Not only did the original Panda do exactly what it said on the box – provide simple, honest, affordable transport — but it made a virtue of being a box. This was back in the days when Fiat called the shots. The Panda was smart, cheeky, uncomplicated, and just what the market needed in 1980.
Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that when a new name had to be found for the sub-Punto- sized supermini (Renault protesting that the proposed ‘Gingo’ sounded too much like Twingo), Panda all but chose itself.
But the new one, philosophically, is the original’s polar opposite – a small car seeking to emulate the comfort and quality of a bigger one. Initially, this seems to leave the Punto exposed, but not when you consider how the performance of Fiat’s model strategy depends on greater small-car diversity. The Panda family will eventually include a baby SUV and a four-seater convertible. Below it comes next year’s three-door Seicento replacement and an even shorter Smart-rivalling city car.
Meanwhile this one lacks the radicalism we might have expected of Fiat. But that’s no excuse for the tragic blanding-out of the exquisitely pretty Punto or, to be frank, a new Panda that, despite being neat and well proportioned, looks as charmless as a Tupperware sandwich box, with a nose so nondescript it depends on its large Fiat badge to establish any sense of identity.
The high roof, low waistline and sharply curtailed rump are fashionably cod-MPV and, inside, the absolutely huge centre console that lifts the stubby gearlever closer to the steering wheel also smacks of people carrier. And, importantly for city runabouts, you can squeeze five adults into the new Panda – something you can’t even attempt in a Ford Ka. Despite the almost bolt-upright backrests of the split rear seats allowed by the voluminous headroom, rear legroom is very tight, especially if anyone of 5ft 8in or more is occupying the front. The front seats have what appear to be hollow backrests into which knees with nowhere to go can be pressed but, even so, the back of the new Panda is not a place where grown-ups will be spending much time. A sliding rear seat that allows more rear legroom at the expense of boot space is an option that’s probably worth having, with the proviso that the boot already looks to be under some pressure.