The third generation Fiat Panda, Europe’s best-selling supermini, is bigger, roomier, safer and more fuel efficient than its predecessors. On sale from February 2012, it’s the latest version of a well loved car that’s become legendary for its use of space, compact dimensions, fun style and functionality. With its five doors and flexible interior, the new Fiat Panda is set to build on an enviable reputation for convenience and durability that’s been growing ever since the original was unveiled in 1980.
With the continued popularity of downsizing, the concept of an attractive, sophisticated city car with room for five, an advanced range of economical engines and a host of large car features has never been more appealing. The all-new Fiat Panda is such a car thanks to an interior boasting greater flexibility and higher quality materials than its predecessor, with some clever cutting edge technology being made available on a small car for the first time. All this is cloaked in a stylish yet friendly new design and powered by some of the most economical engines available today.
Three engine options will be offered at launch, headed by Fiat’s award-winning TwinAir Turbo. This 875cc unit has the lowest carbon dioxide emissions of any quantity production petrol engine in the world, and won International Engine of the Year 2011 courtesy of its unique combination of power, flexibility and economy. With 85hp, 67.3mpg economy (Combined Cycle), and a characterful throaty sound track, this engine has cemented Fiat’s position at the forefront of modern combustion engine development.
The TwinAir Turbo is to be joined later in the year by a normally aspirated version for the very first time. There is also the latest evolution of the dependable 1.2-litre FIRE engine. With 69bhp it employs variable valve timing technology to blend power with economy. The new Fiat Panda is also available with a 1.3-litre MultiJet2 turbo diesel. This second generation, compact unit features faster injectors than its predecessor, making it quieter, more economical and cheaper to run.
The TwinAir Turbo and MultiJet will come with Start&Stop and a Gear Shift Indicator (GSI), which suggests to the driver when to change gear in order to achieve the best economy.
As well as new engines, the Fiat Panda has revised dimensions that make it longer, wider and taller than the car it replaces, with more space for passengers and their luggage. But it still maintains sufficiently diminutive exterior dimensions to sit firmly in the city car category. Most of the Panda’s growth in length is in the rear overhang to increase the new car’s boot space as well as offer more legroom to rear passengers, who will also benefit from a rear sliding seat option for the first time. The new Panda is also 66mm wider, which means it can seat three passengers comfortably in the rear. Most class rivals have room for only two passengers in the back.
For improved passenger comfort and driver enjoyment there is all-new suspension and a body that’s significantly more rigid than its predecessor. These attributes further improve the Fiat Panda’s already impressive safety credentials. With up to six airbags (four of which are standard), ABS anti-lock braking, optional ESP (Electronic Stability Program), and an active anti-whiplash head restraint system standard equipment throughout the range, the Panda will be one of the best-equipped cars of its kind in safety terms. Unusually for a car of this size, it will also feature a new innovation as an option, the Low Speed Collision Mitigation system. This reads the road ahead and when it detects an obstacle in the car’s path it applies the brakes automatically.
The Fiat Panda’s helpful features aren’t just reserved for the driver. To maximise space inside, the all-new interior is packed with useful equipment. There are 14 storage compartments including an open one on the dashboard. The rear seat bench can be specified to slide backwards and forwards. Other options include a front passenger seat that folds into a table, while access to the interior has been further improved.
As with every other Fiat in the current range, the new Panda can be ordered with the Blue&Me connectivity system to allow owners to sync music players and mobile phones with the car. This enables hands-free control of devices using either voice activation or steering wheel-mounted buttons. The new Fiat Panda also offers the latest Blue&Me TomTom2 LIVE as an option. This navigation device has a 4.3-inch touch screen, and as well as routing, this includes up-to-the-minute weather and traffic information.
The new Fiat Panda is available in three trim levels: Pop, Easy and Lounge. Even the entry level Pop model is well equipped for this city car class, while features such as Low Speed Collision Mitigation, which is available on medium and high grade cars, is new to this segment.
