Tiny Panda all grown up
POPULAR PANDA: Although the Fiat Panda is entering its 32nd year in 2012, the new model is still only its third incarnation even though 6.4 million Pandas have been sold globally since 1980.
Fiat has released its third-generation Panda in Europe and it's bigger, safer and more fuel-efficient than its predecessors.
Three trim levels are available with the usual weird names - Pop, Easy and Lounge (is something lost in translation) - and with a choice three sweet little engines: 900cc TwinAir Turbo, 1.2 Fire Evo II and a 1.3 MultiJet 2 diesel.
The latest Panda has longer, wider and taller than the model it replaces. Most of the extra length is in the rear overhang to increase boot space and rear-seat legroom, with for the first time the benefit (to increase luggage space and lose passengers) of a sliding seat. The car is also 66mm wider and Fiat says it will comfortably seat three abreast in the rear.
At the forefront of the engines is Fiat’s 'International Engine of the Year 2011', the TwinAir Turbo. The first in a new range of motorcycle-sized engines, this two-cylinder unit combines Fiat’s MultiAir technology with a turbocharger to make 64kW/145Nm. Fuel consumption's a claimed 3.4 litres/100km.
The 1.2 Fire Evo II makes 52kW/102Nm (4.3/100) and the 1.3 MultiJet 2 turbodiesel 56kW/190Nm (3.2/100). The first units will only be available with a five-speed manual - an auto box is expected later in 2012 but some models already have stop/start and all models have a "time to change gear" indicator.
The TwinAir turbo model also has an 'ECO' button on the fascia which reduces torque to 100Nm.
The new model is 365cm long with a wheelbase of 230cm and claims the title of "biggest boot in class". The cabin is 26mm wider at the front and five mm wider at the rear, while overall the cabin is 20mm longer than the outgoing model.
For your improved comfort and driving pleasure the cars have a new suspension and a body "significantly" less flexible than its predecessor. The new Panda can be equipped with six air bags (four are standard), anti-lock brakes, optional electronic stability control and anti-whiplash head restraints like those developed many years ago by Volvo.
HEADING FOR THE PUMPS: Fiat has replaced the traditional fuel cap with a fuel filler pipe that opens and closes automatically when the pump is inserted and withdrawn. Object: To reduce unpleasant smells and prevent overflow.
The cabin has 14 storage compartments and (as an option) the front passenger seat can fold to become a table. As with every other Fiat in the current range, the Panda can be ordered with Blue&Me to connect a music source and cellphone.
Two rear seats are standard; a middle seat, head restraint and seat belt can be specified as an option. The sliding row is optional from September 2012. This moves by 16cm, increasing boot space from 225 to 260 litres, while pushing the seats flat yields 870 litres of boot space (36 litres more than the outgoing model).
The fascia has been given a retro makeover and has a storage pocket ahead of the front passenger and a locking glovebox in the lower part of the dash.
Teamed with Blue&Me is Fiat’s eco:drive system. It enables users to download information about their driving to a USB stick and uploaded to Fiat’s eco:drive website. Acceleration, deceleration, gear shifts and speed are analysed to give drivers a personal eco:Index of between one and 100. The eco:Drivers then receive tips on how to improve their performance and can become part of the eco:ville on-line community.QUALITY RAISED
To enable the new Panda to perform on the open road and in the tight confines of the city, its dualdrive electric power steering features a "City" function to facilitate parking manoeuvres more easily. The default setting is returned to when the "City" button is pressed again or when speeds exceed 36km/h.
One of the aims with the new Fiat Panda has been to raise product quality for city cars. With an investment of 800m Euros, the Giambattista Vico plant in Pomigliano d’Arco on the outskirts of Naples has been transformed, eventually resulting in up to 260 000 Pandas being produced annually.
Fiat's new Panda will be launched in South Africa later in 2012.