What is it?
It’s the new Fiat Panda 100hp, and there aren’t enough cars like it in the world. At risk of sounding like a miserable old duffer, mainstream cars are typically nowhere near as much fun as they used to be. That they’re stronger, safer and more refined is beyond question. It’s just that they’ve lost much of their excitement along the way. So the arrival of the Panda 100hp is rather refreshing, because it’s a wee bundle of fun.
What’s it like?
Great to look at, we think. The wheels are where they should be, right bang in the corners; the body skirts and wheelarches are flared just-so; the cheeky wee chrome tailpipe, false diffuser and (real) rear spoiler are jolly without being oversized.
And the same goes for the alloys. Fifteen-inch wheels are small by today’s standards – even Corsas come with nothing diddier – but here they add just the right poise; helped no end by a 25mm suspension drop. It’s not aggressive – this is a Fiat Panda, after all, so it’s more Pirates of the Caribbean than Apocalypse Now. The autofication of swashbuckling nonsense.
With the ride height reduction comes 25 per cent stiffer springs and dampers and a thicker front roll bar (there isn’t a rear one). The bump stops are polymer rather than rubber and come into play sooner. Rear disc brakes are from the Panda 4x4, ventilated front discs come from the new Punto, as does the engine. The 1.4-litre FIRE unit here develops 99bhp (100PS), up by 5bhp over its Punto application.
The interior is rather more standard. Front seats are well bolstered, but although Fiat claims the grey trim looks sportier than usual and the steering wheel’s leather-clad, it’s the gearknob’s six indicated speeds and the discreet Sport button (of which more later) that are the only obvious indications this is anything other than a regular Fiat Panda. Which, actually, makes it reminiscently like a junior hot-hatch of old: fun comes from driving, not from velour headlining.
And, to a point, that’s what this car is about. The Panda 100hp is a genuinely lively car to punt along. All of its major controls are light and the ride’s just the right side of acceptable. True, it’s a little jittery on bad roads and, because of its compact size, speed bumps tend to unsettle both front and rear at the same time, but they’re small prices to pay to get a car that’s so willing to change direction.