Fiat Panda Pop review – Proof That Basic Cars Are Cool

Basic ‘Pop’ has almost all you need, 1.2 drives well, great MPG, full of character, low-price

Lack of rear headrests is simply ridiculous, rear seats too upright

Fiat Panda?

The original Fiat arrived in the 1980’s, and was designed to be a super-cheap way of travel for people with little means. It was absolutely as basic as can be. The boxy first generation Panda was not a good-looking car either, though its Italian designers seemed to think so. In this current hard economic climate, small, inexpensive cars are fast becoming the popular choice. With that though, buyers still want decent quality and good looks – so how does a basic Panda fare with this attitude in mind? I had a play with one to find out.

Fiat Panda Pop 1.2 review

Exterior. Butt-ugly or beauty?

Mentioning the first generation Panda, the only rounded thing on it were the wheels, for it was as square-edged as a box of matches. Although there’s still a nod to the original, in that it’s high-sided, making it light and airy inside. However, this is far away from being an ugly duckling. I wouldn’t say it’s morphed into a swan exactly, as it’s definitely a bit Marmite and people I asked were split over its looks. There’s no denying the Panda has bags of character  though. When I first clapped eyes on the basic ‘Pop’ model I was sent – steel wheels with plastic trims and all – I thought ‘great, I’m gonna have to spend a week being seen in that’. The love was not immediate.

Fiat Panda Pop 1.2 review

However, over the week the Panda’s slightly quirky appearance grew on me until I genuinely liked it. It’s a chunky little car, and although it’s still boxy, there are easily enough curves to bring it well into the modern world. The quirkiness of the car gives you a bit of individualism, and in sea of boring, overly-familiar-shaped cars, that’s a good thing. The lowest version of the Panda is the Pop, with wheel trims, no front fogs, unpainted wing mirrors and bumpers, and even the side-moulding cost extra! However, because of its no-frills exterior, this would be the perfect car for driving in cities full of other uncaring motorists, who’ll bash another car without even a second thought – like Paris or Madrid, for instance.

Fiat Panda Pop 1.2 review

The front is simple but stock-looking, while down the side the arches flare out a little, while above the side windows are large, aside from the neat little square one in the boot area – one of my favourite bits of the Panda, that. Around to the back and it’s a clean look – but not plain or boring. Long, high mounted lights are moulded into the corners of the car, and shaped around the square boot windows. Aside from that, there’s just two small square lights in the bumper – fog and reverse. A big rear window gives superb reversing vision too.

Fiat Panda Pop 1.2 review

The Panda’s styling is a grower. You might not entirely like it at first, but give it a while and you’ll grow fonder of it. It’s the kind of car you’ll give a name, and gaze upon with the same fondness as your loveable hound. Well, maybe not everyone would – but I can guarantee a lot will.

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Interior. Neat or nothing special?

Well, the ‘nothing special’ in the title of this section fully applies with the Panda Pop. As I open the door and peer in, I laugh out-loud. I haven’t seen something as basic as this in a long time. Fiat advertise the Pop version as ‘Simply practical’, and they’ve absolutely hit the nail on the head with that description.

Fiat Panda Pop 1.2 review interior is basic but well designed

Let’s get something straight before I dive into the interior chatter – the Fiat Panda Pop costs just £8,900. For a spanky new car, with everything untouched, and that new-car smell which can’t be replicated, that is a rather cheap proposal. First off, the overall interior design of the Panda won’t change much with any of the models – only stuff like a different stereo and colour-configuartions will. On that note, the interior is functional, with all the controls in easy reach and laid-out so each one has a very obvious purpose.

Fiat Panda Pop 1.2 review interior controls radio andheating

In an age of cars with tiny, digitally-controlled buttons that’ll have you scrabbling around to try and turn off the fans, which came on full-power as you tried to find the rear windscreen heater, the Fiat Panda’s interior controls are refreshingly uncomplicated and straightforward. It’s the same with the driver’s binnacle, as it is possibly one of the most simplistic lay-outs on a car today. In my opinion though, it is a superb look.

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Three round-edged squares house the speed and rev counter each side, while an old-school orange-coloured LCD display in the centre gives information on your fuel and temperature levels, but there’s a bit o’ ‘luxury’ to be found here, as it’ll show you readings for live and average fuel consumption, which radio station or music choice you have on, and also you can scroll through your phone contacts too. Luxureh! I tell thee lad, you’re being spoiled there!  The phone connection is only available if you spec the bluetooth ‘Blue&Me’ option though, which also includes auxiliary and USB ports for your music – a not-exactly-extravagant price of £265.

