By Philip Hedderman
Talk about weird and wonderful experience?
First the weird bit – a flashback.
Not a bit of déjà vu … nope, a full-on flashback which has left me a little unsettled and struggling to get an 80s ditty out of my head.
No matter how hard I try all I hear is the chorus over and over again.
Let me explain.
It all began as this correspondent was flicking through the press pack for the all-new Fiat Panda.
Now I’m wise to pretty much all the marketing pap, flowery lingo and sometimes outlandish claims made by car companies when bigging-up their new product.
But last week even I was astounded.
Yes, it seems FIAT has created a whole new phenomena and language to describe the third generation Panda.
It’s a revolutionary new design concept called…. wait for it, ‘Squircles’.
To the great unwashed – namely you and me – this is the use of squared-off circles inside and out.
Translated into English that basically means that the designers have taken the edges off the old model giving it a more polished, sleeker look.
Suddenly the penny drops and the more I look at the design the more it actually makes sense.
This is particularly evident from the front with more oval headlights underscored by LED strips and sunken fog lamps.
The rear is similar with rounded reverse lights and reflectors and even the side windows on the back can’t escape.
But the interior is where the whole idea explodes into life with every clock, switch, instrument, even the gear knob, getting the ‘Squircles’ treatment.
Then the flashback.
The unmistakable 80s drone and the words of a Huey Lewis hit ‘It’s Hip to Be Square’ trip of the tongue in an instant.
This is even more unnerving when I realise that in 1986 my Mother was the proud owner of a Panda.
A simple beige little car with deckchair-like seats and a hammock-style rear pew which was so thinly upholstered passengers literally felt every bump and scrape.
A single two speed wiper serviced the flat windscreen which leaked like a sieve and the gearbox was so temperamental that wouldn’t let you find first.
It also has a reluctance to start of a morning especially if it was even remotely damp and don’t even mention the rust.
Thankfully the second coming was nothing like its predecessor and proved to be one of the finest small cars ever produced.
Small cars are what FIAT do best and a similar blueprint sees the making the new offering 114mm longer, 65mm wider and 11mm taller.
The interior gets a more upmarket, younger feel to it too. The build quality is remarkably better with comfier seats, soft touch plastics and sturdier padded steering with mounted controls drastically reducing vibration and road noise.
We testing the 69bhp, 1.2 litre petrol which is expected to make up the majority of sales here.
A punchy little engine gives her a fun, nippy feel and the feather light steering was a revelation – especially when parking in tight spaces.
It had more than enough poke for city driving while it held its own on motorway jaunts, although we would have liked a sixth gear and cruise control.
A more powerful 75hp, 1.3-litre, MultiJet II turbo diesel is also on offer as is the award-winning 900cc TwinAir – all with Start&Stop as standard.
No wonder then that economy is second to none with all power plants boasting low emissions and high MPG (72mpg in the TwinAir) and all residing in Tax Band A – meaning €160 annual road tax.
The Panda comes in two trim levels – Pop and Easy.
Standard kit on the Pop includes central locking; electric front windows; electric mirrors; front and full-length curtain airbags and daytime running lights.
The Easy version adds air conditioning; remote locking; front fog lights; roof bars and an upgraded audio system.
Space-wise it’s perfect for a growing family and thanks to back seats that slide back and forth the boot space can be easily manipulated and when folded flat has a very decent load capacity of 870 litres.
For awkward loads the front passenger seat folds down adding to its versatility. It is though, first and foremost, a small city car and despite having excellent room up front it is quite tight in the rear – especially for adults.
I doubt that will worry many perspective customers as the biggest lure is the price which starts at €11,995.