Cheeky Fiat Panda so capable

Iain Dooley says Fiat's Panda might look small, but beneath its cheeky exterior lies a capable town car.Engines - Small cars equal small engines and the Panda is no different.

Iain Dooley says Fiat's Panda might look small, but beneath its cheeky exterior lies a capable town car.

Engines - Small cars equal small engines and the Panda is no different. While the later introduction of a diesel unit was welcome, the mainstay petrol engines should prove no more expensive to run in real terms. Realistically the 1.2-litre unit is the safer bet. Although 60bhp isn't an outstanding output, it's still marginally better than the 1.1-litre engine's modest 54bhp. For those looking for some real fun a 100bhp 1.4 was added later.

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Exterior - The Panda's chunky-looking exterior is a certainly pleasing to the eye. The car's tall stance is also practical, allowing for easy access to the cabin, and the resulting lofty driving position makes navigating around town easy.

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Interior - Light-coloured plastics and seat fabrics ensure that the Panda's cabin feels light and airy. All that you touch appears to be durable, and the chunky nature of the various controls complements the car's exterior styling. For a small car, there's a reasonable amount of head, leg and elbowroom for most adults, while there's also enough space in the back for grown-ups so long as the journey is a short one.

Driving - Light steering with plenty of assistance, a lofty driving position and willing engines all help make the Panda experience a positive one. It can be coaxed into corners at brisk speed without fear of coming unstuck, although the Panda's ability to cope extremely well with poorly-surfaced roads is more important. That light steering and the car's small size makes parking a doddle, too.

Ownership - With used prices at modest levels despite the car's popularity, the Panda isn't an expensive car to buy and run. For town use petrol consumption will be modest, while the small engines and low CO2 ratings mean the yearly vehicle excise duty is also small. But don't think that size equals compromise because, with the seats folded, you can cram a lot into a Panda, making it more than just a Fiat-badged shopping trolley.

What to look for - The usual parking scrapes and urban scars are likely but unwanted additions. Only you know what's acceptable relative to the asking price. However, kerbed wheels, stone chipped bonnets, rattly interiors, filthy engine bays and glutinous oil should prompt you to walk away as this level of abuse is too much for a such a new car.

Model history - 2004, Fiat launches its latest generation Panda town car. Five-door hatch initially gets a pair of petrol engines, all the usual safety kit and appealing extras: decent stereo, panoramic glass roof and funky interior colour combinations. 2005, Diesel 1.3 Multijet is launched. 2006, 1.4 Panda 100HP launched.

Reasons to buy - Practical, stylish, copes well with poorly-surfaced roads, lofty driving position, inexpensive to run.

Reasons to beware - Potential mechanical and electrical niggles on early cars, no substitute for a full-blown family hatch, low mileage cars with patchy service history.

Pick of the range - 1.2 Dynamic.

What to pay - 2003 53 �2,875; 2004 04 �3,175; 2005 05 �3,650; 2006 06 �4,100; 2007 07 �4,600; 2008 08 �5,350; 2009 58 �5,775. Figures relate to showroom prices for cars in A1 condition.

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