At one point in this country, the Fiat name was part of the fabric of the place. You can’t go through any medium-sized town without encountering a dealer, and you can’t get around without encountering an Italian brand.
Fiat has been one of the top three brands in Ireland for decades and their cars are here as ubiquitous as the Catholic Church. Traditionally, you’ve had Ford and Toyota battling for first place, with Nissan, Volkswagen and Fiat then battling for third place.
In Italian circles, Ireland was affectionately known as “La Roma del nord” or “the Rome of the North”, reflecting the prevailing view there that exceptional Catholics, financiers of great literature and the arts, and of course partly to a drop or two of good things, the Irish were an image Replica of themselves.
It was all nonsense to be sure, but it made sense that being Italian and looking beyond your borders to the legions of nonbelievers and heretics across Europe, Ireland was a beacon of hope.
The fact that we bought – and loved so much – Fiats, Lancias and Alfas sets only assured your average Italian that we were of sound mind, body and purpose. In fact, the links between Irish and Italian car fraternities were so close that they were almost incest.
Fiat regularly sells anywhere between 10,000 and 20,000 units here annually. Last year Fiat sold a total of 219 cars in Ireland. Two hundred and nineteen. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what is known as a market share crash.
What happened? Well, like most of these disasters, there were a combination of factors.
First, Ireland-based Fiat’s PR machine – once one of the smartest and most oiled out in the business – collapsed after several key figures were sidelined or sent out altogether and the joke on the street was the Fiat. An acronym for ‘fix’. Again tomorrow ‘gain credibility in the face of any contradictory evidence.
Second, the company made a series of disastrous calls when it came to car production and its traditional A, B, C and D-segment competitors vanished into the air. Great names like Panda, Punto, and Tipo all disappeared almost overnight.
Third, the complete lack of product marketing here resulted in everything the company then dumped in the anonymity trash.
In short, the once thriving dealers with a complete absence of a decent product, no marketing of that product, and no PR support were left to at least get the auto hackers to write about what was getting a bit out of Turin.
Her own story tells that it was September 2017 since Examiner Motoring last drove a Fiat product – and that was Alfa. The last Fiat I drove was in March of that year. That’s a long time, according to anyone.
The Fiat Ireland operation is now operated out of the UK and, frankly, we are treated like part of Lanarkshire or some other miserable part of that federation.
The fact that Fiat has some excellent products to market and sell doesn’t seem to mean anything to the company. Alarmingly, the same could happen to Ford.
Communication from these parts with Fiat UK is haphazard at best, and because that is the case, it is no surprise that the Fiat is now more modern in Ireland than the power it was before.
Which is really unfortunate, because it has some decent products and we are testing one of them this week.
The first Panda was originally seen at the Geneva Motor Show in 1980. It was a two-box design coined by the legendary Giorgetto Giugiaro and replaced the 126 as the company’s tiny mini competitor.
Although apparently made from recycled Coca-Cola cans and with seats that appear to be made of chicken wire, the panda was nonetheless a very powerful beast that was able to endure endless abuse. Fiat sold its payloads over 23 years of production (they were sold in Italy until 2003).
The second generation Panda came in the same year and was more of a mini MPV, but it was no less popular for that and was with us until 2011 when the third version arrived. The Mk II was very good, however, the Mk III differed little, only in terms of equipment, engines and external regeneration.
This third generation has stayed with us ever since, albeit with some conversions to the SUV and crossover area, but late last year a new era-appropriate hybrid version was revealed. That’s what we’ve been getting lately — with no thanks, it has to be said, for Fiat itself.
The vehicle is powered by a version of Fiat’s premium compact small three-cylinder one-liter engine which is combined with a 12-volt BSG electric motor (belt-integrated starter alternator) and an 11-amp lithium-ion battery. . The output is 70 hp.
It’s allied to a six-speed box and I have to tell you that you’ll need six of them all to do your work. The 0-100 km/h time for a panda is 14.7 seconds and the top speed is 155 km/h. Both numbers indicate that the car is somewhat icy at speed and is actually not fast.
But then, when was this panda? Never, quite frankly.
You get five adults, although it will be very comfortable in the back, and you also get the weekly shop in the trunk. But, if you are looking to carry a four-ball to the golf club, along with their equipment, forget about it. This is a car for empty couples or single people, but it is an excellent proposition for them.
Agile, maneuverable, and can be parked on a sixpence like the proverbial, it’s perfect around town. Moreover, she will do any work that you want from him, but it will take time.
The Panda will cruise well on highways, but on B roads, doing something like an overtaking motion requires careful planning and thought.
This is not a bad thing, just something that needs a little thought, and in fact, it is not very different from many other similar cars in this segment.
Weigh that against a 3.7L/100km mileage (which is over 75 mpg in old money) and let me know which feature tickles you the most.
The interior may not quite exude class, but it is functional and not burdened with unnecessary technology, as you might assume from the price. However, it is convenient, practical and not without a degree of charm.
This is the kind of vehicle a truckload should sell these days, but thanks to the lack of marketing, a lot of people may have forgotten that it even exists.
They exist and are, as ever, young, practical, hardworking, and (forget the “oh no, not the Fiat” conceptions that exist) remarkably reliable.
Fiat may be a little late to the hybrid party, but the company is here now and this car is a decent contender in the supermini class, even if it doesn’t have some modern street cred that a Fiat 500 or Mini might be given.
The bottom line here is that Panda can do well, if it gets any degree of support from the parent company, and restore much public trust in Fiat if the company bothers with its support.
- Many thanks to Dan Seaman Motors for helping to review this vehicle.
Cost: 14,245 euros
Engine: elegant one-liter mild hybrid technology
Specifications: Basic enough, but what do you expect at this price
General verdict: Forgotten hero
Star Rating: ****