IF you’ve ever had the fortune to go to Blackpool Pleasure Beach, a faded repository for the funfair rides of Britain’s seaside holiday heritage, you might have seen a ride called the Wild Mouse.
It’s a rickety-looking wooden rollercoaster using bathtub cars that seem to totter on their rails, built in a time when Britain was 1-0 up in World Wars. To go on it I reckon you’d have to be on a candy-floss, sugar-soaked high.
So if you like to keep your feet firmly on the ground but want the same squeaky thrills, you could do worse than drive the new 100bhp Fiat Panda, which looks rather like the Wild Mice, and scoots about like them too.
What a good little car the Panda is. There’s plenty of deceptive space in such a small body and throughout the range it is priced well and is a fun drive.But with a 1.4-litre 100bhp engine in it, the Panda becomes even more endearing. 0-62mph is dispatched in less than 10 seconds and the suspension has been stiffened by 25% to ensure it corners like it’s on the Wild Mouse’s rails.
It changes direction with barely any encouragement and seems to really enjoy whizzing about, with the compact six-speed gearbox making the most of its power. Fiat hopes this car will attract younger drivers looking for fun and value for money.
For the measly sum of just under £10,000, it comes with leather steering wheel and gear knob, automatic climate control, Bluetooth phone connectivity and a Sport button. This makes the throttle more sensitive and weights up the steering, which actually just dulls the feeling of the already sprightly drive and makes the car feel heavy, so it’s best left alone.
Like most rollercoasters, this is all rather fun for a while. But then I found that I wanted to get off. The tyres are a biggish 15-inch and even start to ‘tramline’ as they follow the contours of the road. The suspension is amazingly stiff for what is effectively a city car, to the point that it made my back hurt as it treated every depression in the road as a pothole. And going up a speed bump feels like you’ve hit a solid kerb. My toffee apple would not have stayed down.
It has also got uprated front disc brakes, which do a great job of stopping you at speed but at slower speeds act like an on-off switch. They are far too strongly servoed and fling you forward in your seatbelt the first few times until you learn to be really sensitive with your right foot.
So it has its faults, the Panda 100HP, but then for less than £10,000 I can’t help thinking it’s rather a lot of fun, and as the Panda has always been a well-packaged car as well you’re getting a lot of car for the money.
But if, like me, your days out are more likely to end up at National Trust houses than theme parks, it might be a little too manic an experience for comfort.
P11D value: £9,832
CO2 emissions (g/km): 154
BIK % of P11D in 2007: 17%
Graduated VED rate: £140
Insurance group: 5
Combined mpg: 43.5
CAP RV (3yr/60k): £2,875/29%
Monthly lease (3yr/60k): £244
We don’t like:
CHEAP thrills are what all of these cars are about. All are less than £10,000 but deliver a decent amount of performance. The Sportka is ageing, while the Colt is the slowest with a 0-62mph time of 11 seconds, but as a first company car, all will prove low cost and high fun.
THE Sportka’s 1.6-litre engine produces the highest emissions and would cost a 22% taxpayer £41 in BIK tax a month. In a sector where cost is king, the others are in a different class. The cheapest would be the Colt at £26, followed by the Swift at £29 and the Panda at £31.
THE Swift is the most expensive for service, maintenance and repair because over 60,000 miles you’ll be doing six services thanks to its short 9,000-mile interval, while the others would need one less trip to the dealer. The Sportka, using ultra-cheap Ford parts, has a very low bill.
Sportka: 2.72 (pence per mile) £1,632 (60,000 mile total)
Colt: 3.03 £1,818
Panda: 3.08 £1,848
Swift: 4.35 £2,610
THE thirsty Sportka uses too much fuel without offering any greater performance while, as well as both having 100bhp, the Panda and Swift are exactly matched on economy at 43.5mpg. The lower powered Colt uses the least fuel, thanks to a 47.1mpg combined figure.
Colt: 8.57 (pence per mile) £5,142 (60,000 mile total)
Panda: 9.27 £5,562
Swift: 9.27 £5,562
Sportka: 10.85 £6,510
THE Panda, as the most expensive, can’t match the others in this range. A used buyer will always be drawn to cheaper-to-run Pandas and CAP has predicted it will be worth 29% of its value after three years/60,000 miles. The best is the Swift, worth a healthy 35%.
Swift: 9.57 (pence per mile) £5,742 (60,000 miles total)
Colt: 10.47 £6,282
Sportka: 10.55 £6,330
Panda: 11.59 £6,954
A LOW fuel bill has sneaked the Colt into first place in wholelife costs, but close behind is the Swift which has strong residuals. Only that extra trip to the dealers for a service stops it coming top. The Panda’s residual value sees it more than £1,000 off the pace.
Colt: 22.07 (pence per mile) £13,242 (60,000 miles total)
Swift: 22.30 £13,380
Panda: 23.94 £14,364
Sportka: 24.12 £14,472
THE Panda is a cracking little car that will provide three years of enjoyable motoring for those who can stomach the ride. But the Swift feels a more grown-up car in nearly every way: it is bigger, still fun to drive, has more than enough performance, looks great, has low BIK tax and very low wholelife costs, making it the Mighty Mouse.