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Driven: Fiat Panda bears $16.5k drive-away pricing

Italian number: Distinctive styling gives the Panda road presence and decent cabin space for a car in this segment.

Chunky Fiat Panda arrives, broadening the Italian brand’s light-car assault in Oz

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Fiat logo25 Oct 2013

FIAT’S range expansion under factory Australian distributorship continues this week with the launch of the five-door Panda, pitched and priced as an alternative to a range of premium-level city cars.

Kicking off from $16,500 drive-away for the manual-only Pop and extending to $24,000 plus on-road costs for the diesel-powered crossover-style Trekking, the Italian-made hatch is a little pricier than the less practical but similarly proportioned Volkswagen Up ($14,990 drive-away), its fellow European in the hotly contested sub-B city car market, plus the Mitsubishi Mirage ($12,990).

Curiously, Fiat also positions the popular retro-style 500 Pop at a $2500 cheaper opening price than the Panda with the same drivetrain, reversing the order in Europe where it actually costs up to 15 per cent more.

Additionally, the recently re-introduced Punto (from $16,000 drive-away) is $500 cheaper than its new baby brother despite being both larger and better equipped.

Fiat management counteracts all this by stating that buyers prioritising value can pick the 500, those needing space can choose the Punto, while those wishing to make a statement will want the Panda.

Nevertheless, according to Fiat Group Australia managing director, Veronica Johns, the Panda is expected to be more than a niche player, with the aim to appeal to a growing legion of buyers seeking individuality, style and dynamic finesse in a downsized package.

“The Panda will stretch and break into segments – it won’t be restricted to just an Up (competitor),” she said. “It is for people who are looking for something different.

“We’re not restricting it in any particular segment like VFACTS does.”

Released almost two years ago, the current Type-319 Panda rules its segment in Europe, is the third generation since the series started in 1980, and is Italy’s biggest seller overall.

The latest is the largest, strongest, roomiest, quietest and most refined to date, and was styled in-house at Centro Stilo in Turin as an evolution of the successful second-generation Type-169 that is still in production (at the same Polish plant that also builds non-American market 500s as well as the latest Ford Ka).

However it uses a variation of the modified Mexican-built 500 platform – which is slightly longer and has been beefed up compared to other 500s to better meet US rear-impact legislation.

This means conventional front-drive engineering underneath, from a MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension set-up to an electrically operated rack and pinion steering system. Note that like all small Fiats, the Panda’s helm comes standard with a ‘City’ mode that lightens effort for easier manoeuvrability.

The Panda’s turning circle varies between a tight 9.3 metres and 9.7m.

Brakes are a disc/drum arrangement, with all but the base model offering ventilated items up front. Anti-lock with Brake Assist, Fiat’s Vehicle Dynamic Control stability control system, a hill-start assist device and six airbags are standard in all variants.

Overall length/width/height measurements are 3653mm (Trekking: 3686mm), 1643mm (Trekking: 1672mm), and 1551mm (Trekking: 1605mm), with all models sitting on a 2300mm wheelbase. Front and rear track widths are 1409mm and 1407mm, with the Trekking adding 5mm and 1mm to those figures respectively.

The relatively wide dimensions (for a sub-B vehicle) allow a five-person cabin configuration against the 500’s (and Up’s) four-seater arrangement, partly justifying the Panda’s extra expense.

As with the 500, only the Pop model offers Fiat’s aged yet still-competitive Euro V pollution rated 1242cc 1.2-litre four-cylinder single overhead cam petrol Fire engine. It produces 51kW of power at 5500rpm and 102Nm of torque at 3000rpm, and is capable of returning 5.2 litres per 100 kilometres and 120 grams per kilometre of carbon dioxide emissions.

Drive is via a five-speed manual transmission: only the TwinAir variants offer a robotised clutchless transmission dubbed Dualogic. It is a $1500 option on the $19,000 Easy and standard on the well-equipped $22,500 Lounge.

The TwinAir, of course, refers to Fiat’s award-winning 875cc 0.9-litre two-cylinder turbo petrol unit, delivering 63kW at 5500rpm and 145Nm at 1900rpm, as well as 4.2L/100km (Dualogic: 4.1L/100km) and just 99g/km of CO2 emissions (Dualogic: 95g/km).

The final engine option is the Trekking’s 1248cc 1.3-litre MultiJet four-cylinder turbo-diesel, pumping out 55kW at 4000rpm and 190Nm at 1500rpm.

While it matches the TwinAir’s 4.2L/100km, the CO2 figure is 109g/km – a corollary of its 1040kg tare mass compared to the Pop’s 950kg, Easy’s 985kg and Lounge’s 990kg.

Fiat’s ‘Start&Stop’ stop-start system is also a feature of the TwinAir and MultiJet engines, while all Pandas include a gearshift indicator light for suggested improved driving efficiency.

Luggage capacity varies between 225 litres with the rear split/fold seatback erect to 870L up to the front seat backs. Aiding capacity is a space-saver spare wheel, whether the Panda is fitted with 175/65 R14 tyres on steel wheels (Pop, Easy) or 185/55 R15 items on alloys (Lounge, Trekking).

Along with a full suite of safety items, all Pandas include anti-whiplash front seat head restraints, Fiat’s ‘Blue&Me’ Bluetooth telephone connectivity system with USB-audio and steering-wheel mounted voice-activated controls, a docking port that is ready to integrate with the optional Tom-Tom navigation device, air-conditioning, front powered windows, remote central locking and daytime running lights.

Stepping up to the Easy ushers in rear parking sensors, idle-stop, six speakers, rear overhead grab handles, a sunglasses holder and roof rails, while the Lounge brings automatic climate control, alloy wheels, body side mouldings, front fog lights, ritzier cabin trim, electric mirrors, a driver’s seat height adjuster and automatic emergency braking (similar to the device standard in the Up) to stop the car should the driver fail to do so under certain circumstances.

The Trekking sits some 50mm higher off the ground, but remains a front-driver (though in some markets a 4x4 version is also offered). It also brings a unique ESC setting for improved front-wheel traction, a high centre console and heating elements for the windscreen and front seats.

Metallic paint adds $500 to the price of each model, while a range of customisation items are available through Fiat’s Mopar accessories division, in much the same way as Mini owners can individualise their cars.

To further emphasise its design-driven focus, all Pandas employ a rounded-off square motif Fiat calls ‘Squircle’ throughout the car (especially the interior), to help give it a flourish of style and individuality.

The Panda is one of the more aerodynamic cars in its class, recording a relatively slippery 0.32 drag co-efficiency figure.

When tested in late 2011, the European NCAP organisation rated the Panda as a four-star performer due to the non-availability of ESC in the base models – a situation that has since been rectified.

As a result, Fiat says all Australian versions should score five stars.

2014 Fiat Panda Pricing
(* Denotes drive-away price)

Pop 1.2L: $16,500*
Easy 0.9L TwinAir $19,000
Easy 0.9L TwinAir Dualogic (a) $20,500
Lounge 0.9L TwinAir Dualogic (a) $22,500
Trekking 1.3L MultiJet $24,000

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