Fiat Panda Pop 1.2 review blue and me voice control hands free bluetooth

The steering wheel felt so huge that it could’ve been take from a tractor, but that was also perhaps emphasised because I’d just been driving a Peugeot 208 GTi, where the ‘wheel is approximately the same size as a go-kart’s. I digress. You quickly get used to the big steering wheel, and it only adds to the character of the Fiat. The £125 option of steering wheel controls were fitted to this Panda Pop, for your phone calls, volume, fuel stats, and it also has a voice controller – which actually worked well. It’s definitely something worth optioning, as they’ll come in handy more than you think.

While the front seats look thin and hard, like they’d be about as comfortable and supportive as a bunk in a Thai police cell, they’re actually quite pleasant to sit in, even on longer journeys. I did a four-hour round trip, with just one 20-minute break, and while they weren’t Jaguar-like restful, I didn’t ache like I thought I would. The rear seats have easily enough head and leg room for two adults, and as there’s only side seat-belts, you can get out of taking a third person along – much to the relief of the rear passengers. As I mentioned earlier, because of the high roof line, the interior is light and airy with plenty of vision out of the windows for all.

FIat Panda Pop 1.2 review interior seating front back red grey-2

Although I like the Panda Pop for its unadorned interior, there were still things I thought it was miserly to leave off, even for a car this cheap. There were no head-rests in the rear. I mean come on Fiat, it surely cannot cost that much to include them? In an age where safety in cars is paramount, having something basic enough stop whip-lash in a rear shunt should be standard.

On a matter of safety, the Fiat has as standard driver, passenger and curtain airbags with the option of having side curtain airbags too. The front headrests are also anti-whiplash, although they aren’t at all comfortable should you want to rest your head on them. No NCAP rating is available yet, although the previous Panda got an overall score of 4-stars, and I’d expect Fiat have improved it further since then.

I also didn’t like the front electric window controls, which looked and felt so cheapo that they may as well have been taken directly out of a Fiat from 1989 and slapped in this new one. The manual wing mirror adjusters were of the same ilk, and looked pretty awful really – do yourself a favour and pay the measly £55 extra to get the electrically adjustable and headed wing mirrors. There are also manual window-winder handles in the rear too, instead of electric windows, although I can forgive it having these to an extent, as the fact remains you’re paying bottom-dollar for this Panda.

Fiat Panda Pop 1.2 review boot space with the rear seats folded down

Space in the boot is deceptive. It looks absolutely tiny at first glance, but you can get more in than you’d think. Rear seats up, there’s 225 litres available. In fact, a friend of mine managed to fit in two tool bags full of his joinery gear, plus a couple of collapsable plastic trestles, and that was without the rear seats being folded either. Fold those down and you’ll get 870 litres total. Not bad at all for a smaller car.

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There was an exasperation that has to be mentioned, and that was the lack of a button on the boot or handle to open it, or alternatively one in the car. Every time someone needed to be in the boot, whether it was myself or a passenger, it was a case of turning the engine off, and going to open the lid with the key. Exactly how much would it cost fiat to attach a bit of wire to the boot, and a plastic lever at the other end so the driver could open it? Even though the Panda Pop is a budget car, this hasn’t been thought through very well.

Fiat Panda Pop 1.2 review

All in all, the Panda’s interior is a good place to be. It is light, airy and comfortable, has bags of personality and while it is (rightfully) simplistic, this only adds to the appeal. While some manufacturers fill cars with as many gadgets and tech as possible, the Panda is a breath of fresh air really. Sure there are things I didn’t like, but I could easily live with them for the price the Panda Pop is sold for.

Engine and gearbox

Open the bonnet of the Panda, and you will more than likely laugh. Someone appears to have stolen its engine and replaced it with a lawnmower’s. The 1.2 litre, four-cylinder, 8-valve petrol engine is really very tiny. It looks so small in fact, that to change anything you could probably just scoop it up in your arms, do what you need and plonk it back in.

The power also matches the size of the engine. You have just 69 horsepower and 75 lb ft (102 Nm) of torque available. Not exactly earth-rotating stuff. 0 – 62 mph (0-100 kph) is done in a smidge over 14 seconds and it has a top speed of 102 miles per hour. Not fast, or furious. See here though, you lot laughing at your screen, the Fiat Panda is all about doing a job – transporting people around, cheaply, and it does that very well. I’ll talk about that in the section.