DESIGN: HEART MEETS HEAD
The Fiat Panda has long been seen as an embodiment of rational and emotional values and its ‘friendly’ design has reflected that. Now entering its third generation, the new Panda combines the best of the first and second generation models with a character of its own that allows Fiat to move the Panda legend forward once again.
Centro Stile Fiat designers claim the new design portrays an even stronger vision of the combination of utility and personality than the car it replaces. In creating this evolution of the existing model, designers wanted to emphasise that the Panda is a timeless classic while also being an integral member of the Fiat Automobiles family.
Comprehensive restyling has resulted in the Panda’s lines being made more rounded than the model it replaces. This softening combined with the absence of corners conveys solidity and sophistication and makes the car appear bigger than its city car dimensions might suggest. The sleek new look has also been designed to give the passenger compartment a welcoming and protective feel, and an additional benefit is a drag coefficient of 0.32, one of the lowest in the class.
The softening of lines continues within the overall shape. Side windows have been shaped to maximise outward visibility for added safety, while giving the cabin a perception of airiness. All windows have rounded-off corners and the third window at the sides, a signature of the second-generation Panda, remains but is less angular. These also merge with the rear light clusters, which are set higher to reduce the possibility of damage from minor knocks, while making them more visible.
Bumper strips that follow the rounded motif have been added for extra protection from parking knocks. And in a nod to the first generation car, there are optional side mouldings (standard on Lounge versions) to give a rugged look. This is further accentuated by flared wheel arches and roof bars on Easy and Lounge versions.
INTERIOR: BUILDING ON AN ICON
The Fiat Panda has always been synonymous with style, practicality and usability, and this latest version builds on those ‘pillars’. Although just 365cm long with a wheelbase of 230cm, the newcomer can comfortably seat five people and has one of the biggest boots in its class.
Functionality is another of the Fiat Panda’s hallmarks and the new model is no different. The five-door design makes cabin access easy. Internal space is 26mm wider at the front and 5mm wider at the rear, while overall, the cabin is 20mm longer compared with the model it replaces. New slim seat technology yields 23mm more entry space at the front and 6mm at the rear which allows back seat passengers more leg room while those in the front benefit from improved seat travel which is now an impressive 21cm fore and aft. Allied to vertical adjustment of 6cm for the driver’s seat, the front passenger’s can be specified with a backrest that folds down like a table on Easy and Lounge models.
Two rear seats are standard while a middle seat, head restraint and seat belt can be specified as an option. The sliding back row is optional from September 2012. This moves by 16cm, increasing boot space from 225 to 260 litres in its fully forwards position. And the rear backrest folds down to create 870 litres of boot space, 36 litres more than the second generation model, and a platform that’s more than 2m in length. On top of that, a rear backrest that splits 60/40 can be specified. If the sliding rear seat is ordered, the backrest splits 50/50.
The seat material is new too. This employs squares that are electronically welded to the backrests in order to improve airflow between the occupant’s back and the seat, improving comfort in warm weather.
Further improving cooling when temperatures are high, the new Panda has an improved climate control system. This centres on a revised control unit that ensures the required temperature is reached as quickly as possible, a particularly desirable feature in extreme weather conditions. Life on board has been further improved by working to reduce all types of noise. This has resulted in a 4dB noise reduction compared to the previous generation model. This effectively means road noise has been halved.
The dashboard has undergone a radical rework. Harking back to the first ever Panda, it boasts a roomy storage pocket ahead of the front passenger. There’s also a more conventional locking glovebox in the lower part of the dash.
Other clever internal innovations include redesigned door panels, allowing the speakers to be positioned higher, which improves sound quality while also enabling the door pockets to be made wider and more usable. The hand brake has been redesigned too. Making it shorter has released storage space in front, behind and underneath the lever. In total, there are 14 storage spaces including a mix of open and closed, and there’s even an optional glasses holder above the driver’s side window.
