Fiat designers and engineers were very good at downsizing long before the philosophy was either fashionable or necessary. They also managed to mix in lively drivability and character. In recent years, the 500 has aped the Topolino introduced in 1936, while the first utilitarian generation of the Panda appeared in 1980. Panda production has now reached 6.4 million units.
Fiat believes in building carefully on successfully established models, so the latest version of the Panda, although slightly larger than its predecessor, continues the theme of maximum use of space within compact dimensions and of component and structural development. It is also benefiting from major investment in enhancing manufacturing quality.
The car's power unit choice now adds Fiat’s 0.9-L, two-cylinder TwinAirTurbo, established as an engine for the 500, to the lineup. With 63 kW (84 hp) and stop-start function, Fiat claims it has about 10% more power than a regular engine of the same size. It has an almost sporty soundtrack.
The TwinAirTurbo gives the new Panda a combined cycle fuel consumption of 4.1 L/100 km, a 0-100 km/h (0-62 mph) time of 11.2 s, and best CO2 emissions of 95 g/km. Other engines in the Panda range are a 1.2-L gasoline and a 1.3-L MultiJet turbodiesel that returns a combined fuel consumption of 3.9 L/100 km and CO2 emissions of 104 g/km.
Gianfelice Formento, Fiat Panda Senior Engineer, said that curb weight is up by about 40 kg (88 lb), for a total of 1015-1110 kg (2238-2447 lb), due to increased dimensions to meet market requirements and also to changes to enhance crash safety performance. “We are using high-strength steels to help ensure that weight of the new, larger, safer, more comfortable Panda is not very much higher.”
Interior space is improved by what Formento terms “slim seat technology,” providing 23 mm (0.9 in) more entry space at the front and 6 mm (0.2 in) at the rear. This does not involve the use of a special frame but is partly down to the application of new trim materials, with squares electrically welded to the backrests. The technique is also said to improve airflow between the occupant’s back and the seat.
The new third-generation Panda, which is based on the 500, continues with a 2300-mm (90.6-in) wheelbase, but its overall length is increased by 109 mm (4.3 in) to 3653 mm (143.8 in), width is up by 66 mm (2.6 in) to a maximum 1882 mm (74.1 in), and height by 11 mm (0.4 in) to 1551 mm (61.1 in). Torsional stiffness has risen from 67,900 to 71,300 daN·m/rad (501,000 to 526,000 lb·ft/rad). First natural frequency was 37.0 Hz and is now 38.8 Hz, an improvement of some 5%.
Materials applications include use of ultrahigh-strength steel for lower suspension arms, claimed as a first for a European car.
As part of its crashworthiness capability, the new Panda has a third load path for better deformation control during frontal impacts, transferring energy to the lower areas of the vehicle. A modular crossmember using “low thickness, high resistance” steel sheets works in conjunction with the third load path.
Fiat is working to raise build quality and to this end, the company’s Giambattista Vico plant near Naples has received an investment of €800 million.
Sheet metal components are now sourced internally for enhanced quality control. Ten drawing and three cutting lines use 377 molds for parts including side panels, doors, roofs, and floors.
“Hollow wrist” robots—with the dress package positioned through the wrist to protect cabling and hoses—apply 520 spot welds to each Panda.