Tested: 2017 Fiat Panda TwinAir Lounge

The growly deal

Prepare yourself for a shock. Most motoring journalists, yours truly included, are huge fans of small and affordable cars. I base this statement on my powers of observation at gatherings of car scribes who suddenly become bright-eyed when someone mentions a cool little car. Like the new Fiat Panda.



And here’s the next surprise… you won’t get that reaction from an exotic or luxury brand name, except from the younger fraternity members. The more experienced writers will confirm that expensive cars are too complicated, too powerful, too flashy, too low, too thirsty and probably too costly to maintain.

Cheap and cheerful cars, on the other hand, bring a fresh breeze of affordability and versatility with them. They are easier to live with, cheaper to run and within the reach of most motorized citizens; including the odd car journo. The Panda makes a strong case for itself in these disciplines because it is sensible yet with a fun side.

You want sensible? Let’s start with the price of R200,000 for this TwinAir Lounge model. Your nearest Fiat dealer may also show you a cheaper version and two dearer 4×4 Pandas, all contained within this cheeky 3,7m shape with good ride height, great visibility, decent boot space (225 to 870L) and a superb turning radius.

More sensibility comes in the shape of active and passive driving aids, a city steering mode, temporary spare wheel, comfy 65-profile tyres and its soft-ish suspension for typical Italian flamboyance when cornering. The brakes are ok for this segment as we did an emergency stop in 2.94 seconds and 42,46 meters.

Leaning towards the fun side is the colour palette; ours was a funky flat orange. Cabin materials are a bit drab but the cockpit layout is quite cool with a simple UConnect infotainment system. Its Bluetooth menu lives in the car’s instrumentation and the control thereof – with steering wheel buttons – bordered on incomprehensible.

“That’s Italian flair!” barks my passenger as we struggle to unlock the 35L fuel tank for a splash and dash. More head scratching occurs while inspecting the park brake, dashboard button layout, trip computer interface and some sort of mobile phone holder atop the dashboard. For the record, it works well.

Starting the engine produces strange sounds and noticeable vibrations – both of which get marked as entertaining in my notebook. The source of all this is Fiat’s 0.9L TwinAir two-cylinder turbo-petrol motor which powers the entire Panda range to the tune of 63kW (86hp), 145Nm or 95hp per liter.

At around 450cc per cylinder, the equivalent four-cylinder would be 1,8 liters and this Panda’s plucky power delivery confirms that. Obviously it’s gutless around idle but this twin-cylinder motor packs a surprising torque punch in the mid-range before completely running out of puff at 5,500rpm; 1,000 shy of its redline.

Fiat claims 0-100km/h in 11.2 seconds but that restricted power band and a stodgy rev limiter in neutral prevented us from launching this car properly. Our best run was 11.92 seconds (at sea level). Claimed top speed is 177km/h and average fuel use 4.2L/100km, both of which will only be doable with supreme concentration.

The Panda’s clutch is easy to modulate – good news for a city SUV – but selection of the tall gears can be notchy. Fifth is hard to find and not very useful around town, although this vibrating little monster starts pulling from as little as 1,500rpm. I also noted that the Fiat Panda does not like strong winds; or vice versa?

Whatever. This cheap ‘n cheerful compact city SUV has a great mix of practicality and groovy character traits, chief among which is that growly two-pot turbo engine. To seal the deal, Fiat will include a 3-year 100,000km warranty and service plan with the purchase of each new Panda.


Performance:

0-10km/h: 0,72 seconds
0-20km/h: 1,25 seconds
0-30km/h: 1,90 seconds
0-40km/h: 3,14 seconds
0-50km/h: 4,14 seconds
0-60km/h: 5,16 seconds
0-70km/h: 6,37 seconds
0-80km/h: 8,36 seconds
0-90km/h: 10,05 seconds
0-100km/h: 11,92 seconds
0-110km/h: 14,22 seconds
0-120km/h: 17,72 seconds
0-130km/h: 21,29 seconds
0-140km/h: 25,42 seconds

0-100m: 7,84 seconds @ 76,83km/h
0-200m: 11,90 seconds @ 99,89km/h
0-300m: 15,25 seconds @ 114,11km/h
0-400m: 18,32 seconds @ 121,77km/h

100-0km/h: 2,94 seconds @ 42,46 meters (once-off)

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0-10mph: 1,05 seconds
0-20mph: 2,06 seconds
0-30mph: 3,96 seconds
0-40mph: 5,69 seconds
0-50mph: 8,41 seconds
0-60mph: 11,26 seconds
0-70mph: 14,90 seconds
0-80mph: 20,77 seconds

1/4 mile: 18,39 seconds @ 75,84 mph

Maximum acceleration G-force: 0,55G

Altitude: 60m

All data captured by Racelogic® Performance Box

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