OPINION: The twin-cylinder Fiat Panda posts another award in Europe - here's hoping that under new Australasian management we'll get the range here, writes Dave Moore.
The word "forgotten" is used advisedly, for the public certainly hasn't forgotten the Panda model from Fiat. Of the many phone calls and emails I get about new cars, a good number of "when's it coming here" or "why don't we have them", inquiries are in relation to Fiat's wee Panda, a family-capable small car that already appears to charm the socks off Kiwis, even though most of them have only ever seen them in magazine pictures or on the internet.
Through its two recent iterations, it hadn't been seen as a valid prospect for downunder, but here's hoping that under the aegis of a new distributor for Australia, it will be considered for the market here.
I have briefly driven a 1.2-litre diesel version of the car in Europe and its visual impressions are not let down by reality.
Nimble, incredibly space efficient and possessed of a chassis that uncannily blends comfort with biddability, the Panda is a cracking drive, and in every European market, despite being a more spacious car than the 500 model with which it shares many bits and pieces, it's actually cheaper, spec for spec and engine for engine than its more familiar sibling (at least in Australia and New Zealand).
Now, the wee fellow has won a very important gong; the rather worthy title of "Most eco-friendly car" of 2013. The version of the Panda that took the title last week in Switzerland was the unlikely sounding twin cylinder Panda TwinAir turbo "Natural Power".
The Panda "Natural Power" parallel twin won ahead of nine other competitors, including hybrid and electric vehicles, thanks to its environmental and economic benefits together with decent driving performance.
The company's new 60kW 900cc TwinAir Turbo Natural Power engine is also available in Grande Punto and 500 models with and without its turbocharger and designed for ordinary petrol instead of methane. It would be the non-methane Panda that would be considered for downunder.
The winning Panda boasts CO2 emissions of just 86g/km, which Fiat says is a company record and one of the best on the market - and fuel consumption is an almost ridiculous 3.1L/100km in the combined cycle - that's 91 miles per gallon in old money.
The new 60kW Panda TwinAir Turbo Natural Power is the first car in the world to be fitted with a lively, small methane/petrol-fuelled two-cylinder engine with turbocharger. It has a high specific power rating and high torque delivery, so its reduced consumption doesn't mean it's dull to drive.
Thanks to the new Panda's features - wider track and torsion beam rear suspension with more rolling rigidity specifically designed for the methane version - the handling and comfort of the Panda Natural Power is a marked improvement on the previous generation Panda, making the car even safer and more pleasant to drive.
In Europe, the car is available in 4 or 5-seater versions and in Fiat's wackily labelled Pop, Easy, Lounge and Trekking trim levels, with other twin and four cylinder petrol and diesel power units as well as a 4x4 option.
The Natural Power car's range is 10 per cent better than the four-cylinder Panda 1.4 Natural Power (also methane fuelled), despite having a 30 per cent better performance. The arrangement of the two methane tanks under the car's floor panel also allows the luggage compartment capacity to remain the same as on the petrol and diesel versions. In addition to having congestion charge free access to town centres with environmental traffic restrictions, the new methane-fuelled Panda can use underground carparks and travel on ferries.
The Panda TwinAir Turbo Natural Power - like all Fiat methane or LPG-fuelled cars - is original equipment (OEM), that is, factory manufactured, guaranteed by Fiat and marketed through the brand's normal dealership network. Thus customers can be sure that safety standards are complied with.
The Panda TwinAir Turbo Natural Power extends an "ecological" range of Fiats in Europe and which has contributed to the company having the lowest level of CO2 emissions of any range of cars sold in Europe in 2011, with an average value of 118.2 g/km (4.9 g/km less than the 2010 average).
It's hoped that Fiat's green emphasis will appeal to its distributors down in this part of the world.
It already appeals to readers and car enthusiasts in New Zealand - they call to talk about it almost every week.
- © Fairfax NZ News