TECHNOLOGY: BIG CAR FEATURES
Modern cars are about so much more than getting around, and as with every current Fiat the new Panda is big on communication. Consequently it features the award-winning Blue&Me infotainment system.
Based on Microsoft’s Windows Mobile for Automotive, Blue&Me allows Bluetooth equipped devices such as phones and MP3 music players to be linked into the car. Occupants can then take control using voice activation via a display panel that works with a microphone in the roof, or steering wheel mounted buttons.
It’s easy to use and therefore safe as drivers can keep their hands on the wheel, and their phones in their pockets/handbags. The latest generation voice recognition system allows immediate interaction because it doesn’t have to go through a learning phase. And phonebook contents can be transferred to the car’s display panel. Music that’s stored on a USB device, media player or the latest Apple systems can be played via the car’s sound system with track information shown on the display panel.
Blue&Me TomTom2 LIVE opens the doors to connectivity further still. The connector and accompanying unit for this can be specified as an option on Easy and Lounge models. This has all the features of the regular Blue&Me system combined with satellite navigation and accurate traffic information that updates in real time.
This portable navigation device slots into a holder in the middle of the dash. There are no unsightly wires but the device can be removed for safe keeping. It features a 4.3-inch touch screen display, stores detailed maps of 45 European countries and has the same LIVE services as the latest generation TomTom navigation devices. This includes mobile and fixed speed camera locations, points of interest updated by Google Local Search, current weather forecasts and detailed traffic information, updated every two minutes. A year of free LIVE services is included when the vehicle is purchased.
Teamed with Blue&Me is Fiat’s widely acclaimed eco:Drive system. It enables users to download information about their driving to a USB stick. This can then be uploaded to their computer and by accessing Fiat’s eco:Drive website, acceleration, deceleration, gear shifts and speed are analysed to give drivers a personal eco:Index of between 1 and 100. The eco:Drivers then receive tips on how to improve their performance and can become part of the eco:Ville on-line community. This has so far enabled 64,000 users to save 4300 tonnes of CO2 by improving their driving styles.
ENGINES: SMALL CAPACITY, BIG HEART
Fiat is at the cutting edge of combustion engine design and as a result the new Panda comes with a choice of engines that lead their class in terms of performance, fuel consumption and emissions.
0.9-litre TwinAir Turbo
At the forefront of the line up is Fiat’s International Engine of the Year 2011, the TwinAir Turbo. The first in a new range of engines, this two-cylinder unit combines Fiat’s revolutionary MultiAir technology with two cylinders and a turbocharger. The results are stunning with its 85hp power output 10 per cent up on a regular engine of the same size, peak torque of 145Nm up 15 per cent, and the 99g/km of CO2 emissions improved by 10 per cent.
As with every other MultiAir engine, at the heart of this unit there’s a new electro-hydraulic valve management system. This reduces fuel consumption to a remarkable 67.3mpg (Combined figure) by controlling the intake of air directly via the inlet valves rather than the throttle. It enables airflow to be managed cylinder by cylinder, cycle by cycle, phase by phase, according to the driver’s and therefore the engine’s requirements. By rigorously controlling the combustion process, pumping losses of around 10 per cent are eliminated, while valve control strategies can be optimised to reduce emissions and boost driveability through improved throttle responses.
Fitting in perfectly with the Panda’s small size, the TwinAir takes downsizing to a new level by combining a small capacity engine with a turbocharger. This improves performance and flexibility, particularly at very low revs where it’s far more responsive than a conventional normally aspirated engine.
1.2-litre Fire EVO II
More than 10 million units of the FIRE family have now been produced, and this durable, reliable engine is still going strong. With continuously variable valve timing now optimising valve opening and closing at all speeds, consumption in the new Panda is a frugal 54.3mpg (Combined Cycle), while emissions are 120g/km, yet torque is still a healthy 102Nm at 3000rpm and maximum power output, 69hp.
