Fiat Panda 1.2 Easy

Fiat Panda, front static
Fiat Panda, side static
Fiat Panda, side hotel
Fiat Panda, boot
Fiat Panda, rear static
Fiat Panda, dashboard
Fiat Panda, window view

MOST car reports feature photos of cars cleaned and buffed to a showroom shine. They simply look better that way, the snappers think.

Well not this time. The well used little Fiat Panda you see here in all its dusty glory, spent eight days transporting myself and the Navigator-in-Chief around northern Italy on holiday.

And it got dusty. So dusty that a glance in the rear view mirror recalled scenes of Red Indian trackers spotting the wagon train twenty miles away from its rolling dust cloud.

That was the penalty for choosing a hotel so out of the way (a little south of the delightful hilltop town of Arezzo on the Tuscan border) that was only reachable via an unpaved road passing between fields of grazing goats and tobacco, maize and sunflowers.

And the Panda's cloak of dusty anonymity didn't matter a jot, helping instead to let this modest family workhorse fit in with all the other less than pristine machines that live a life of service to millions of Italian families.

And yes, our Panda was an airport rental. Not the first car offered at the desk in Florence, where we were given the keys to a Fiat 500 and told, without a trace of irony 'it is the same size as the Panda but only has two doors.'

No it isn't. I doubt our suitcase would have fitted the 500's boot and there would certainly have been nothing like as much space to spread the inevitable detritus of 1,130 kilometers of travel. We protested and a Panda was happily discovered all prepped and ready for action.

With approaching 10,000 kms on the clock at handover, our small family Fiat felt factory fresh and looked in decent shape for a rental, with only scratches on all four wheel trims and a couple of grazes on the rear bumper - all duly noted on the rental documents.

Dipping into Italian towns built centuries ago with thoughts of castles, impregnable walls and streets wide enough for the odd peasant cart, it soon becomes obvious why you still see so many of the new Fiat 500's inspiration from the 1950s; they are simply tiny and use these hold-your-tummy-in streets as though they were main roads.

The Panda fitted pretty well too. Spacious enough for four, and with a boot to match, it never felt too big for comfort. Could have done with more power, though.

You can buy the same 1.2-litre petrol engine in your UK Panda, but I wouldn't, even at less than £10,000 for an entry level version. Go for the fresher-engined twin-cylindered 875cc model instead, with a little turbo to boost low speed punch.

It will cost you more and might not even match the 49mpg recorded on our Panda, if driven with enthusiasm, but you won't be using first gear and full throttle on properly alpine hairpins and it will pass ambling trucks on the motorway without a change down to third.

Otherwise, the Panda was a delight. It steered with pleasant precision and the leather wrapped steering wheel was a good to hold - not always the case - and it rode most of Italy's road with firm assurance.

Some of the country's non-toll dual carriageways are so dreadfully patched and potholed that nothing on wheels would smooth the way, but the Fiat did its best.

FAST FACTS

Fiat Panda 1.2 Easy

Price: £10,310

Mechanical: 68bhp, 1,242cc petrol engine driving front wheels via 5-speed manual gearbox

Max Speed: 102mph

0-62mph: 14.2 seconds

Combined MPG: 55.4

Insurance Group: 4

C02 emissions:119g/km

Bik rating: 18%

Warranty: 3yrs/60,000 miles

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