Day one: A jaunty delivery man drops off the Panda. ‘I hope you like the colour,’ he says cheerily. The colour is beige. Normally this would be terrible but with the Panda’s various bits of stick-on plastic and dark coloured wheels it’s actually not bad. There’s more beige on the interior. It also smells pleasantly Fiat-y. If you’ve ever been in a new Fiat you’ll know what I mean. My 500 Twinair smelt like this when I bought it. Now it smells of dog farts. Aside from New Fiat Smell, the other thing the interior is full of is a design theme. In this case, round cornered squares with slightly curved sides, like an old TV screen. There are dozens of them. Even the inside of the steering wheel rim is vaguely this shape. The outside is not TV shaped. It is round. Sad news for Austin Allegro fans. The theme extends to the numbers and letters on the stereo and the display between the dials which have a curve to their edges. So at least they’ve been thorough. Disappointingly, the rear view mirror is a normal rectangle. Even more disappointingly, it jitters about as you drive along. I blame the oily rattlings of the diesel engine. Everything else seems nice, especially the ride.
Day two: I take that back, the ride is more than nice. The ride is really excellent. It’s firm but it feels expensively damped and puts a soft edge on each pot hole, rather like a Lotus. Yes, a Lotus. Either I’m right on this or I’ve spent too long looking into a constantly vibrating rear view mirror and now my brain is playing up.
Day three: For reasons I won’t bore you with, I have a simply enormous quantity of cardboard that needs taking to the tip. The Panda is only little but it’s boxy and all the cardboard fits inside. I’ve just noticed that, whilst the back of the passenger’s seat has a normal plastic panel, the back of the driver’s seat is all covered in the zips and flaps of various storage compartments. They looks a bit pervy, like the kind of thing you’d find in Depeche Mode’s car circa 1987.
Day four: I’m toying with buying a Freelander so we Panda over to the nearest Land Rover garage to have a poke round one. This reminds me of something about the Fiat; the chunky ride, the flat sides, the way the window line is lower than normal. The Panda 4×4 is a mini Discovery. With a chassis by Lotus. Still pretty sure my brain isn’t playing up.
Day five: Bank holiday Monday. Nonetheless, I have to go to work. There are some metaphors need wrangling in the Top Gear office and important things to sort out like the next Reasonably Priced Car. I think we’ve decided it’s going to be… a secret for now. Zooming across London in a tiny Fiat on a sunny morning makes everything seem okay with the world. At least until a rat faced tit in an Astravan gives me the wanker sign for not letting him cut me up on the North Circular. Now I think about it, over the weekend a rancid old shit in a Kangoo got a bit arsey when I nipped down his inside because he was mistakenly in the right turn lane and yesterday a cyclist give me the finger for not slamming on the brakes so he could slice across me. Either people don’t like it when a small, beige car won’t get out of their way or the Panda is making me drive like a particularly massive arse. I think it’s a bit of both. It isn’t quick off the mark, this car, especially since first gear is uncommonly low to allow for mild off roading. But when you get it up to speed, it clips along. So conserving momentum, and not braking, becomes an obsession. I would have explained this to these people if I’d had time. Instead I told the man in the Kangoo to ‘read the fucking Highway Code’.
Day six: You know how most modern cars have those lane change indicators where if you tap the stalk it does three flashes? The Panda’s lane change function does five. No other car I can think of has this. I like to imagine there was a meeting at which somebody suggested five flashes. One of his colleagues was outraged at this idea. Tre! Sempre tre! he shouted. No, cinque! yelled the first man and then he did that thing where you flick your upturned hand away from your chin. Signore Cinque won. I don’t want to upset him because he seems quite hot headed but five flashes is too many.
Day seven: I’m becoming very fond of the Panda. It’s an amusing little car. Yet for reasons I can’t explain, tonight I elect to drive home from the BBC in an MG6 diesel. As it turns out, it’s not a terrible car. But nor is it a very good one. The chassis is quite good but the engine, the steering and the interior feel unfinished. Whereas one of the things I like about the Fiat is that it feels polished. Although not Polish. Unlike the last one, new shape Pandas are built in Italy. Even the electric power steering, which has never been amazing in the Panda/500 family of cars, is about as good as it’s ever been, as if the bloke responsible for programming it has been at his laptop again and really started to get somewhere now. By 2019 he’ll have cracked it.
Goodbye: The Panda is going away. This is a great shame. I’ve become rather attached to it, not least because it’s a terrific car for London. It’s small, it’s easy to see out of, it’s got a great ride, what’s not to like? Except for one thing; the price. This diesel 4×4 is 15 grand. Which is a lot for a little car. If you really needed a cheap 4×4 for light off roading I’d save a few grand and get a Dacia Duster. However, there’s a two-wheel-drive version of the Panda called the Trekking that keeps the excellent looks and suspension of the 4×4 but costs a more palatable £12,450 with the amusing Twinair petrol engine. So get that. It’s probably the most likeable urban knockabout car in the world.
The car talked about here is a Fiat Panda 1.3 Multijet 4×4. It has a 74 horsepower turbo diesel engine which means 0-62 in 14.5 seconds and a top speed of 99. It costs £14,950.