Fiat Panda Pop 1.2 review engine bay fuel economy and top speed

Fuel economy is good, and on paper Fiat say the 1.2 petrol will achieve miles-per gallon figures of 42.2 urban, 65.7 extra urban and  54.3 combined. On a four-hour round-trip to an airport and back – where the journey includes a long climb up the U.K’s highest motorway – I did a relaxed 70 mph and got around 55 mpg. Rather good, that. CO2 emissions are just 120 g/km, meaning if you’ll only pay £30 per year in vehicle tax. Excellent stuff! There are two other engines available for the Panda – a 1.3 Multijet diesel, and a 0.9 litre TwinAir, both of which beat the 1.2 on fuel economy.

The Panda’s 1.2 litre petrol engine is quiet and smooth, it’s not so underpowered either. There’s sufficient power and torque to get you around without struggling. Unless you lives in a mountainous area that is, in which case it might start to wheeze a little up the steep sections. The 5-speed manual ‘box was nice too, as an elevated positioning means it is physically comfortable to use, and in a more natural location for your hand than a standard ‘box is.  The light clutch and easy shifts meant it was a joy to use, even in heavy traffic where manual gear shifts normally become tiring and an annoyance.

Ready to roll? Let’s drive!

The Fiat Panda Pop is the cheapest in the range, but does that mean it’s about as quiet and refined to drive as a biscuit tin? You may be surprised to learn it isn’t. The Panda is a great car to get around in, whether that be a short city drive, or a long run down a motorway. The Panda’s suspension is completely perfect for the urban environment – in fact it’s the best car I’ve tested or driven yet for tackling the evil that are council-laid speed humps. Even the most vicious of them was laughed at by the Fiat as it rolled over them as smoothly as a dinghy over a wave.

Fiat Panda Pop 1.2 review suspension perfect for the town environment

The scourge of Britain’s poorly-maintained roads was of no concern to myself or my passengers in the Panda, as its softly-softly approach soaked up pock-marked tarmac with no effort or drama. Talking of urban driving, my view is that if you’re going to do a lot of it, then an auto ‘box is the way to go. However, the Panda’s manual gearbox was light, sliding through the gears slickly, yet positively in a manner so easy that to a degree it’s changed my mind about the manual ‘box for town use.

The steering is also good , as the Panda comes standard with a Dualdrive system – a normal mode of course, and at the press of a button, City steering is activated, making it super-light for winding streets, tight turns and parking. At first, I thought it would be gimmicky, but I was won over after only a couple of times using it. With the City mode off, the steering becomes more weighted, but it’s not exactly sports-like as there is not a huge amount of feedback. Not that I expected that though, and it’s easily adequate for what you’ll buy the Panda for.

Fiat Pand Pop 1.2 review interior controls steering wheel handbrake radio gear stick

With a brother to drop off at an airport two hours away, neither of us were expecting the Fiat to do very well. As mentioned in the previous section, the route included a long climb up to the highest section of motorway in Britain. We weren’t confident that it’d be an enjoyable journey, and thoughts of the Panda being blown about all over the road, engine screaming its head-off as it struggled to keep up with the flow of traffic troubled us both.

Actually though, things were the very opposite. The 1.2 litre petrol engine performed satisfactorily, getting us up to speed down slip-roads efficiently enough to pull out into heavy traffic at motorway speeds, and at 70 mph the Panda cruises just fine with zero issues, and the engine wasn’t stressed or strained in the least. If you do want to push up the speed a little to overtake the slow-poke’s then there’s enough to do it without issue.

Fiat Panda Pop 1.2 review great in town traffic

The Panda is also notably quiet at speed, allowing a conversation at a low enough level without having to raise the your voice much above normal volume. Something else noteworthy is the fact that the Fiat was stable too. Whether it was passing a huge arctic truck, or getting blasts of side-swiping wind from across the openness next to the highway, the Panda just brushed it off, giving confidence in its abilities.

I was also impressed with the Panda’s braking, which was more sharp and responsive than I’d anticipated. As standard, the Panda has ABS and EBD (Electronic Brakeforce Distribution), giving you more a chance to avoid crumpling your pride ‘n joy should you have to brake severely. If you want even more peace-of-mind with your Panda Pop, Fiat have a £315 option which’ll give you ESP (Electronic Stability Programme), ASR (Active Stability Regulator) plus a hillholder function.

