#01#Fiat's diminutive Panda
won the Car of the Year competition when it was launched. We too were charmed by its capabilities and found it a fun and capable package of the breed so traditionally associated with the Italian marque. Several years on and the Panda is an established success and Fiat has rolled out this cheeky little range-topper. Though stopping short of using the hallowed Abarth badge, the 100HP has all the ingredients to be a cracking little car.
The looks of the humble little Panda have been transformed via a myriad of changes; some small and subtle, some less so. The spoked alloys shod with Goodyear Eagle F1 tyres hint at some of the dynamic ability available. The bumper treatments fore and aft endow the car with a modicum of aggression, along with the rear wing, and the tints on the rear windows cleverly alter the profile of the car. All this allied to the deep blood red paintwork of our test car and you can't help but find it oddly appealing as a baby hot-hatch package.
Interior tweaks also feature, but not as many sweeping changes as on the outside; some more aggressive seats and a leather wheel and gearknob is the extent of the sporting overtones. A few more wouldn't have gone amiss; it is just a little too like the standard Panda to mark it out as something special on the inside.
Behind the wheel, things are promising, with the same sound driving position as found in the basic car carried over intact. Although, footwell space remains at a premium, so pick your footwear carefully, and the clutch pedal footrest is too high. These niggles aside things are good with switchgear laid out logically and close to hand and a decent air of quality, fit and finish.
Once under way, the dominating factor in the driving experience is the stiff suspension. I'm struggling to think of another car with such a stiff set-up; we're talking Lancer Evo 6 stuff here. A low kerb weight and stiff chassis settings combine to achieve what can best be described as a 'busy' end result on anything other than the smoothest of surfaces. This, of course, pays big dividends on the twisty black stuff, as the little Panda turns into something of a Civic Type R equivalent. Here the 100HP really comes into its own and makes a lot of sense.
The flick of the wrist, quick-snap gearshift mounted high on the dash is as slick as they come and allows you to slice seamlessly between the six gears, thus keeping the revvy little engine on the boil. The 1.4-litre 16v isn't lacking in torque for pootling around, but what it really wants is for you to treat it like you hate it and continuously spin it round towards the red line. It isn't the last word in turbine-like smoothness, but it never gets thrashy or sounds overly strained.
Engaging the 'Sport' button on the dash sharpens up the throttle response by altering the calibration and reduces power assistance to the steering. Unfortunately, it doesn't add any extra feel, but it does give the 100HP something of a naughty side compared to the lesser model that has the 'City' button instead. It's this mischievous side that is the big selling point of the sporty Panda. On the right road it's a real hoot with plenty of grip, great balance, agility and the adjustability associated with all good hot hatches.
Where the picture begins to look less clear is around town, an environment where the Panda is usually in its element. Here, the stiff suspension that so underpins its capabilities on fun roads undermines its credentials as a town car. It crashes and bangs over drain covers and pot holes and pogoes occupants uncomfortably over the speed bumps and similar road furniture that so blight our roads.
A degree of compromise in the suspension would have weakened the exciting side of the dynamic repertoire, but would have seriously enhanced the city car facet of the car's personality. The engine on the other hand feels at home in all contexts with plenty of punch when pressing on, as demonstrated by 0-60mph in 9.5 seconds and a 115mph maximum. Our 32mpg average reflects the car's "spank me" personality, but it should be possible to eke more miles from the gallon with more considered use.
Overall, it's an entertaining little package evoking memories of small hot hatches of old, such as the Citroen AX GT. Where it falls a little short is in terms of being the complete finished article, lacking polish and refinement and packing a £10k price tag. Many of the 100HP's virtues can be found elsewhere, most significantly in the shape of the Suzuki Swift Sport
- a car that may lack the ultimate dynamic satisfaction of the 100HP on your perfect road, but one that beats it in terms of value and road manners.
The 100HP is well worth a look at as an entry level fun hatch; it certainly has enough about it to continue the Panda's success. For us, that extra degree of compromise in terms of trying to obtain the best suspension set up is both a blessing and a hindrance. This would be the potential deal-breaker, as the rest of the car is very good.
2007 Fiat Panda range overview
- Fiat Panda 1.1 Active: £6,955
- Fiat Panda 1.2 Dynamic: £7,355
- Fiat Panda 1.2 Dynamic AirCon: £7,905
- Fiat Panda 1.2 Dynamic SkyDome: £7,905
- Fiat Panda 1.3 16v MultiJet Dynamic: £8,195
- Fiat Panda 1.2 Eleganza: £8,555
- Fiat Panda 100HP: £10,060