 D5 SE - 70.6%
Summary: A great first car, or for those who do a lot of urban driving..