Fiat Panda proves that small is still best for the city
From 70s minimalismt to no-nonsense 80s idealism, charting the rise and rise of the Fiat Panda
When the original Fiat Panda was launched in 1980, it set new standards for small car design. Penned by Giorgetto Giugiaro and Aldo Mantovani at Giugiaro’s brand new Italdesign Agency, the small Fiat was developed throughout the late 1970s as a perfect mass market utility vehicle.
Originally to have been called the ‘Rustica’, it was the Italian equivalent of France’s Citroen 2CV, a car pitched at the rural community who demanded efficiency, space and simplicity. But something happened between the concept and the creation, and by the time the car reached production, its slab-sided 70s minimalism evolved into a forward-thinking, no-nonsense 80s idealism. Utterly without nostalgia, Giorgetto Giugiaro once described it as ‘like a pair of jeans: a simple, practical article of clothing without pretense.’ Like all the great small cars, the Panda was also almost entirely classless, symbolising an attitude and an ethos rather than status. There was even an electric version in 1990 and the model lasted for 23 years before being replaced.
This car, the Fiat Panda City Cross Hybrid, is the latest variant of the third-generation model. Remarkably, even this most recent Panda has already been in production for ten years. Fiat’s financial flakiness notwithstanding, the design’s endurance is testament to how much the company got right from the outset back in 2011 when it upgraded the model for a new era. The City Cross Hybrid crams an advanced powertrain into the Panda’s compact bodywork, pitching itself as the ultimate city vehicle.
However, electrification is used only to give the car a power boost, rather than propel it under pure electric power. This extra juice doesn’t give the Panda any serious performance enhancement, but the direct, light steering and small footprint mean there’s pleasure to be had from simply finding the gaps and parking spots that big cars can no longer squeeze into.
Whilst the original has become a classic, thanks to such design decisions as the avoidance of curved glass, the wipe clean interior and slim, spring-less seats, the newer car is still wildly popular, especially in Italy. The 4x4 version, like its predecessor, is considered a cult car, and the City Cross Hybrid shares the raised, chunky styling of its micro off-roader sibling. It is rugged without being aggressive, inside and out, with a dashboard design that recalls turn-of-the-century mobile phones, and shiny black plastic interior and exterior finishes that are more hiking boot than training shoe. In Italy, the Panda is still at the top of the charts, with twice as many sold as its nearest competitor. Giugiaro’s ethos of simplicity turned out to transcend fashion and the current model admirably keeps this flame alive. §