Tuesday, 10 September 2013

REVIEW - Fiat Panda TwinAir Easy

It would appear that the latest trend in the motor industry is to reduce engine size, fit turbochargers, and aim for better economy. That's exactly what Fiat has done with the TwinAir. The 0.9-litre, 2-cylinder motor has a turbocharger, but also aims to offer excellent economy. In this test the TwinAir was underneath the bonnet of a Panda. And this is a car that creates a new word; "squircle". Think of crossing a square and a circle, and you have the panda summed up in one. These strange shapes are featured inside and out, but does it make the Panda as 'cute' as the Fiat 500? And how does the TwinAir perform in the real world? Well I set about trying to find out...

Looks - 7/10

The first thing I noticed about the Panda was the presence of the 'squircle'. They're all over the outside, and all over the inside. The exterior of the Panda goes for 'cute' styling, and I think this works rather well. However I do think the Panda is overshadowed by its sibling- the Fiat 500- in the cute charts, but then that's merely an opinion. I like the styling of the Panda, from the daytime running lights and stylish lines at the front, to the curvy rear end. My test car had optional alloy wheels which added a nice dynamic, and even featured their own squircle! Not so sure about the colour of my test car. The 'Infatuation Purple' paint wasn't a colour I'd choose, but there are heaps more to choose from.

On the inside the squircle theme continues, with the steering wheel, door handles, rear headrests, door speakers, radio controls, heater controls and even the gearstick all feature the shape. I like that, and it gives the interior a contemporary feel. Sadly in my test car the seats spoilt it, because the cream-ness was just too much for me. Because it was the seats, the door trim and even the dashboard, there was just too much of it. However I have no doubt this is in fact trendy and it is me who is "not with the times". So if I were to order my Panda with a dark interior people will call me boring and unimaginative. So be it. The handbrake is an unusual shape, and over time I grew to like it. I even like the attention to detail on the doors, as the letters P A N D and A are arranged in many ways, and this creates a nice texture. The plastics aren't of the highest quality, but then this isn't in the price bracket to expect materials from the far end of the periodic table, and they're by no means bad.

Handling/Performance - 7/10

As mentioned earlier, the Panda TwinAir is powered by a 0.9-litre, turbocharged petrol motor. It has two cylinders and offers up 85PS and 145Nm of torque. This means the Panda gets from
0-62mph in 11.2 seconds and goes on to a top speed of 110mph. The power is fed to the front wheels via a 5-speed manual gearbox, and there is a 'normal' and 'eco' mode to drive in. I found the TwinAir engine rather strange. It doesn't like to be below 2,000rpm and seems to struggle in these instances. The noise is also unusual as well, but thanks to the turbo there is a bit of forward momentum should you need it. The gearbox is pleasant, and the Panda more than holds its own on the motorway. There's a little bit of wind noise at 70 or above, but it isn't too intrusive. Despite the issues lower in the rev band, the Panda never feels at all underpowered, and that's a credit to the TwinAir technology.

Sadly I must also discuss the handling. What you will notice from the exterior shots of the Panda is that it's rather tall. This is great for interior space, but not so great for when you turn the steering wheel. If you try to corner at speed, you will discover the meaning of the term "leaning". Now I will also add at this point that this characteristic is exaggerated by the seats, which offer as much lateral support as a park bench. However, that's not all to the Panda. The ride itself if rather comfortable. On the motorway the Panda is soft and comfortable, but on a bumpier road it doesn't wallow or break your back either. The steering itself is relatively sharp, and the grip level is good too; it's a shame the height of the car gets in the way.

Overall though, the Panda is a car that can be on the limit, within the speed limits, and that means you can race through the gears, down-change for fun, and use the turbocharged power. You soon get used to the handling and will become a masterclass in anti-tipping cornering techniques. With the 'eco' mode you lose a bit of power but get much better fuel economy, and once cruising at motorway speeds you don't even notice it switched on.

Economy - 10/10

What you simply cannot fault about the Panda TwinAir is one of its sole aims; to be economical. The 0.9-litre engine emits a mere 99g/km CO2, putting it in the best VED band of them all- Band A. Road tax will not cost you a penny, and you can't exactly get better than that. The Panda has start/stop technology, and its low capacity means it sips fuel at the impressive rate of 67.3mpg which is more than enough. Obviously this will vary with how much time you spend on the turbo, and if you try to drive this car quickly you will see a drop in this figure, but if you embrace what the TwinAir is all about then you will benefit from low running costs, and with petrol prices rising at the rate they are presently that's vital to owners these days. The aforementioned 'eco' mode is great too for saving fuel. In the city traffic and on motorways, you really can improve economy by using this setting and driving with a bit of thought to economical driving, and I like that you can actually tell the difference.

Practicality - 8/10

The biggest selling point of the Panda over the 500 is the two rear doors, which if you have children will be invaluable for long-term ownership. There's pleanty of space for even a tall gentleman thanks to the height of the car, and there is decent legroom in the front. I appreciate Fiat's thinking to put a place for your left foot in the Panda, as this is often overlooked these days. Granted, with my size 10's it wasn't the easiest of resting places, but on longer drives I found this comfortable and a nice feature to have.

The rear seats don't have the most legroom in the world, but at 5ft 7 I fit nicely and was comfortable in the back. The boot is reasonable and will fit your shopping in with ease. Although it's tall, the Panda is still relatively small. You can park it on a button, and with the 'city' steering mode- which lightens it to the point of sheer effortlessness- maneuvering is a doddle. The visibility is great, and the Panda has a good steering lock which makes city driving easy.

Fun - 7/10

The Panda is a car which, on paper, doesn't seem like much fun at all. Economical, 0.9-litre, and 2-cylinder don't exactly sound like the recipe for a good time. But somehow, and I'm not entirely sure how, but the Fiat Panda TwinAir is a hoot. Maybe it's the handling, which is almost comedic and makes you feel like you're going 50-60mph faster than you actually are. Perhaps it's the engine, which encourages hitting the rev band and using the gears to make forward progress. And maybe it's because you don't expect a lot from it, and yet the Panda is a rather good car. It drives well, and once you get used to the characteristics of the engine you can really appreciate the engineering behind the TwinAir which is rather good. I even liked setting myself economy targets, and could really see the difference when driving the Panda as it is meant to be driven, so in ownership you would undoubtedly get the feel-good factor every time you went to fill up, and realised the Panda had barely used any fuel at all.

Concluding Remarks

So then, the Panda TwinAir. I didn't expect to like this car. I didn't get it, and it was far too purple for my liking. But after a week behind the wheel, I grew fonder of it. I get it. What you have here is a city car which can potter around town, can accommodate the kids in the back, the shopping in the boot, and then can cruise comfortably on the motorway too. And if you turn the eco mode off you can have some pedal-to-the-metal fun pretending to be a rally driver, but all within the speed limits. The Panda can be on the limit, within the limits, and that makes it a good car. The Panda TwinAir Easy www.fiat.co.uk/panda for more information. A huge thanks to Ben over at Fiat for arranging the Panda for me to test, and I hope I can add some more Fiat's to my list of reviews in the future!
starts at £10,750 so is reasonably priced too. There are some useful options available too, but try not to go overboard or you'll see the price creep up. My test car was £12,450 which was still reasonable, and it had alloy wheels, bluetooth and practical interior storage on the back of the front seats. So if you're after a city car and want a car that's cheap to run, give the Panda a go. Pop into a dealer or
head to

Total Score - 39/50

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