The Fiat 100HP is a car I’ve coveted for some time. I’ve even come close to buying one. Twice. Reading Antony Ingram’s review has done little to dampen my enthusiasm for this brilliant little pocket rocket. Antony’s is in the right colour too. If you’re thinking of buying one, buy his. Go ahead, do it. Do it.
I bought the 100HP somewhat on a whim.
By that I don’t mean that I had a big pile of cash lying about and dropped it all on a Fiat – more that I wasn’t really expecting to see it when I went car shopping back in late 2010, to replace my old Mazda MX5, that had met its maker thanks to the attentions of Mr Sneaky Thieving Bastard.
But there it was, gleaming in bright white, sitting amongst lesser examples of its ilk, 1.2 Pandas, or boggo-spec Puntos, all being overshadowed by this tiny white lump of pepped-up Panda.
All the details were right. I didn’t know it at the time, but the original owner had ticked the “Pandamonium” box on the spec sheet, which had added a red racing stripe, red brake calipers, satin-finish alloys and silver mirrors to the normal 100HP spec, giving it a real Abarth vibe.
It was the first car I’d properly been to look at, but after taking it for a test-drive there and then I was somewhat smitten. So I bought it. On a whim.
I’d read all the reviews beforehand of course, seen it praised in EVO magazine, sitting at the top of their “Superminis/Hot Hatches” list in The Knowledge, and seen the positive reviews in all the other mags too. So I knew it was good. And I’d always kind of wanted one, as it seemed to be one of those hot hatches like hot hatches used to be. Revvy. Lightweight. Inexpensive. The sort of car that MajorGav raves about.
And it is. The engine is a peach – the red line is marked at 6,500rpm, but despite spinning it into the red I’ve never accidentally clipped the limiter, so I assume it’s happy to do more. And it feels smooth and eager in a way not even the MX-5 could manage.
It’s attached to a great gearbox, too. Six speeds, all of which engage quickly and accurately, with the lever mounted in just about the perfect position, a palm’s width from the steering wheel rim. It’s a joy to use and really suits the urgent nature of the whole car.
The ratios are incredibly short (21mph per 1,000rpm even in sixth) so although it’s not great for economy, performance is more than suitable – less than 10 seconds to 60mph – not dissimilar to that old Mazda. Based entirely on seat of the pants assumptions, I suspect it’s actually a touch quicker in the real world.
The handling is pretty good, too. At the expense of ride quality, admittedly. This is not a car to massage away bumps in the road. You can run over a spider and know how many flies it had sucked dry that morning, such is the frequency of bumps transmitted through your arse. Speed bumps feel like humpback bridges, and humpback bridges feel like an ascent over Ben Nevis.
Of course, though Fiat has forgotten to fit the 100HP with suspension, it does at least corner far flatter and grip far longer than any narrow, tall-ish car has a right to. And the steering, though lacking a little in feel, is suitably quick and accurate, and improves a lot with the “Sport” button pressed.
That button also makes the throttle pedal utterly hyperactive, but improves the driving experience no end – after getting used to the regular, slightly mushy sub-3,000rpm throttle map, it’s amazing to experience the extra power and torque at lower revs. I’d love to see the two maps on a graph to compare the difference, as it feels huge.
You enjoy all that from a good driving position, too. It’s comfortable, pretty spacious for my modest frame, and the slightly high-up seating position means driving around town is a doddle.
It’ll also do motorway journeys in reasonable comfort, and it’s returning between 43 and 44 miles per gallon, bang on what Fiat claims. And Fiat has given it plenty of toys, with standard climate control, Bluetooth, front fogs and numerous other bits.
So glowing review considered, you may wonder why I’m selling it.
Truth be told, I wonder myself sometimes. I keep catching a glimpse of it out of my window and wondering why I’d be so daft as to let it go.
And then I remember I’m an idiot, and have a classic Beetle to restore which I need money for. Or that I work from home, so I don’t need a fun hot hatch, but rather something inexpensive and comfortable for the journeys I do make, which are invariably very long motorway schleps.
So if you want to save a Panda this year, sod Tsing Tsing. Buy mine off me, and stop it languishing un-enjoyed on my driveway. You don’t even have to feed it bamboo.
Seriously, will someone buy this please. At least then I won’t have sleepless nights planning ways I can raise the cash to buy it for myself…