Whoever said the best things come in small packages must have owned a Fiat Panda 100HP.
This is essentially a hotted-up version of the firm’s diminutive and wonderfully utilitarian city car, and in its transmogrification to hot hatch, it became a relatively simplistic and disarmingly cheerful hipster, full of fun and as lively as a puppy. It ran from 2006 to 2010 and initially cost £9995 new and, provided you shop carefully, it can still make for a quirkily attractive and decently affordable used car buy now.
The recipe was relatively simple. Take one second-generation Panda and stick a 99bhp 1.4-litre overhead-cam FIRE engine from the contemporary Punto under the bonnet. Throw in a six-speed gearbox and then lower and stiffen the suspension and thicken the front anti-roll bar. Add upgraded brakes (discs all round) and attractive 15in alloy wheels and wider, 195/45 R15 tyres, which sit seductively stretched out at each corner. Meanwhile, a Sport button on the dash reduced the steering assistance and increased the low-end throttle response.
Then, for more visual appeal, garnish with new front and rear bumpers (the front with a deep and purposeful-looking mesh grille and the rear with a neat diffuser-style insert), a roof-mounted rear spoiler and some mildly flared arches and side skirts, as well as tinted rear windows and some discreet red badging, and suddenly you’ve got one seriously pumped-up Panda.
The interior got a mild tickle, too. Inside were sports seats, some silver trim highlights and leather cladding for the steering wheel and gearknob. Otherwise, it was pretty standard Panda, and none the worse for it. You still got a decent amount of room for four and a neat boot, the capacity of which could be quadrupled by dropping the rear seats.
Straight-line performance was decent rather than neck-breaking: Fiat claimed 0-60mph in 9.5sec and a top speed of 115mph. But, as you’ve guessed, the figures don’t reveal how much of a hoot this thing is to punt around. The engine loves to be revved and it makes a delightfully fruity noise when doing so. The gearbox is a joy to use and the steering is relatively quick, too, even if it’s not the last word in communication. You can still chuck the car into corners in a carefree way and recover it with ease.