Car Enthusiast - click here to access the home page


First drive: Fiat Panda Hybrid. Image by Fiat.

First drive: Fiat Panda Hybrid
Proving there’s life in the, um, old Panda yet, Fiat brings hybrid technology to its charming city car.


<< earlier review     later review >>

Reviews homepage -> Fiat reviews

Fiat Panda Hybrid Launch Edition

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5

If you're looking at this all confused and thinking Fiat long ago stopped selling the third-generation Panda, well... you're not alone. But here it is, revitalised one last time with the group's newest drivetrain, a mild hybrid electric vehicle (MHEV) centred around the Firefly 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine. So is this greener (metaphorically and literally speaking) Panda City Cross Hybrid Launch Edition worth checking out?

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Fiat Panda City Cross Hybrid Launch Edition
Pricing: Panda range from £10,255, City Cross from £13,655; Hybrid First Edition from £14,385 as tested
Engine: 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol with 12-volt mild-hybrid electrical system incorporating 3.6kW belt-integrated starter generator and 11Ah lithium-ion battery
Transmission: front-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body style: five-door MHEV hatchback
CO2 emissions: 89g/km (VED Band 76-90 Alternative Fuel Cars: £100 first 12 months, then £135 annually thereafter; NEDC-correlated)
Combined economy: 49.6mpg (WLTP)
Top speed: 96mph
0-62mph: 14.7 seconds
Power: 70hp at 6,000rpm
Torque: 92Nm at 3,500rpm
Boot space: 225-870 litres

What's this?

We've called this Panda the City Cross Hybrid in our tech spec but, in actuality, it's correctly known as the Panda Hybrid Launch Edition. That's because you can have the part-electric Fiat in three specifications: City Cross, from £13,885; Launch Edition, from £14,385; and Trussardi, from £14,485. But we felt we needed to clarify that, despite its rugged appearance making it look like the world's most needlessly yet preposterously talented 4x4 in the form of the Panda Cross, this is actually a two-wheel-drive vehicle with an urban, planet-saving bent.

You see, in order to get its fleet emissions down to a suitable level, and in order to come across as a bit more of a socially responsible manufacturer, Fiat has belatedly entered the hybrid game with this Panda and its chic 500 cousin. It replaces the old 69hp 1.2 four-cylinder engine in both ranges, instead employing a normally aspirated three-cylinder petrol with a 3.6kW belt-integrated starter generator (BSG) and 11Ah lithium-ion battery to power it on a 12-volt electrical system. Horsepower is only up by one nag, to 70hp at 6,000rpm, although torque has dropped from 102Nm at 3,000rpm on the 1.2 to 92Nm at 3,500rpm here. Nevertheless, Fiat is claiming fuel consumption and CO2 emission reductions of up to 30 per cent (on this Panda), with new NEDC-correlated figures of 72.4mpg and 89g/km looking pretty impressive.

Beyond the drivetrain, the Panda Hybrid is much as it was before. The Launch Edition models gain the distinctive Dew Green paint and matte-effect green dashboard inside, as well as a small, round 'Hybrid' logo on the B-pillar which will not be on other versions of the Panda Hybrid. However, 'Hybrid' badging on the tailgate will be on all trim grades and so is visible here, while the LE's standard specification includes a leather steering wheel, LED daytime running lights, Bluetooth and DAB, automatic air-conditioning, rear parking sensors and the Winter Pack (heated front seats and a heated windscreen) - and Seaqual Yarn seats. These are made of recycled plastic fibres, with 90 per cent of their material coming from the land and the remaining 10 per cent recouped from the sea. However, for all the nice exterior touches and interior spec, the actual dashboard of the Panda looks terribly dated nowadays, especially with its orange LCD displays, while space for passengers in the rear isn't as generous as the car's boxy appearance might have you expect. Headroom's OK; legroom most assuredly is not.

How does it drive?

Sweetly, in its own, unhurried manner, but to suggest the Hybrid's running gear has transformed the way the Panda City Cross drives would be disingenuous, to say the least. This feels like a car with a 1.0-litre petrol onboard and nothing else. The issue here is that the MHEV technology ought to have a 'V' for 'Very' in front of it. A 12-volt system with an 11Ah battery and a 3.6kW BSG mounted directly on the engine (and operated by the belt for the auxiliaries) is never going to make its presence known that much, but Fiat has exacerbated the problem by limiting the Panda Hybrid's coasting function in a rather strange way.

