The Fiat Panda in the showroom at Brussels Motor Village: just waiting for the first test drive...
Fiat is a true master in the art of making real City Cars. Just look at the Cinquecento, the original and the present one. Yet they have another car in their range, with his now 31 years amongst us and has millions of enthusiastic owners: the Fiat Panda. I still vividly recall the first one, which I photographed in the Galerie de la Reine, in the centre of Brussels. I made the report for Keesings Auto Magazine at the time.
And now we are meeting again in the capital of Europe. I have maybe grown a bit wiser, so I am not photographing the car anymore in the midst of a pedestrian gallery, but I had again a great time behind the wheel of this one in the Brussels city streets and boulevards. Just read on…
Hans Knol ten Bensel
Your servant posing at the start of a very pleasant test drive, before the Brussels Motor Village
Roomy comfort, with style…
On first looks, the car has retained the typical Panda lines and shapes we have grown so fond of. But the restyling has left the car with more rounded, and even more appealing forms. The car has grown only a few centimetres, but remains a proper inner space miracle: with a length of 365 centimetres, a width of 164 and a height of 155, and with five doors, the new Panda can comfortably accommodate up to five people and it has one of the most spacious boots in its segment: 225 litres which become 260 with the sliding rear seat in the fully forward position up to the point of reaching 870 litres with the backrest of the rear seats folded down.
A press colleague tests the leg room on the back seat: indeed, enough space for an adult passenger!
The interior looks very pleasing indeed, and the car we drove had a dual-tone interior, which gave it Italian charm and warmth.
A small car need not to be primitive these days. Items such as Start&Stop, Gear Shift Indicator (GSI), andECOmode of the 85 HP TwinAir Turbo engine are present of course.
The steering wheel is cute, practical, and the electrical power steering is marvelous in city mode...
Truly standing out are the brand new two-cylinder engines equipped with the Start&Stop system as standard: 85 HP 0.9 TwinAir Turbo, named "International Engine of the Year 2011", and the brand new 65 HP 0.9 aspirated TwinAir, adopted for the first time. For our first acquaintance, we drove the 85 HP engine, and a true marvel it was. Just the sound of it made our car-loving hearts already running faster. It so reminded us of the original two-cylinder Cinquecento, with all this power and free-revving characteristics of the new engine it made us dream of being behind the wheel of an Abarth “esse-esse”. Just for this alone we would choose already a Panda. But the modern buyer has far better reasons to take this car: the smoothness of the power (thanks to a balancing countershaft) , the availability of good torque (145 Nm) at 1900 rpm (constant up to 3000 rpm), and the frugality.
We immediately pushed the ECO button on the dashboard, and this reduced the available torque to 100 Nm at 2000 rpm, which we found to be quite sufficient for brisk town driving. But it rewarded us with astonishing consumption figures. On average, this engine records 4.2 litres/100 km and CO2 emission equal to 99 g/km in the combined cycle. In therECOmode, the gearshift indicator lights up slightly sooner, and helps you even more in becoming an expert “ECO” driver.
The heart of MultiAir is a new electro-hydraulic valve management system that reduces fuel consumption by controlling air directly via the inlet valves (without using the throttle). MultiAir reduces polluting emissions (thanks to its improved combustion control) and also considerably improves performance by boosting driveability.
We did not drive yet the 65 HP version, the "aspirated" version of the TwinAir engine that delivers maximum power of 65 HP (48 kW) at 6250 rpm and a torque of 88 Nm at 3500 rpm.
The five speed gearbox is a delight to use in city traffic
The engine has the second-generation MultiAir system that maximises combustion efficiency even further. This is thanks to an innovative profile of the intake cam bush and a new way to manage the valves, called "hybrid". In detail, the new intake profile makes a pre-lift of the intake valve possible during the exhaust phase. In this way a part of the exhaust gases can flow into the intake duct to be re-aspirated during the following intake phase. In this way the so-called internal recirculation of exhaust gases (InternalEGR) is achieved, which further optimises combustion efficiency and therefore reduces fuel consumption.
Comfortable and safe
The Panda proved quite comfortable and roomy in this first drive, and we found many cute details. The new dashboard for instance is designed as a practical multipurpose shell containing a roomy storage "pocket", just like that of the first series of the model, which becomes the perfect place for stowing everything you want in total freedom... even in "cheerful and democratic" untidiness if you want. Added to that is of course the more classic glovebox stored in the lower part of the dashboard.
