Whoever said the best things come in small packages must have owned a Fiat Panda 100HP.
This is essentially a hotted-up version of the firm’s diminutive and wonderfully utilitarian city car, and in its transmogrification to hot hatch, it became a relatively simplistic and disarmingly cheerful hipster, full of fun and as lively as a puppy. It ran from 2006 to 2010 and initially cost £9995 new and, provided you shop carefully, it can still make for a quirkily attractive and decently affordable used car buy now.
The recipe was relatively simple. Take one second-generation Panda and stick a 99bhp 1.4-litre overhead-cam FIRE engine from the contemporary Punto under the bonnet. Throw in a six-speed gearbox and then lower and stiffen the suspension and thicken the front anti-roll bar. Add upgraded brakes (discs all round) and attractive 15in alloy wheels and wider, 195/45 R15 tyres, which sit seductively stretched out at each corner. Meanwhile, a Sport button on the dash reduced the steering assistance and increased the low-end throttle response.
Then, for more visual appeal, garnish with new front and rear bumpers (the front with a deep and purposeful-looking mesh grille and the rear with a neat diffuser-style insert), a roof-mounted rear spoiler and some mildly flared arches and side skirts, as well as tinted rear windows and some discreet red badging, and suddenly you’ve got one seriously pumped-up Panda.
The interior got a mild tickle, too. Inside were sports seats, some silver trim highlights and leather cladding for the steering wheel and gearknob. Otherwise, it was pretty standard Panda, and none the worse for it. You still got a decent amount of room for four and a neat boot, the capacity of which could be quadrupled by dropping the rear seats.
Straight-line performance was decent rather than neck-breaking: Fiat claimed 0-60mph in 9.5sec and a top speed of 115mph. But, as you’ve guessed, the figures don’t reveal how much of a hoot this thing is to punt around. The engine loves to be revved and it makes a delightfully fruity noise when doing so. The gearbox is a joy to use and the steering is relatively quick, too, even if it’s not the last word in communication. You can still chuck the car into corners in a carefree way and recover it with ease.
If there is a dynamic downside, it’s the ride: the hot Panda bucks like a bronco on pockmarked roads, but given its obvious set-up as a mini hot hatch, it’s just the right side of acceptable in our book. It’s a small price to pay to get a car that’s so willing to change direction and, after all, no one complains about similar in their Ford Fiesta ST, right?
UK dealers also offered a Pandamonium pack, which added red brake calipers, red decals, a darker tone to the alloy wheels and silver door mirror caps, although these are rare on the used market.
Despite reasonable sales in the UK, tightening emissions regulations put paid to the 100HP in 2010, but that was long enough for it to establish a reputation among keen drivers as both a teeny tot of immense charm and a decent option for those on a tight budget.
What we said then
February 2007: “Beyond the glamour of Modena’s finest, the 100HP shows what Italians do best: affordable, functional fun. With it, Fiat strikes a rich seam of affordable fun with a pepped-up take on its likeable city car. Mainstream cars aren’t as much fun as they used to be. That they’re stronger, safer and more refined is beyond question, but they’ve lost much of their excitement along the way. The Panda 100HP is refreshing because it’s a bundle of fun.”
An expert’s view
Karl Price, L&M, Alfa Romeo and Fiat specialists: “The 100 HP is unburstable and bulletproof in many areas and it can survive huge mileages. One just in had 123k miles on the clock but was in great condition. It’s mostly a very reliable car.
“Rear shocks are a real weak point, though. The rear subframe bushes can go, too. It’s always best to make sure your car has had new top mounts fitted. The front suspension arms can go as well, so check those carefully. And it’s always best to make sure the cambelt’s been done. You can’t remap a 100HP, although there is a turbo conversion out there that really flies.”
Wheels, tyres and bodywork: The car is very sensitive to suspension geometry, so check the tyres for uneven wear, as this is an early sign. They can potentially eat through tyres if it’s out of alignment. Wheels shouldn’t corrode or buckle so long as they haven’t been knocked. Bodywork is fine, but the thin paint picks up stone chips easily.
Suspension: Rear dampers can be problematic, although they’re not too expensive. The power steering motor can fail (around £600 to replace). Shock absorbers begin to leak due to rust, especially along a welded seam. Rear bump stops are a common failure as they were not fixed to the car very well at the factory.
Brakes: A new set of front discs and pads costs around £300 fitted. The rear brakes can hum when reversing, but it’s more of an inconvenience than a problem.
Transmission: No real issues with the gearbox other than the odd leak at joints. Small leaks shouldn’t be a worry, but check regularly. A stiff clutch points to a worn pressure plate. Clutches can wear quickly but should last 50,000 miles, even with sustained town use.
Interior: The seats are known to tear but aren’t too difficult to re-upholster. The electric window mechanisms are prone to failing but, again, it’s not going to break the bank to fix them. Check that the electric windows work and the headlights stay on when the indicators are on. The stereo can be problematic, too, switching itself on and draining the battery.
Engine: With regular servicing, the 100HP’s engine is relatively free of problems, but keep an eye on oil and coolant levels. Any tappet noises or rattling suggest the car has been running low on oil. Check all the levels and have a good look for any signs of leaks. Timing belts are best replaced every three years rather than the recommended five. Services come at 12,000-mile intervals.
Also worth knowing
Check the drainage holes at the bottom of the windscreen. If they get blocked with leaves, water will collect there and can cause the windscreen wiper motor to fail.
Also check the exhaust’s backbox, which is susceptible to rot. A full stainless steel exhaust is worth adding for around £600, saving you bills in the long run.
How much to spend
£1000-£1999: Early and high-mileage (in excess of 100,000 miles) cars and some badly kept examples with little history being sold privately. Buy with caution but bargains do exist.
£2000-£2999: More early cars but with lower mileages and in reasonable overall condition. Check engine and suspension components carefully, especially if buying privately. Cambelts should be done at this level, too.
£3000 and above: Models in good to excellent condition with a partial or complete history and less than 100,000 miles on the clock, often sold by a knowledgeable dealer.
One we foundFiat Panda 1.4 16v 100HP, 2008, 52,000 miles, £3791: This one-owner-from-new 100HP has a well-below-average mileage, a full service history and a year’s MOT. Smart bodywork and unblemished alloys cover an interior that looks remarkably unused. Comes from a reputable dealer. Good price, too.