Apparently, at speeds of less than 18mph, the Panda Hybrid will switch the Firefly triple off and coast around on the energy it has recovered from the brakes. Only, to get it to do this, you need to have the car in neutral and be off the clutch. This is a counter-intuitive way of driving a manual, so it requires you to think about it, rather than it happening organically and spontaneously. It also leaves you without any propulsion control approaching lights and junctions, and - furthermore - in practice the Hybrid didn't seem to want to engage this coasting function at anything much below 15km/h (9mph), never mind 18mph.

So aside from assisting the engine with acceleration and harvesting any kinetic energy that would otherwise be lost, the MHEV on the Panda doesn't make its presence known much. At all. But to say we dislike the way the Panda Hybrid drives would also be wide of the mark, because it's a charming little city runaround. We know the Panda Cross is not the sharpest of vehicles in the corners, but with its tall and soft suspension, 15-inch wheels and generally quiet manners, the Hybrid model proves to be a lovely thing to drive around a city - because, at urban speeds, you'll never encounter the limitations of its dynamics and you'll revel in the plush ride quality, which is far nicer than that found in the closely related 500 Hybrid.

What will also appeal is the throaty exhaust note of this new Firefly. Three-pot engines usually make a good noise but that's with a turbo fitted, an item which normally mutes the induction and exhaust of any given internal-combustion motor. The lack of forced induction here does mean that leisurely progress is the Panda's preferred modus operandi, rather than the car responding well to being caned through the gears to within an inch of its life (Italian-style), but the rorty, amusing parping of the exhaust, coupled with short lower ratios in the 'box, makes the Panda feel quicker and more eager than its ever-so-modest on-paper stats might suggest. With a pleasant gearshift action, courtesy of the 'squircle' lever, and superb visibility all round, the Panda Hybrid is a fine conveyance for getting about congested conurbations.

And finally, there's also a certain joy in driving something so low-powered and yet relatively light, as you can rinse the Panda Hybrid through all of its first four gears and you won't be going much more than 56mph, even though it feels quite the contrary...


We've always liked the Fiat Panda and we most definitely like the Panda Hybrid, but - if we're honest - this is not a petrol-electric vehicle which is going to reset its market sector. In truth, it's kind of one last roll of the dice for the Panda family, which may not get replaced as Fiat focuses on an all-electric, all-new 500 in the coming years. But if you've always wanted a Panda Mk3 and you've always felt Fiat wasn't doing its bit for the planet's environment, then here's the car you've been waiting for. That it retails for less than £15,000 only makes it all the more tempting.

3 3 3 3 3 Exterior Design

3 3 3 3 3 Interior Ambience

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Passenger Space

4 4 4 4 4 Luggage Space

2 2 2 2 2 Safety

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Comfort

3 3 3 3 3 Driving Dynamics

4 4 4 4 4 Powertrain

Matt Robinson - 10 Feb 2020    - Fiat road tests
- Fiat news
- Panda images

2020 Fiat Panda City Cross Hybrid Launch Edition. Image by Fiat.2020 Fiat Panda City Cross Hybrid Launch Edition. Image by Fiat.2020 Fiat Panda City Cross Hybrid Launch Edition. Image by Fiat.2020 Fiat Panda City Cross Hybrid Launch Edition. Image by Fiat.2020 Fiat Panda City Cross Hybrid Launch Edition. Image by Fiat.

2020 Fiat Panda City Cross Hybrid Launch Edition. Image by Fiat.2020 Fiat Panda City Cross Hybrid Launch Edition. Image by Fiat.2020 Fiat Panda City Cross Hybrid Launch Edition. Image by Fiat.2020 Fiat Panda City Cross Hybrid Launch Edition. Image by Fiat.2020 Fiat Panda City Cross Hybrid Launch Edition. Image by Fiat.


Internal links:   | Home | Privacy | Contact us | Archives | Old motor show reports | Follow Car Enthusiast on Twitter | Copyright 1999-2024 ©