The Panda 100HP made an unlikely evo hero, but there’s no doubt that during the ten months it was here the feisty little Fiat made a real impression on us – and, it appears, on you too.
From the very beginning things were different with the Panda. For starters we – or rather Harry – bought it, which was quite a commitment given none of us at evo HQ had even driven one. But after John Simister’s positive report from the 100HP’s launch in Italy (evo 099), such was our keenness to try one on UK soil and find out whether we had a new and genuinely credible sub-£10K drivers’ car to champion, that buying one was our only option. You see, Fiat UK was still awaiting its first 100HP press car…
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Having decided to take the plunge, Harry wasted no time in locating one of the few examples in the UK. Typically, he even managed to secure a chunky discount, paying £8500 (compared with a list price of £9995) for the officially ‘ex-demo’ Panda. In reality it was nigh-on box fresh.
I was entrusted with the UK road test (issue 101), which was conducted at ‘enthusiastic’ pace in foul weather on our favourite North Wales roads. Despite mustering 300bhp less than I normally bother getting out of bed for, the Panda was a riot, scything through the murk and thriving on two days of sustained thraping. I loved it. Indeed I loved it so much that I managed to persuade Harry to hang on to the 100HP and run it on the Fast Fleet. Quite an endorsement given my previous long-termer was the thumping Mustang GT.
Having starred as the centrepiece of our ‘£10K Heroes’ cover story, we were heartened to see the email@example.com inbox begin to fill with messages from you, either saying you’d just bought a Panda or were seriously considering one. The cult was growing.
Away from the absorbing drama of our Welsh test routes, the Panda’s unyielding ride made more, er, impact. It never proved intrusive enough to put me off driving – when your other car’s a 964RS you learn to grit your teeth and get on with it – but the Panda’s tendency to emulate a bucking bronco on bumpy B-roads certainly made me think about the best routes to take, if only out of consideration for any passengers.
Those Panda-owning townies amongst you also learned to fear the 100HP’s concrete damping, especially over speed humps. In fact the ride quality, or rather the lack of it, was the single biggest reason for some of you deciding against buying the Fiat. Sadly, the sale of WR56 EVU came before we had a chance to try the new spring kit developed by Cobra. Fear not, though, for we still intend to test the package. In fact if you own a 100HP and fancy being an evo guinea pig, drop us an email. You might just get a set of new springs…
Ride aside, the Panda 100HP was an utterly infectious car to live with. Its compact dimensions meant it was an absolute demon on country lanes or city streets, and the 1.4-litre engine was a real firecracker that absolutely loved being revved. True, it didn’t mind shouting about it, but it was also able to cruise quickly and relatively quietly on the motorway.
The brakes were a bit sharp at the top of the pedal, but they provided plenty of stopping power, while the snappy six-speed gearbox was an absolute marvel to use, with the only limiting factor to shift speed being how fast you could push the stubby lever through the short-throw gate.
Thanks to a ‘Sport’ setting, the steering could be made weightier, which was a good thing, as in normal mode the steering was far too light and lacked feel. Another good feature of our car was the fact it did without the optional stability control, which can’t be fully disengaged. This left us free to fully exploit the 100HP’s chassis balance, which was tenaciously neutral in the dry, nose-led in the rain (it would also fizz-up with wheelspin if you were too oafish) and occasionally tail-led if you hit the trail-braking sweet spot or timed your lift-off oversteer bung just right. Ultimately, whatever the road or weather, you knew you were going to have fun, which is surely the point of a small, highly strung car like the 100HP.
Perhaps more of a surprise was the sense of quality. Not only did the car look crisp, tight and funky, it felt it too. Some of the plastics were a bit scratchy, but the interior design and feel was extremely good. So too was the level of equipment, which included air-con and Bluetooth phone connectivity as standard.
Apart from the poor ride quality, we found very little to dislike about the Panda. The boot was narrow and upright – fine for shopping bags, hopeless for a suitcase – but five-doors made the car extremely practical overall. And despite being thrashed more often than not, we usually averaged nearly 40mpg.
The 100HP never saw the inside of a Fiat dealership either, be it for routine servicing or fault fixing. Hard use saw the front tyres wearing appreciably, but we reckon that’s just a sign of an entertaining car. And the 100HP is certainly that. In fact, this is one small car we won’t forget in a hurry.
|Date acquired||December 2006|
|Duration of test||10 months|
|Trade in value||£7100|