FIAT ADDS TO PANDA-MANIA

Fiat Panda

Fiat Panda

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TIAN TIAN and Yang Guang are the undisputed top attractions at Edinburgh Zoo but there was even more Panda fever in Scotland’s capital earlier this month when Fiat launched its new model.

The Italian company’s Panda has never been out of the popularity stakes since the first one came off the production lines – 32 years ago.

Fiat Panda b

Fiat Panda b

More that 6.4 million versions have been sold and the latest offering is just the third brand new Panda.

Europe’s best-selling supermini has built up a big following and the latest addition is set to continue that trend.

This Panda now has a more rounded figure and its bigger and roomier as well as being safer and more fuel efficient than its predecessors.

It is still as much fun and even roadworks on both sides of the Forth Road Bridge bringing traffic speed down to 40mph didn’t spoil by enjoyment in this small gem.

What makes the Panda so good on the road is a super engine – the 875cc TwinAir 85bhp Turbo which produces a huge roar for such a small unit.

There are two other engines available – a 1.2-litre 69bhp petrol and a 1.3-litre 75bhp MultiJet 2 diesel.

The throaty TwinAir also boast the lowest carbon dioxide emissions of any quantity production car in the world and well as returning 67.3mpg combined.

A sprint time from zero to 62mph in 11.2 seconds might not sound earth-shattering but it’s good enough to get the fun started in this Panda which has a top speed of 110mph.

Push the revs as you go up through the five speed manual gearbox and you get a great sound coming through from this two-cylinder unit.

The Panda is ideal in the city and the Dualdrive power steering increases assistance for parking at the touch of a button.

The new car’s new suspension brings better comfort and handling out on the open roads is also pretty good.

There are three trim levels - Pop, Easy, Lounge - and I sampled the middle range Easy.

With a choice of 11 colours this one was Sweet Candy Beige which was attractive but maybe the choice of female rather than male drivers.

Quality has been improved in a bright interior that has no less than 14 storage areas and there is plenty of headroom for driver and passengers. Two rear seats are standard with an optional middle seat available but it would be a bit cramped for three adults on long journeys.

The tailgate is wider and lower for easier access to the boot where space has been increased from 225 litres to 260 litres and this grows to 870 litres with the rear seat backrests folded.

Spec levels are good and on the Easy model I sampled included body coloured bumpers, roof rails, radio with CD, height adjustable steering wheel, Start&Stop, and the Dualdrive power steering.

There are a number of optional items which are normally only available on larger cars and these include a Low Speed Collision Mitigation system which applies the brakes automatically when it detects an obstacle ahead.

With just the three new models in three decades it is clear that Fiat don’t make major changes for change sake.

The Panda has evolved and quality has been improved with the help of an 800 million euros investment at its Giambattist Vico plan in Pomigliano dArco on the outskirts of Naples.

Up to 260,000 Pandas will be produced there annually with 9,900 due to be sold here in 2012 and then an annual target of 10,000.

With on-the-road prices ranging from £8,900 to £12,250, these Pandas could prove to be just as popular as the adorable ones living in Edinburgh.