1.3-litre MultiJet 2
Fiat’s latest small turbo diesel engine has been described as a masterpiece of technology in miniature. And it certainly has compact proportions, measuring 60cm in length by 70cm high and tipping the scales at 140kg. But it’s big on performance with a power output of 75hp at 4000rpm and torque of 190Nm at 1500rpm, meaning excellent flexibility.
Its economy is big news too as it can manage a remarkable 72.4mpg (Combined Cycle) in the new Panda with CO2 emissions of just 104g/km. It offers this combination of performance and economy thanks to second generation MultiJet technology. Faster injectors allow up to eight injections per cycle, meaning greater speed, flexibility and precision in the various combustion phases. The improved injection rate also permits two injections that are so close together that they generate a continuous but modulated supply of fuel to the cylinders.
By improving the combustion process in this way, engine operation is quieter while particulate and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions are sufficently improved, enabling the engine to meet strict Euro 5 standards. The injectors are also simpler and with 40 per cent fewer components, are more reliable than their predecessors, promising cheaper running costs.
To further boost economy, engines apart from the 1.2-litre FIRE are equipped with Fiat’s Start&Stop system. Specifically designed for city driving, this switches the engine off when traffic requires the vehicle to stop, while keeping all functions such as lights, climate control and the sound system operating. When it’s time to move off again, releasing the brake pedal (Dualogic) or operating the clutch triggers the engine to fire up.
All cars with Start&Stop are fitted with a Gear Shift Indicator (GSI) too. This offers a discreet prompt to drivers to change gear at the optimum point to minimise fuel consumption.
The TwinAir Turbo model also features an ECO button on the dashboard. Pushing this changes the engine electronics to a specific map that reduces torque to 100Nm and focuses on minimising consumption.
When drivers do need to visit the pumps, the Smart Fuel System is another large car feature designed to make city car life as easy as possible. The classic fuel cap has been replaced by a fuel filler pipe that opens and closes automatically when the pump is inserted and withdrawn. It reduces unpleasant gas emissions, any chance of fuel overflow, and doesn’t allow petrol to be pumped into a diesel car, or vice versa.
In the second quarter of 2012, the new Panda will become available with Fiat’s Dualogic Transmission. This is an automatic gearbox that can also be used as a manual. There is no clutch pedal, so to prompt gearchanges in manual mode, the lever is pushed forwards or backwards to shift either up or down. It’s a system that’s simple to use, gives the option of relaxed automatic gear changing round town, and more involving driver-prompted changes on the open road. And because the software that tells the gearbox when to perform automatic changes is economy orientated, it saves fuel too.
DYNAMICS: REWARDING, COMFORTABLE AND SAFE
The new Fiat Panda has been designed to be rewarding for all sorts of drivers in all kinds of conditions. In addition to being practical, comfortable and capacious inside, it’s also been built to put a smile on the face of keen drivers, and despite compact car dimensions it’ll offer large car protection to all its occupants.
The new Panda has an exceptionally rigid body. This is thanks to 70 per cent of it being built out of high resistance materials. The car also features a third load path. This provides more effective control of deformation during frontal impacts and reduces the chance of penetration to the passenger compartment by transferring energy to the lower, more resistant parts of the vehicle.
The improved rigidity combines with the latest technology to ensure comprehensive protection in the event of an accident. Four airbags come as standard (front and window bags) while front seatbelts feature pretensioners and load limiters. Front seats are also equipped with an anti-whiplash system while those in the rear have head restraints (optional on Pop versions) and Isofix attachments for child seats.
ABS anti-lock brakes are standard and have Brake Assist for quicker more powerful braking to ensure drivers maximise the performance of the braking system. Electronic Stability Program (ESP) is also available and comes with Hill Holder. On inclines, this applies the brakes for two seconds after the pedal has been released, enabling the driver to make effortless hill starts.
Later this year, Low Speed Collision Mitigation (LSCM) will become available. This large car safety feature is set to raise the bar in terms of what drivers can expect from city cars. The LSCM can recognise obstacles in the path of the car and apply the brakes if the driver fails to do so. Depending on speed, the system can either avoid obstacles altogether or minimise the consequences of an impact.
