The Fiat Panda is not just a baby car, whatever the diminutive overall length of just 3650mm implies.

It's always been quite different in character from rivals similar in size and price. Others are called city cars or economy cars; the Panda is more of an ‘essential’ car, created for many who will use it as their only car. Fiat boss Olivier François sums it up as “the official car for doing whatever the hell you like”.

Fiat’s tradition of small car manufacture began in 1938 with the 500, known as the ‘Topolino’. Conceived by legendary engineer Dante Giacosa, it helped mobilise pre-war Italy. In the early 1950s, Giacosa designed the rear-engined 600 and then, in 1957, launched the classic Nuova 500, the tiny car that went on to capture the hearts of owners worldwide.

The 500 stayed in production until 1975, while various developments of the 600 followed (the 850 and its replacement, the 127). In 1980, the original Panda was born and, since then, the 1983 Uno and 1993 Punto have been big small-car successes.

Fiat's Panda is essential to the company in the sales sense, too. The company has averaged more than 200,000 Pandas a year for over 30 years. Production of the Panda has even passed 6.5 million units, yet this new model is only the third generation.

The previous Panda even won the coveted Car of the Year award in 2004. Can this all-new model recapture those charms in a familiar-looking package?

Top 5 City cars

  • The Volkswagen Up city car isn't revolutionary, it's just quantifiably better than the opposition

    Volkswagen Up

    1
  • Hyundai i10
    The Hyundai i10 is offered with either a 1.0-litre petrol engine or a 1.2-litre petrol engine

    Hyundai i10

    2
  • The Celerio is an all-new city car from Suzuki

    Suzuki Celerio

    3
  • Panda’s 4 star EuroNCAP crash score falls short of some rivals

    Fiat Panda

    4
  • Renault Twingo
    The Twingo is a compact, rear-engined city car

    Renault Twingo

    5

First drives

Videos

Find an Autocar car review

Explore the Fiat range

Driven this week

  • First Drive
    4 September 2015
    New entry-level 3 Series uses the three-pot turbo motor from the Mini Cooper. We find out if it's up to the job.
  • First Drive
    4 September 2015
    This special-edition Skoda Octavia vRS 230 is the fastest Octavia ever made and the most powerful vRS version. We drive it at the Slovakia Ring
  • First Drive
    3 September 2015
    First UK test of Fiat's best-selling city car, which has been overhauled for 2015
  • First Drive
    3 September 2015
    Volkswagen reveals the second generation of its high-riding Passat Alltrack estate. We drive it for the first time on German roads.
  • First Drive
    2 September 2015
    Kia facelifts its Cee'd and drops its six-speed torque converter in favour of a new seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox in the process. We drive it for the first time