2020 Fiat Panda Cross Hybrid
Fiat injects a bit of extra life into its ageing but charismatic Panda city car range with a mild-hybrid model.
It’s a Fiat Panda with a petrol-electric drivetrain, arriving very late in the third-generation car’s life. With an all-electric, all-new Fiat 500e on the horizon, the Panda Hybrid feels like a stepping stone to ever-greener cars from the Italian company, but it also provides a bit of renewed interest in a model line that is nearing the end of its life. Based on the City Cross model, which looks rugged on the outside with a high ride height and distinctive body styling, the Hybrid is nevertheless a front-wheel-drive commuter vehicle.
How is it to drive?
The Panda is really starting to feel its age now, based – as it is – on a chassis that dates back to 2003. However, that is not to suggest it lacks charm. The Hybrid centres on replacing the old 69hp 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with a 70hp 1.0-litre three-cylinder unit called the ‘Firefly’. This has a 12-volt belt-integrated starter-generator mounted on the side of it, which is powered by an 11Ah lithium-ion battery. This is a very, very mild hybrid as a result. The electrical gear can assist with acceleration, recuperate otherwise-lost kinetic energy from the brakes and, if you knock the six-speed manual gearbox into neutral, then it can turn the engine off and coast at speeds of less than 30km/h – yet there is no chance of having any acceleration under electric power alone.
However, it has a very pleasant ride and decent refinement, and the lofty driving position of the Panda makes for great visibility out in all directions. Given that facet of its character, and the modest drivetrain outputs of 70hp and 92Nm, the Panda Hybrid is obviously most at home in the city, where short gearing for first and second makes the car feel nippier than it actually is. It’s likeable, if not exactly game changing.
When is it coming to Ireland?
The Fiat Panda Hybrid should be arriving in March, although prices and exact specifications are not confirmed as yet. We should get the Launch Edition, seen in the photos, which is distinguishable by its Dew Green exterior paint, round ‘dew-drop’ Hybrid logos on its B-pillar, an interior with a matte-effect green dashboard and Seaqual seats (made out of 90 per cent plastic recycled from the land and another 10 per cent harvested from the seas), while all part-electric Pandas will have the ‘Hybrid’ badge on the boot. Equipment levels on the Launch Edition should include a leather steering wheel, automatic air conditioning, parking sensors front and rear, a DAB radio, Bluetooth connectivity and LED daytime running lights too. However, it is worth noting that the regular Panda picked up a zero-star Euro NCAP rating during re-testing in 2018, while the Panda Cross holds on to a three-star appraisal from a 2015 procedure. In short, the Panda Hybrid has minimal active safety technology fitted to it.
Any juicy technology?
In a car that is particularly sparse on technology – the Panda Hybrid still uses orange LCD displays for its information panel in the instrument cluster and for the radio/infotainment screen, which look particularly dated in 2020 – the addition of the Winter Pack is most useful. This brings heated front seats and a heated windscreen to the Panda’s kit list, meaning it should be a comfortable car to commute in on cold, frosty mornings.
Not a particularly cutting-edge car, the Panda Hybrid is still an amenable and strangely desirable machine. Figures of 89g/km and 72.4mpg are quoted, but its comfy ride and easy-going manners make this an excellent city car that should be light on an owner’s wallet.