The LSCM combines Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB), Prefill and Brake Assist. The AEB is triggered by a windscreen mounted laser sensor which assesses whether the obstacle poses a threat. The sensor employs the same principles as those used in astronomy to measure the distance between satellites. The obstacle must be more than 40 per cent of the width of the vehicle and the angle of impact must be less than 30 degrees. In addition to applying the brakes automatically, engine torque is reduced if the accelerator pedal hasn’t been released. The AEB works in tandem with Prefill. This primes the braking system for a more prompt response either when the AEB system takes over or in a regular emergency stop.
The new Panda features all-new suspension that’s been designed to improve comfort, handling, and crash safety performance. It’s been lightened using a lower arm which for the first time on a European-made car has been constructed using ultra high-strength material. This combines with a modular cross member made of low thickness, high resistance steel sheets that works in conjunction with the third load path.
There’s a new split shock absorber mounting too. By transmitting loads to the body through two different routes, road vibrations are filtered out better and acoustics improved compared to the previous model. The front suspension also has a new anti-roll bar that’s had its weight reduced without compromising its rigidity, and it has been connected to the shock absorber to maximise the anti-roll effect.
New suspension bushes have been added front and rear to improve noise insulation without detracting from road holding.
To enable the new Panda to perform on the open road and in the tight confines of the city with equal aplomb, Dualdrive electric power steering features a ‘City’ function. Push the dash-mounted button marked ‘City’ and assistance to the steering is increased to facilitate parking manoeuvres and enable drivers to employ the tight 9.3m turning circle more easily. The default setting, returned to when the City button is pressed again or when speeds exceed 22mph, ensures the greater driving precision and steering wheel response that’s more suited to higher speeds.
QUALITY AND QUANTITY
One of the fundamental aims with the new Fiat Panda has been to raise product quality for city cars. This has been achieved by concentrating on the three fundamentals of materials, production and people. With an investment of 800m Euros, the Giambattista Vico plant in Pomigliano d’Arco on the outskirts of Naples has been transformed to technological and organisational excellence in just 12 months, eventually resulting in up to 260,000 Pandas being produced annually.
Sheet metal components are now sourced internally, meaning that Fiat has far greater control over their quality. A department with 10 drawing and three cutting lines uses 377 moulds to transform sheet metal into parts such as side panels, doors, roofs and floors that make up the Panda.
The factory has also been equipped with the largest plastic pressing unit in the company. More than 100 parts are made from melted polypropylene granules that are injected into 35 ultra-modern moulds under high pressure. Components made like this include bumpers, centre console and dashboard. The latter is produced by a single machine that uses a triple-injection system to form the external part first of all, followed by the middle one in four available colours.
Fiat has invested more than 15m Euro in the paint department over recent months. This enables the water-based paints to be applied by robots, eliminating awkward manual internal sealing operations.
State-of-the-art machinery has been housed in one of the most modern factories in the world. The new Pomigliano d’Arco facility has undergone a complete production revolution including a sheet metal working department where 99 per cent of jobs are automated and 600 robots are in operation. Rather than doing the lifting and welding work, humans now run the systems and manage the controls in a spacious, clean and well-lit environment.
One of the most advanced systems is welding, where latest generation ‘hollow wrist’ robots apply 520 spot welds in 30 minutes. There are two side panel production lines that run at the sides of the main line, and the line itself is made up of modules which can be removed or added according to production requirements, allowing up to four different models to be made at once.
Bodies are moved from one part of the factory to another by overhead train while small, safe and quiet electrical trains have replaced forklift trucks for transporting parts on the ground. Even the pallets that move the cars around as they’re being built have been modernised. Bodies are now clamped to these, so key couplings are maintained throughout the build. And as the cars progress through the factory, opto-electronic control stations along the production line check quality compliance and geometric precision.
