You would have to have a pretty stony demeanour not to feel at least some affection for the second-generation Fiat Panda. Representing a huge leap forwards in terms of styling, technology and drivability over its iconic forebear (which, if you can believe it, was still being made right up until 2003), the Panda was, in its various guises, an off-roader, a city runaround and a hot hatch.
More importantly, the whole model range was and remains wonderfully accessible – and not just in terms of the seating. Just £500 these days gets you into a 2005 base-spec car with the naturally aspirated 53bhp 1.1-litre engine, or you could splurge £2000 on the fan-favourite 4x4 model.
Even the cleanest examples of the 100HP hot hatch, which offers more dynamic thrills than you could think possible in a car of this size and stature, will set you back less than £5000, which, given its rarity and unique market positioning, is something of a steal.
Of course, budget motoring certainly isn’t without its perils, and even the most utilitarian variants of the Panda must be approached with some caution. Don’t let that scare you off, though, because this is no storm in a teacup when it comes to servicing and maintenance. The Mk3 Panda did wonders for Fiat’s flailing reputation (not to mention its troubled finances), and its ongoing popularity is testament to how well it weathers the years.
The most commonly occurring faults are relatively minor, stemming from the Panda’s affordable mobility billing, and are unlikely to bother the casual buyer. Paint chips, loose trim panels, electrical niggles and dodgy tracking are usually top of the to-do list with a second-hander, but the canniest customers will also look for signs of head gasket failure, water ingress and accident damage (particularly on the 4x4 and 100HP).
You might not have considered the Panda if you consistently lug large loads around, but its 200-litre boot offers more luggage space than a contemporary Mini hatchback, and you get an impressive 861 litres with the rear seats folded down, meaning you could feasibly carry a tumble-drier or mountain bike, depending on how adventurous you are. You really can do it all in a Panda.
You can expect to get around 50mpg from the eight-valve, front-wheel-drive runabouts and a good deal more than that with the 1.3-litre Multijet diesel, which is more agreeable to live with at motorway speeds. The 4x4’s heftier underpinnings and raised ride height bring a slight efficiency penalty, as you would expect, while the more highly strung 100HP’s 16-valve 1.4-litre unit can muster an acceptable 44mpg in normal driving.