Celebrating the birth of the all-new Panda in Brussels
... Italian style!
There is also something new for the seats, which confirm the flexibility of the model. The driver's seat is also available with height adjustment, whereas the front passenger seat can be fitted with a backrest that folds down to form a table. The table function provides a surface for placing both objects of common use, such as a bag or a laptop, and for oversize loads. If the rear seats are also lowered, the customer can get a flat boot platform extending over the entire length of the passenger compartment (over 2 metres) so that the interior space is used to the utmost.
The interior of the Panda is pleasant and light...
To guarantee the protection of the occupants, the new Panda offers 4 airbags standard (front and window protecting the head),ABScomplete with B.A.S. (Brake Assist System), front seat belts with pretensioner and load limiter. Depending on the markets and versions, theESC(Electronic Stability Control) complete with Hill Holder system that aids the driver in uphill starts while keeping the brake locked for about 2 seconds, in this way making starting off easier, is also available standard or as an option.
A large bin in front of the passanger is so practical...
Lastly, the new "Low Speed Collision Mitigation" system deserves an in-depth look. It will become available after the launch. It is an innovative active safety feature capable of recognising obstacles in front of the car and of braking automatically when the driver fails to avoid the collision. Depending on certain parameters (road surface conditions, dynamics and trajectory of the vehicle, position of the obstacles, condition of the tyres, etc.), the intervention of the LSCM system can avoid impact completely (“Collision Avoidance”) or minimise the consequences of a possible impact (“Collision Mitigation”).
The sophisticated device of the new Panda integrates three added functions: Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB), Prefill and Brake Assist. The former, while respecting the driver's wishes and leaving full control of the car in his/her hands, is triggered by emergency braking after carefully assessing the position and speed of the obstacles, the speed of the vehicle (below 30 km/h), lateral acceleration, the steering angle and pressure on the accelerator pedal and its variation.
Plenty of stowing space in the Panda...
The Prefill function, on the other hand, prefills the braking system in order to allow prompter response both when the Automatic Emergency Braking system is triggered as well as when the driver brakes. Brake Assist instead recognises emergency situations and alters the brake pedal's response to get even quicker braking in emergency situations.
The system is based on a laser sensor installed in the windscreen that "communicates" with theESC(Electronic Stability Control) system.
At the presentation, the Brussels streets were full of Panda's...
Based on the same principle as those used in astronomy to measure distances between satellites, the laser sensor detects the presence of obstacles in front of the vehicle when certain alignment conditions be present: the overlapping of the car and obstacle must be more than 40% than the width of the vehicle while the angle of impact must be less than 30°.
The control unit of the LSCM system is designed to activate automatic braking, following a request by the laser sensor, in addition to being designed to request a reduction in the torque from the engine control unit if the accelerator pedal has not been released. Lastly, the control unit keeps the car braked for 2 seconds after stopping, to allow the driver to resume normal driving safely.
The goal of the LSCM system is to guarantee maximum safety in all conditions of use, so in certain conditions such as unfastened seatbelts, icy roads or reversing, different triggering logics are activated…
For those Diesel lovers…
The new Panda offers the 1.3 MultiJet II (Euro5) with DPF standard, which delivers a maximum output of 75 HP (55 kW) at 4000 rpm and a torque of 190 Nm at just 1500 rpm.
A unique sight: a street full of parked Panda's...masterful City Cars!
It is nothing less than a masterpiece of technology in miniature - complete with all of its accessories, it weighs about 140 kg - the new turbodiesel is small in size: less than 60 cm long and less than 70 cm high, it boasts a component layout designed to take up less room. The compact and technologically sophisticated 1.3 Multijet II is also capable of outstanding performance.
Equipped with fixed geometry turbocharger with intercooler optimised for delivering torque at low speed, the 1.3 Multijet II records just 104 g/m of CO2 emissions and fuel consumption equal to 3.9 litres per 100 km in the combined cycle.
We will be very anxious to drive this Diesel version in the near future, as well as the excellent Twin Air petrol engines for a longer test drive… read more on these pages soon!
Hans Knol ten Bensel