Investment hasn’t just been in the factory. Workers at Pomigliano d’Arco have undergone a total of 200,000 hours of training and a well-structured assessment programme has been developed to ensure the correctly trained person is working at the right station at the right time.
The workers were also asked to contribute to setting up the new factory by defining the organisation of production cycles and work stations. In total, workers contributed around 8500 suggestions to how work station safety, ergonomics and product quality could be improved by eliminating errors.
The staff at Pomigliano d’Arco accepted that the only way to move forward was to modernise. The result was a sheet metal department that started from scratch, an improved paint department, a new plastic processing department and a redesigned assembly department. And in each, workers’ suggestions were implemented along with world-class manufacturing standards.
To achieve this, workers were encouraged to reconstruct assembly lines virtually, and break them down into stations and operation sequences. It wasn’t until each department had found the best solution for each activity that the line was physically built. As a result, work stations are designed so that the car rises up or turns on hooks to offer the correct side at the right height, meaning employees don’t have to reach more than 60cm to perform their tasks. Line workers aren’t the only ones who benefit in the new factory. Glassed-in offices are located right in the middle of the factory so as to be close to the production lines and workers.
The results of the production process are checked in the Metrological Unit Quality Centre by a piece of equipment called Meisterblock. Body panels are placed on a jig and an 18-metre long measuring machine checks 2000 points around the car using electronic probes to guarantee that all couplings, clearances, profiles, geometric dimensions and tolerances correspond precisely to the design.
The Assembly Master stands next to this. It employs an innovative photometric scanning system to quickly and accurately assess the new Panda’s bodywork. This compares photographs of a sample car with the master and immediately shows up any areas that aren’t perfect.
Once that check has been completed, cars are moved to the hemi-anechoic room for static noise checks. These measure the sound generated by functions like the movement of the windows, the opening and closing of doors and the sliding of seats in their guides.
Water tightness is checked under a nine-post trellis and then all cars undergo a dynamic test on a track over a variety of surfaces. Finally, two of the most important checks take place. ‘Initial Customer Perception’ involves a tester simulating a customer on first acquaintance with a car in the showroom. Then ‘Test from a Customer’s Perspective’ reproduces a buyer’s first few months of living with the car.
THREE DECADES OF BREAKING THE RULES
Although the Fiat Panda is entering its 32nd year in 2012, the new model is still only its third incarnation. Proof that the concept of a small, stylish, affordable people’s car will win universal popularity is borne out by the fact that more than 6.4 million Pandas have been sold globally since 1980.
The original model was designed by the legendary Giorgetto Giugiaro as a cheap and basic, no frills utility vehicle. To keep costs down, engines and transmissions were borrowed from the celebrated Fiat 127, window glass was flat and suspensions were kept rudimentary. But despite its unfussiness it still had some unique features that endeared it to owners. Seat covers, dash and door panels were washable. The rear seat was multi-adjustable and could be folded flat to make a bed, or quickly removed to increase overall load space ‑ an innovation for the time. The Panda continued breaking the rules. In 1983 the famous Panda 4×4 became the first four-wheel drive city car. And in 1990 an electric version, the two-seat Panda Elettra, was launched years ahead of its time.
During 1986 the Fiat Panda had its first facelift with uprated engines and revised trim and looks. A second facelift occurred in 1991, but from 1996, with tightening legislation governing emissions and safety, the Panda was gradually phased out in Europe until production finally ceased in 2003.
Its successor was unveiled in the same year to sensational reviews. Its blend of style, honesty and practicality resulted in the award of European Car of the Year in 2004, and it was equally popular with the car buying public. By 5 October 2005 the 500,000th Panda had been built, and on 5 September, 2007, the millionth car rolled off the production line.
Built at Fiat’s Tychy plant in Poland, the second generation Panda spawned a variety of derivatives including the sporty 100HP model and the 4×4. It was facelifted in 2007 with a new dash and uprated specification, and on 4 July, 2011 the two millionth version of this Panda series was built.