On the road

The Fiat Panda 100HP's dinky wheels and fat tyres lend this baby the belligerent stance of a little tyke.

by Richard Bremner
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

A Fiat Panda with blacked-out glass for its rear-seat passengers? That's almost as hopeful as a callow youth wearing Lynx aftershave and expecting to be accosted by supermodels. But in this case, such design flourishes are amusing visible signals of the car's outsized character.

As its name indicates, this is a Panda with 100 brake horsepower - almost double what the most basic version of this cheerful shopping cart offers. And it's a fair bit of fun. This hot hatch in miniature can belt to 62mph in 9.5 seconds - which is pretty brisk - and hits 115mph flat out. It's dressed for the part too. Dinky little alloy wheels and fat tyres poking far enough beyond the wings to necessitate black wheelarch extensions lend this baby the squat and belligerent stance of a little tyke. The deeper radiator grille looks threatening in a miniature kind of way, the back bumper is sculpted like a Ferrari's to diffuse the air under the floor, and a teeny little micro-spoiler tops off the tailgate.

Fiat's spree at the sports locker hasn't stopped there, either. Deeper bucket seats clench the rib-cage in anticipation of country lane acrobatics, the steering wheel and gear lever are leather-faced, the pedals are of shiny alloy and the instruments wear war-paint.

Yet this make-over is more than Dulux-deep. The twin cam, 100-horsepower, 16-valve 1.4 engine is indulgently oversized for a car this small, it's hooked up to a six-speed gearbox, and those cute alloy wheels are bolted to suspension that has been bolstered for enhanced performance. Which does not disappoint. The engine's warbling rortiness promises zest - duly delivered as you run up through the gears with unexpected pace. And because there are six of them, the Panda runs pretty quietly at motorway speeds.

Despite its size, it is surprisingly capable at mixing it with express execs and rumbling artics too, with enough go to more than keep pace and a ride that's mostly restful.

Britain's battered B roads and shattered urban blacktop expose a suspension that's less absorbent when the bumps get big, however. The little Fiat - and its occupants - jerk skywards whenever it crests a big one. With the initial pliancy of the springs, this car just about gets away with it.

Baby cars like these should be brilliant for back-road scooting, and so this Panda proves. Those fat tyres stick, it steers with zeal and heels over remarkably little considering its height. So you'll have some fun. Less entertaining are the fierce brakes, which make smooth stops difficult, and steering that feels a little artificial - though you can offset this around town by pressing a button on the dash.

But these are small disappointments. The Fiat's road manners are as smile-inducing as its blacked-out back windows, and it remains perfectly practical despite being kitted for sprinting.

Panda 100HP
Price £9,995
Max power 100 bhp
Max torque 97 lb ft
Max speed 115 mph
0-62 mph 9.5 sec
Fuel consumption 43.5 mpg
CO2 emissions 154 g/km


Ford 1.6i Sportka SE £9,995

The Ka remains excellent - no less so as a hot hatch. A fine drive, but interior is a let-down.

Suzuki Swift Sport £11,499

Bigger than Panda but pricier too. Brisk and competent, but lacks charm of Fiat or Ford.

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