Up until owning the Panda 100HP, I’d only ever had VAG products. Three Volkswagens and an Audi to be precise.
This presented me with something of an existential crisis as someone heavily opinionated on cars and the motor industry. How could someone who had only owned products of one (albeit huge) manufacturing group, really offer views on other marques? With VW Group cars I was well within my comfort zone; I knew where the headlamp switch would be, I knew the grab handles would be dampened and I knew what it would be like to own.
And so, to push myself outside the warm blanket of Volkswagen, I bought a Fiat; possibly the complete opposite of what I’d grown to expect from VW. Six months later, that experiment is over, the Panda has been traded in and I have moved on.
To try to make sense of this, here is a very short summary of what I loved and loathed about the Panda 100HP:
- The looks. Every time I walked over to the 100HP on a morning or when leaving work, the chunky, cute, faux hot-hatch styling made me laugh and smile without fail. The sporty looking grilles at the front, the deep mesh-diffuser and rear spoiler made it look like no other Panda. The fact it had the world’s smallest wing mirrors also amused me greatly.
- The gearbox. Six-speed with the gear-shift mounted on the dash like a touring car/WRC car; the best I’ve encountered after the Civic Type-R. Helped to keep the fizzy FiRE 1.4 on cam with tightly stacked ratios.
- The handling. In Sport mode, with the weight of the steering turned up, the 100HP was great fun to chuck about. Roundabouts became ovals, one-way systems equalled rally stages; any road could be fun.
- The equipment. Bluetooth phone integration, full electronic climate control, steering wheel mounted stereo buttons and bass heavy sound-system were all big car toys in a small package.
- The ride. Oh My God! I’ve owned performance cars, I’ve owned modified cars. Neither compared to the sheer spine-crushing body-control of the Panda. With stiff springs pitted against soft dampers, in a short wheelbase, potholes and speed bumps were to be feared. I would tense involuntarily at certain parts of my morning commute, knowing pain was about to reverberate up my vertebrae.
- The MPG. One would hope that a teeny city-car, weighing less than a ton, with a 1.4 litre engine and 6-speed gearbox would return good fuel consumption. Think again; the 100HP averaged less than 35MPG in my time with it. Driving with the utmost care and attention never returned better than 38, and driving like it was intended meant the average fell to 32MPG. Motorways were even worse, with a steady 70mph cruise giving fuel economy of less than 30! Not since the Audi S3 had I encountered such a drink problem, but at least the S3 had the performance to excuse its petrol addiction.
- The speed. Or the lack thereof. 0-60mph in under 10 seconds, top speed of 120mph. Not earth-shattering, and certainly not enough to offset the above. It made a lot of noise and seemed enthusiastic, but in reality it wasn’t that quick.
- The reliability. Along with drinking petrol, the 100HP also consumed worrying amounts of oil and coolant for reasons I couldn’t get to the bottom of. The electric power-steering also liked to handily fail every so often. This was fixed by turning the car off and on; but relying on the Microsoft method of problem-solving made me uneasy. In short, I could never escape the impending sense that one morning it would just turn to bits on my drive.
Six months is the shortest I have owned a car for, though to be honest it felt a great deal longer with the Panda. It charmed me and never ceased to make me smile. I would proudly defend it to the hilt, knowing that it was probably pissing (coolant) on someone’s leg like a badly behaved puppy.
In the end, the compromises began to outweigh the benefits and deep down I knew the 100HP was not a long-term proposition. Try as I might, I couldn’t shake the fear of unknown, huge mechanical catastrophe. Once you have that fear, it becomes very difficult to think of anything else. I certainly don’t regret the Panda; my car ownership portfolio covers a much broader palate now, and it was genuinely good fun. Fondly remembered, but not missed.
As for the replacement? That shall be revealed tomorrow.
Telling people you drive a Fiat Panda seems to produce a number of reactions depending on how much the individual knows about cars.
Those whose automotive knowledge only comes from Top Gear, don’t really care. If Clarkson hasn’t set fire to it or raced it against a nuclear-powered submarine then it’s not important.
When I discuss it with my parents, they remind me of the white original Panda they had back in the 1990s. And how the woman they sold it to failed to master how to start it, meaning my Dad had to spend various mornings firing said Panda into life when it wasn’t even theirs.
And those that read Evo know that they describe it as one of the most fun vehicles available recently.
Having only ever owned VAG products, putting my hard earned cash into something from Italia was a gamble. Yes I know it’ll turn to a pile of bits overnight, but until then it looks like it’ll be damn good fun!
100bhp, 6-speed box, climate control, Bluetooth, 35mpg and that all important sport button. What more could you want?!