Fiat has introduced big revisions to the Panda’s suspension (still MacPherson struts in front, coil-sprung twist beam behind) that reduce understeer by 20 percent, cut body roll by 35 percent and make the electric power steering a lot more sensitive.
The Panda feels tall when you first slide behind the wheel but much more roomy than the previous model. Even at low speed, the improvements in the levels of noise, vibration and harshness are instantly obvious. In particular, the Panda is much quieter than its predecessor on coarse surfaces and rides flatter.
The baby Fiat’s all-round refinement is as impressive as the rest of the package. It rides cobbles with unexpected suppleness and an impressive all-of-a-piece aura. Road noise too, proves pleasingly distant. So the prospect of long-distance trips should not prompt thoughts of the train.
Strangely, the ride is sometimes less good at middling speeds than it is over battered urban Tarmac, the Fiat Panda’s wheels pattering slightly, and on the rain-slicked roads around Naples where we drove it, front end grip tended wash away like sand from an ocean-dipped seaside spade.
Surprisingly, ESP isn’t standard, but the Panda handles tidily enough. Roll is countered adequately despite its relative height and the steering responds with fair precision if little feel. All of which makes it modestly entertaining, and more than modestly comfortable.
The steering, still light, is far more informative. For all the talk of reduced understeer, the Panda will still push its front wheels wide, and body roll remains noticeable, although never a problem.
Fiat is backing up its front-wheel-drive models with a Panda 4x4 that has extra-strength suspension mountings and unique spring/damper/anti-roll bar rates delivering increased wheel travel, while the Cross takes this formula one stage further.
Drive to the rear wheels is through a hydraulically actuated multi-plate clutch ahead of the rear diff. Our favourite Panda is the 4x4, which rides high on big tyres, has long suspension travel and generally behaves like a small Land Rover Discovery.