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Date: 04 Dec 2017 Author Type: Public Review
Author: Julian Lurie Edited by Liam Mothilall
Source: Julian Lurie
When it comes to small hatchbacks, Fiat is an expert and has a wide range to choose from. However, despite this, Fiat has never reached its full potential in this country. For 2017, the Panda range has been refreshed with the range including the 4x4 and Cross versions for the first time in nearly a decade.

Since launching locally in 2013, the Panda range has expanded from the Easy and Lounge versions in conventional front wheel drive (4x2) for the city car, to include the 4x4 and Cross versions, so-called City SUVs. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve had both the Fiat Panda Lounge and the Panda Cross 4x4 on test and the former is the model featured here.

For 2017, the Fiat Panda has benefited from a major upgrade. From the outside, the new Fiat Panda Lounge gets two fresh body colors, body color door handles, twin black roof rails for a more masculine look, black side- cladding for protection, front fog lights, manual remote exterior mirrors, 14” alloy wheels shod with 175/65R14 Conti tyres and a space-saver spare under the boot board. However admiration for the Panda’s styling remains a matter of personal taste.

Moving inside, the two-tone cloth upholstery looks hard wearing and the front bucket seats are supportive enough and comfortable. The boxy design allows the interior to offer generous head- and legroom both front and rear–even for over 6-footers – and the smallish tilt- adjustable multi-function leather bound steering wheel is flat at the bottom which adds to the comfort. Storage for oddments is provided for in the large front door pockets and small rear ones, in an open shelf ahead of the passenger, a smallish cubby below and cup-holders in the floor console. The rear tail-gate opens high and wide to reveal a smallish 225 litre boot, and a wash/wiper is mounted on the outside. The instrument cluster is somewhat retro, and I liked the way the gear-lever sprouted out from the floor console. The squared-off gauges for the speedo, marked to 210 km/h and rev counter marked red at 6 500 rpm, are clear and easy to read.

Standard features include; trip computer, auto air-conditioning, remote central locking, electric windows – front only,daytime running lamps, 60/40 split fold rear seat electric power steering and a full suite of safety features including ABS anti-lock braking, traction, EBD, stability control, four airbags, isofix child restraint, rear parking sensors, stop/start. The audio system is a 4-speaker unit featuring the new Uconnect infotainment system with Bluetooth 2.1, audio streaming, a USB port located in the cubby, a dash mounted USB recharging port as well as voice recognition.

The new Panda is powered by Fiat’s twin air turbo-charged Euro 6 rated two cylinder 875cc in-line petrol engine making 63 kw at 5 500 rpm and 145 Nm of torque at 1 900 rpm and drive is to the front wheels through a 5-speed manual gearbox. According to the spec sheet, the Fiat Panda Lounge front wheel drive will accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in 11.2 seconds after three gear changes, has a top speed of 177 km/h and a petrol consumption of just 4.2 litres per 100 kms.

However, I was unable to match those figures in the press vehicle, taking 12.1 seconds to 100 km/h, so for overtaking, you need to ensure you have the space and flatten the loud-pedal in the most suitable gear. Also according to the trip recorder I got an average petrol consumption of 6.5 litres per 100 km, but that did include all the testing. A gear-shift indicator is incorporated in the dash that suggests the optimum gear for best fuel consumption. The tank holds 37 litres.

On paper the Panda 9-litre two cylinder engine would seem to be hopelessly under-powered, but when you drive the car, it’s actually quite fun. For around town driving, you only really need first, second and third gears to provide adequate power with fourth gear suitable for urban freeways and you can get into 5th gear in speeds faster than 90 km/h for it to run smoothly. The engine is quite noisy in fast acceleration, but the sound is quite unique, but with a sporty beat which is not at all irritating. The gearbox is excellent with smooth changing gears and a light clutch action. As to be expected from an Italian car, it’s actually sporty to drive, with very good handling. The suspension is excellent at soaking up the bumps on rough roads, but if you push it really hard into a corner, you can induce a bit of tire squeal.

This new Fiat Panda Lounge is a lovable little car, seats four comfortably, is fuel efficient and with its small turning circle, can be parked easily in tight places. Priced at R199 900, it includes a 3 year/100 000 km warranty and service plan. In a few weeks’ time we will feature our road impression of the new Fiat Panda Cross 4x4.
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