Motoring Writer IAN LAMMING gets all cuddly over the latest Fiat’s Panda

I’VE always had a bit of a soft spot for Fiats. My first car was a brand new Uno and it coincided with my first job as a trainee reporter so it was all very exciting times.

Oh how I used to thrash the 55S home from parish council meetings on cold winter nights and the fact I got home in one piece was more down to the handling prowess of the car than it was a 21-year-old’s driving. That thing turned and gripped amazingly well for an affordable hatchback.

Too many years on to mention and Fiat are still managing to imbue fun into their little cars, and the latest is ecologically sound too.

What better name for anything green than Panda, that very symbol of WWF, save the world loveliness.

And to add to its green credentials even further the new one sports the badge ‘Hybrid’. It’s not a full hybrid but does dip a tentative toe in the fresh waters of partial electrification.

So like its cousin, the 500 Hybrid, Panda gets a 1.0 three cylinder petrol engine to which is coupled a 12-volt Belt-integrated Starter Generator (BSG). It delivers 70hp, more miles per gallon and less of that nasty polluting CO2 stuff.

The BSG system recovers energy during braking and deceleration, stores it in a lithium battery with a capacity of 11Ah, and uses it, at a maximum power of 3,600W, to restart the engine in Stop&Start mode and to help during acceleration.

To drive? Well you are not really aware of what is going on under the bonnet, you just drive it like any other car. When you lift off the throttle a little battery symbol lights up – so that must be the electrical harvesting, then. What you do notice is that the fuel gauge is slow to drop and the trip computer hangs around the 52mpg mark, which is great.

Surprisingly, for such a small engine car, it will pull sixth gear, which again boosts economy. But you do have to stir the slick manual box at any hint of a gradient or head wind. On the steep stuff you need to use second gear and a fair few revs to get where you want to go and like the old Uno it doesn’t mind being revved hard at all. Do that and it feels nippy and zippy, fun and frolicsome – very Fiat in fact.

Handling is comfortable and feels very safe, even in high winds, which is surprising given its square aesthetics. That square theme pervades the car – the fog lights set into the groovy ‘Cross’ front bumper, the pattern on the roof lining, the hub of the steering wheel, clocks and switches.

The cabin is well designed with plenty of space and clever storage. There’s no touchscreen but you can attach your smart phone to a dash-mounted carriage and Bluetooth it to the infotainment.

Panda is just the job for tight spots and narrow lanes, even better than the dinky 500 as you gain a bit of extra height and squareness that makes it easier to manoeuvre.

There is something endearing about the Panda, its chunky looks and cheerful nature making it a great drive, especially for a new car under the 14k mark. I nearly bought one of the austere originals but splashed out instead on an Uno. If I had my time again and it was Panda v 500 it would be a closer run thing and I certainly would have appreciated the extra economy back then, given the meagre starting salary of a trainee reporter.

Fact File
Fiat Panda Cross hybrid
Engine: 1.0 three cylinder mild hybrid
Power: 70hp
0-62mph: 14.7 secs
Top speed: 96mph
Combined MPG: 49.6
Transmission: six-speed manual
CO2 g/km: 89
Price: From £13,530.00