What’s this, surely not a hot Panda?
Well it’s been a while since 100bhp constituted ‘hot’ but that’s essentially what you’re looking at. It’s been a while coming: when the upright Seicento replacement was first unveiled in October 2003 it was pulled along by fairly tame 1.1 and 1.2 petrol engines. Later, the torquier 1.3JTD arrived but even then, the Panda was hardly a performer. But it’s been working out and turned into this, the Panda 100HP.
So what’s under the bonnet?
Nothing special, judging by the cheap-looking plastic air box. But this is an engine that really deserves to be dressed smartly. A 1386cc twin cam developed from the Starjet unit in the Grande Punto it squeaks out 99bhp and 97lb ft, sending both to the front wheels through six closely-stacked forward gears.
And how does it go?
Like the Ford Sportka, this Fiat is far more fun than the modest power output suggests. The little four can be kept on the boil all day with the excellent six-speed gearbox and the engineers have even built in some satisfying induction roar. While hardly a torque-steering monster, on the fast Balocco test track it was easy to find the point where the ASR cuts in. As for performance, well it’s not going to worry a Focus ST but it might give a few thrusting sales reps a nasty shock: 62mph comes up in 9.5sec and it’ll do 112mph flat out.
What about in the bends?
Fiat’s engineers have put a lot of effort into tuning the suspension of the Panda 100HP. Because as any respectable tuner knows, there’s no point in having a rapid engine if the car doesn’t go round corners properly. But matching that cornering agility with an ability to absorb bumps can be tricky, particularly on a small-wheeled, short-wheelbase car like the Panda. But by jove they’ve done it. Understeer is minimal and the rear wheels remain firmly planted on the road under hard cornering and because the Panda weighs just 975kg, it’s brakes never grumble either. Unfortunately the overlight power steering remains.
How will I know a Panda 100HP when I see one blast past me?
Look for the chunky 15-inch alloys, revised bumpers and beefy side skirts. It’s all tastefully done and adds some visual bite to the Panda’s odd proportions. The interior though, is smart rather than sporting. Gone are the light-coloured dash coverings of the original car to be replaced with more sombre colours highlighted by bright metal trims on some of the controls. Black and grey fabric covers the seats, which are comfortable and supportive to suit the sporting nature of the car. The rear seats backs are split to provide some loading practicality and like every Panda, the cabin feels tall and narrow.
Value for money
At a fiver under 10k the Panda 100bhp is temptingly priced and group 5 insurance will certainly tempt younger drivers. And it’s not even much greedier than a normal city car, wringing 44miles out of every gallon.
Fiat is back doing what it does well, namely building small, fast cars that don’t break the bank to own. Don’t be surprised to see the odd Panda thundering down a B-road or smoking you at the lights because we expect this one to sell in serious numbers. All it really needs is an Abarth logo. But it sounds like Fiat is already working on something there. Watch this space.