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Fiat Panda road test

  • More frugal than the majority of rivals - 67mpg on average
  • Emissions of 99g/km make it free to tax
  • Prices expected to start from £8,500 (est)

The third generation of the Fiat Panda has arrived but does it make any sense as a company car?

It’s up against strong competition with rivals including the Ford KA, SEAT’s Mii, Skoda’s Citigo and the VW up to name but a few. The Panda will have to be competitively priced to be able to compete on a level playing field. With many urban-based fleets downsizing let’s see if the Panda can cut it against the more premium badges when it becomes available in 2012.

Let’s talk figures. With an estimated P11d value of £9,000 for the 0.9 TwinAir in mid trim the Panda should be cheap to run. If you are in the 20% per cent tax bracket then you could pay as little as £15 per month (estimated) or if you are in the 40% tax bracket then you’ll be paying £30 per month (estimated). With no official prices from Fiat as of yet these figures are all estimates but they should be in the right ballpark.

On the green front the Panda fares quite well. This engine emits 99g/km of CO2 and that's great if you are in and out of central London on a constant basis – under 100g/km means free entry and exit.

In terms of fuel economy the Panda it fares when you compare it to rivals.

The 59bhp VW up! with the 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine should average 62.8mpg while Ford’s KA powered by the 68bhp 1.2-litre engine will return 55.4mpg on average. This version of the Panda trumps them with a heady 67mpg on average. That’s a cracking result for a two-cylinder petrol engine car.

With 145Nm of pulling power there’s more than enough for zipping in and out of crowded streets. If you are out of the urban jungle then you will have to work the little Fiat a lot harder. Overtaking manoeuvres need to be well planned and you will have to be prepared to drop the ‘box down a cog or two to complete the move.

Performance figures are not stunning but it will get from zero to 62mph in 11.2 seconds and it has a top speed of 107mph. That’s quicker than a 68bhp 1.2-litre engined Ford KA by 2.3 seconds and the 59bhp VW up! is slower than the Panda by 3.2 seconds.

Even though the Panda is quicker than its rivals it doesn’t feel as well set-up. The steering is precise but too light even (and that’s with the ‘city’ button switched off, switch it on when parking for feather-light steering) and the car isn't particularly adept when cornering at speed, tending to straight-line on tighter corners. However, Fiat has confirmed that UK models will be equipped with ESP as standard so that should correct the problem. Body roll is less than you would expect but enthusiasts will still choose the Ford KA for the fun factor.

At slow speeds the ride is compliant and the Panda negotiates potholes with ease. Road, wind and tyre roar is minimal giving the car a more grown-up and more premium feel than before.

Loadspace is good too – with the seats in place there’s a load room of 225 litres. That’s equivalent to the Hyundai i10 and the Vauxhall Agila and one litre larger than the Ford KA. Slide the rear seats forward and you’ll get an extra 35 litres – if that’s not enough you can always fold them flat and this will increase the loadroom to 870 litres.

Up front space is good. The Panda feels roomy, but if you are carrying a couple of six-footers in the back then make sure the journey is short because it not particularly spacious.

On the main the high-driving position is really good but one of the major downsides are the large A pillars. These may hinder the driver when driving off from acute junctions as they are quite thick and intrude the driver’s view.

If you can get over the badge snobbery, you'll go for this sweet-sounding TwinAir engine over a VW up! It'll be a close call but you can rest assured that if you do go for the Fiat then you will have picked a lively and frugal little city slicker.

Fiat Panda

Also consider:

Ford KA
The KA is top of the class for fun. It’s also cheap to run and well-built making it a superb small hatchback.

VW up!
Delivers a good level of refinement and an interior of a high quality that’s unusual in this sector of the market.

SEAT Mii
The little hatch is a class act and is likely to cost less than the Skoda Citigo and the VW up! - the two cars it shares a platform with.