Fiat Panda Pop 1.2 review

Price

The basic Fiat Panda Pop starts off at £8,900. For that, you get white paint, 14″ steel wheels, front electric windows and a stereo with a CD/MP3, and that’s about it. There are no rear headrests, and no glove box either. A rival for price and size is the 5-door Kia Picanto ‘1’ Air 1.0 litre petrol, which in basic form is just over £8,800, too but it also comes with – over the Panda Pop – all-round headrests, air conditioning, remote locking, stability control (ESC), brake-assist (BAS), hill-start assist (HAC) and vehicle stability (VSM). However, the Fiat does have the advantage of more boot space, and a higher seating position. There’s also the Ford Ka to consider,

2013 Fiat Panda ‘Pop’ verdict & score

I really like this rudimentary Fiat Panda. Although it’s certainly a no-frills car, with little in the way of luxuries, that is also a very refreshing thing. It brings back the joy of motoring, as it’s just you and a basic car with no distractions or complications. The Panda does the job of transporting yourself and friends along with shopping or luggage, in comfort and quiet, and it has character and personality too.

While the 1.2 litre petrol engine does not propel the little Fiat forward very quickly, it’s sprightly enough for town when you need it to be, and there’s adequate speed and ability – and stability – for long motorway runs. While there are things that should be improved upon, I found the Fiat Panda well priced, a decent drive and an enjoyable car all-round.

Finally – this basic Pop model (plus a couple of options) shows that you don’t need all the bells and whistles to be happy, and personally if I was buying a Panda, I wouldn’t buy any higher spec than this one! I can’t see any point really.

Do you own a Fiat Panda? What are your views on it, and what are the best and worst points? Share your thoughts and leave a comment below!

Exterior  8
Interior  7
Engine  7
Gearbox  7
Price  8.5
Drive  8
Overall Score  7.5 / 10 

  Specs

Model (as tested)  2013 Fiat Panda Pop 1.2 8-valve 69hp
Spec includes  14″ steel wheels, radio + CD & MP3 player, 4 speakers, daytime running lights (bulb), 12-volt socket, ABS+EBD, Dualdrive power steering  See spec sheet for more
Options you should spec  Blue&Me (£265), steering wheel controls (£125), electric, heated wing mirrors (£55)
Price  £8,900 as standard | £9,580 with options.
Engine  1.2 litre petrol, 4-cylinder, 8-valve, naturally-aspirated
Power, Torque, CO2  69 bhp, 75 lb ft (102 Nm) | CO2: 120 g/km
Drive, Gears (as tested)  Front wheel drive | 5-speed manual
Top Speed, 0 – 60 mph, Euro NCAP  Max speed: 102 mph | 0 – 60 mph: 14.2 seconds | No Euro NCAP test as yet
Fuel economy (mpg)  Urban: 42.2, Extra Urban: 65.7, Combined: 54.3
Weight (kerb)  1,015 kg’s (2,237 lbs)
Websites  Fiat UK, Fiat worldwide

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Words: Chris Davies | Tested by: Chris Davies | Photography: Chris Davies, Matthew Davies

One response to “Fiat Panda Pop review – Proof That Basic Cars Are Cool”

  1. Mr. Fergus J. Foster

    Dear Chris,
    I have owned a FIAT Panda 1.2 Dynamic for 7 years/92,000 miles and have had no trouble that can’t be put down to fair wear and tear. It has been all over France and Scotland many times with only a routine check before we set off. It is very economical, and if in the correct gear overtaking and hill climbing is no problem.
    I have been motoring for around 55 years and drove a Reliant Scimitar all over the Scottish Highlands for several of them. My enjoyment of those years equals my enjoyment of the Panda.
    One day I will buy a new Panda and so found your review to be very helpful, in fact one of the best I have ever read. I think most reviews are written following a couple of miles around Milan followed by copious wine and a comparing of notes with the other reviewers.
    The only point that may possibly be incorrect is the statement that there is no button on the boot, or a handle to open it. The same criticism was made of the model I own, To my surprise I discovered that there is a flat button in the centre of, and beneath, the number plate lights cover. As long as the central locking is disengaged this button opens my boot. If the central locking is engaged there is a button on the key fob which unlocks the boot without unlocking the rest of the doors. You can then open the boot by means of the button under number plate lights cover.
    I’m sure the new Panda will be the same, or I hope it is.

    Yours sincerely,
    Fergus Foster.

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