Fiat gave us the Panda way back in 1980, when houses were cheap and hair was big. It was a simpler time back then, so it’s somewhat befitting that the Panda was a simple car. Though it’s important to note it was simple by design. Fiat wanted a little car that was easy to run, easy to drive and easy to maintain. But seemingly by accident the Fiat Panda was fun, too. There are few things as pure as the driving experience of a simple car. You can easily push it to its very limits, all while going 14mph. You don’t need to be Senna to have fun in a car like this.
Remarkably, the original Panda stayed in production until 2003, but by then it was an old and frankly, deeply unsafe vehicle. So Fiat promised us a new one, and we liked that. But would it have the charm of the old car, or would it be made dull by modern motoring necessities like, urgh, safety equipment? Actually, no. The new, 2003 Panda was a hoot. Even in 1.2 flavour. So imagine the collective gasp when Fiat dropped this on us…
BOSH! That there is the Fiat Panda 100HP. A Panda with a 1.4 16-valve FIRE engine. No, not the thing that comes around if you leave the toaster on. It stands for Fully Integrated Robotised Engine. An engine built by robots, basically. It’s a robust little brute, and in the Panda 100HP it generates, um, 99hp. Apparently the 100 refers to the PS rating, which is a new-fangled way of describing power. Oh, and like a proper sporty car, it’s mated to a six-speed gearbox.
Anyway, it gave the 975kg Panda plenty of shove, that’s the main thing. It made an already fun car even more fun. No easy task with cars these days. But the good stuff didn’t stop there, oh no, Fiat went all out on this little blinder.
Power, as they say, is nothing without control. Lumping a bigger engine into the Panda and leaving it at that would have been somewhat disastrous, what with the normal version’s propensity toward leaning over on its jelly suspension. Thankfully, falling over isn’t an issue in the Panda 100HP thanks to uprated springs and dampers – lowered of course. Then there are the brakes. The stock items wouldn’t cut the mustard here, so Fiat slapped discs on all-round, rather than just at the front. Oh, and they’re bigger, too. They’re 275mm at the front and 240mm at the back, if you need a fact to bore the other half to sleep with.
Then there’s the way the thing looks. The normal Panda is cute, like a, um, panda. The 100HP is a bit meaner. It sits lower, as we mentioned. It has flared arches, a meaner face, side skirts and 15inch alloy wheels. As you’d expect, these are wider than stock, too. Wearing 195 tyres over the 155 rubber bands found on the ‘mum spec’ version, they offer plenty of grip. Well, providing you put decent rubber on there. Not ditch-finders from Kwik Fit.
BUT WAIT! As those annoying late-night infomercials shout. The Panda 100HP has more. Yup, inside it’s all very sporty, too. Gone are the basic seats in favour of something a bit more supportive. There’s also a rev counter, and digital climate control, and a CD player, so your Steely Dan collection can travel with you. It’s well swish in there. And for a teeny, tiny car, it’s pretty spacious. Okay, so you’re not going to get the BFG in there, but it should hold a family of four normal-sized humans in relative comfort. And they all have a door. How very fancy. You’ll have to leave the luggage at home though. The boot… it is not big.
Then there’s the way this sucker drives. We were lucky enough to take one from Bristol to Surrey, and you can bet we didn’t stick to the M4. Because the M4 is for losers. And in a Panda 100HP, you’re a winner.
Get this little beastie on the twisty stuff and it comes alive. The engine barks, the steering is so crisp it could make Walkers blush and the chassis is an utter delight. It might have a lot more power than the stock version, but it’s not so much that you can’t use it all. And the engine is so on point, with a power band that’s easily reachable through the gears. It might only have that 99bhp and 97ftlb, but it’s more than enough. And at 4,250rpm for the latter, it’s always under your foot, ready to be used.
Okay, so the gearbox with its six speeds is somewhat overkill. So do as we did: treat 6th as an overdrive gear for the motorway. It’s fruitless trying to use it during a spirited drive. The ratio just isn’t there. Stick to the first five and enjoy.
And we promise you, you will enjoy this car. In fact, it will make you giggle as you chuck it about. It’s just so fun, and thanks to the manual/natural aspiration combo, it’s pure. There’s no lag, no slow ‘box. It’s ready to respond the very moment you take control. Brilliant.
Sadly, the Panda 100HP was unceremoniously killed off in July 2010 due it being a bit toss on the emissions front – it isn’t going to win you any points with Greenpeace. It kicked out 154g/km of CO2, which is… a lot. Furthermore, it wasn’t too hot on fuel. It might be teeny, tiny and weigh as much as a hamster fart, but that didn’t stop it from liking a tipple by modern standards for a car that size. Seriously, if you can average low forties, break out the party poppers.
But who cares? You’re not buying this for economy, you’re buying it because it’s stupid amounts of fun. And it’s cool. Okay, so we didn’t know what to make of it at first, but now it’s one of those unlikely cars to always get a knowing nod from a fellow petrolhead. Turn up to a car meet in this and people will flock. And rightly so. The Fiat Panda 100HP is pure, brilliant fun. And there aren’t a lot of cars like that. So get one while you can.