The Fiat Panda and Skoda Citigo are two of the cheapest and smallest cars you can buy today. In a rare twin-test review, PetrolBlog tries to find a winner. And then in true PetrolBlog spirit, completely cocks up the verdict.
Once upon a time there was a small city car. Not much was expected of the little fella, just an ability to travel from A to B with the minimal amount of fuss. It didn’t need to be fanciful or extravagant, just as long as it provided the basics for getting about town. Heating for when it turned cold. Ventilation for when the sun shone. Maybe a radio and a cigarette lighter. And windows operated by a handle.
For years this was enough for the small city car. It went about its business in a dutiful and unassuming manner, providing the first taste of motoring for those new to driving. And despite being disposed of when something larger was required it was soon called back into action for those in their twilight years. In much the same way as Giorgetto Giugiaro envisaged, a city car was a cheap, basic and no frills affair.
But times changed. People began to expect more from their city cars. More toys. More luxuries. More extravagance. More safety. The city car was under pressure and the stress led to it putting on weight. It grew larger and heavier and in the process lost its verve and zest for life. The city car became a shadow of its former self.
There were however two cars which failed to conform. One that even after growing to the ripe old age of 33 never lost its soul. It came from a land called Italy and despite travelling across the globe it never forgot its roots. That car was the Fiat Panda – a lonely and tireless warrior in the wilderness.
The other city car had to endure a mixed upbringing. Raised by ruthless and unflinching efficiency in a land called Germany it had aspirations of wearing the fabled V and W monogram. But fate would serve that it was to be developed under Czech stewardship whilst some of its friends travelled south west to Spain. It would wear a Skoda badge and come to be known as a Citigo.
Two cars separated by distance and time and yet destined to meet. And in the year of our lord, two thousand and twelve, they finally did meet. City cars united by a common cause and to be judged by PetrolBlog.
The fun factor is a subjective thing. Some will find their thrills in a little car that will take off from the lights like a hare out of a trap. Others will prefer wheel-at-each-corner handling thrills and outright chuck-ability.
At last year’s SMMT Day I took the Citigo around the Millbrook city course and it was little short of brilliant. The course is full of tight corners and hairpin bends. In other words the ideal territory for a city car. The Citigo was exceptional – thriving on being chucked into corners. It relies on grip rather than handling, but the steering is sharp and direct and the soundtrack from the engine never becomes tiresome. I didn’t leave second gear and concluded that city drivers would never need to use first, third, fourth or fifth.
I was introduced to the base-spec Panda Pop at last year’s SMMT South and immediately booked a week-long loan. As soon as you set eyes on it, the Panda Pop makes you smile. The deliciously boxy styling and the countless references to Panda dotted about its exterior and interior. And then there’s the interior itself. You’ll spend the first ten minutes admiring the square details, which extend to the design of the handbrake and gearknob.
It’s brilliant fun to drive too, making a mockery of its measly 69hp 1.2-litre engine. The Panda Pop has a distinctly mechanical feel to it – you can hear it working away around you. To drive the Panda Pop is to become totally involved with the experience. Cars like this are few and far between.
The Citigo is arguably the more fun to drive, but after a week its initial appeal had begun to wear off. It had become a mere machine once again, albeit an admittedly very good one. The Panda on the other hand had retained every last drop of its character. Its appeal goes further than on-the-limit driving.
Panda 1-0 Citigo.
This has already been touched on in the previous section. Both cars are huge fun to chuck about, but it’s the Citigo which delivers the most finesse. Its steering is sharper and more precise and there’s noticeably less body roll than you’ll find in the Panda. It’s when you notice the Panda’s height advantage the most. At 1,551mm high it’s 73mm taller than the Citigo and it certainly shows on the twisties.
An easy win for the Citigo – 1-1.
The Citigo always feels the quicker of the two. Despite giving up 200cc to its Italian playmate, the Citigo’s 1.0-litre engine develops 74hp, five more than the Panda. But it only weighs 865kg, with the Panda tipping the scales above a tonne.
This means the Citigo will accelerate to 62mph in 13.2 seconds, a full second quicker than the Panda. It will also reach a top speed of 107mph, compared to the Panda’s 102.
The Citigo comes from behind to lead 1-2.
The first Panda was a master of the beg, steal and borrow approach to car packaging. The original engines were pinched from the Fiat 127, the windows were flat to save money and the suspension was rudimentary at best. Things have obviously moved on a little since then and yet the Panda still feels like a Panda. Three generations and 6.4million sales later, it has evolved and adapted to its environment.
There are 14 storage compartments inside the Panda, so finding a place for your phone or wallet is never an issue. There’s also 225 litres of boot space which can be extended to 870 by folding down the rear seats. The only complaint is the lack of knee room in the front, which is a big problem if you’re tall and lanky like me.
The Citigo offers class-leading boot space of 251 litres which can be extended to a whopping 959 with the rear seats down. Skoda claims that with the rear seats up, you can fit 2,711 ping-pong balls in the back. I’d like to know who discovered that fact.
It’s hard to choose between the pair in this section, but because the supposedly smaller Citigo feels as roomy as the Panda, it’s the Skoda that edges it. Just.
And with that, the young pretender from the Czech Republic goes into a surprise 1-3 lead.
Another contest that’s destined to be closely fought. I did numerous long trips in the Citigo and not once did I feel like I wanted to be in something a little bigger. It soaks up long distances with ease and its 95Nm of torque makes overtaking and motorway driving effortless. It’s genuinely hard to find fault with it and not just when benchmarked against its rivals. Bumps in the road are easily swallowed, the seats are supremely comfortable and cabin noise is exceptionally low. A near perfect score.
It’s a similar story for the Panda. The 1.2-litre FIRE engine is surprisingly quiet, even at high speeds and wind and road noise is minimal. The seats are also comfortable, although the head restraints feel like they’re made of hard plastic and although we shouldn’t use them as headrests, they cause quite a shock when you put your head back! But the Panda benefits from increased headroom.
Again, a really close call but if I was faced with a 200-mile trip this evening, I’d opt for the Citigo.
Blimey, it’s 1-4 to the Citigo. The Italian is in trouble here.
One area where the city car has come on leaps and bounds is safety and these two scamps are no exception. Both are loaded with airbags, ABS, ISOFIX fixings and anti-whiplash head restraints as standard. The kind of stuff unthinkable on a city car even a couple of decades ago.
The Fiat Panda is yet to undergo a Euro NCAP test, but it’s likely to get a 4-star rating as per the previous Panda, if not a five. The Citigo on the other hand has already received the full 5-star rating, so manages to trump the Panda at this stage.
It’s not looking good for the Panda now. 1-5 to the Citigo with just four categories to go.
As tested in 3-door Elegance trim, the Citigo would set you back £10,110 before options. The Panda Pop on the other hand would only cost £8,990, making it the cheapest Panda you can buy new today.
In fairness to the Citigo, it’s possible to get an entry level 5-door car for £8,070. It matches the basic approach of the Panda by offering 14-inch steel wheels and black door mirrors and handles as standard. Oh dear, it’s another win for the Citigo.
1-6 to the Skoda.
On the basis of the two cars tested here, it would be an easy victory for the Citigo. Its Greentech engine creeps under the magic 100g/km barrier at 98g/km and it will offer a theoretical combined MPG of 67.3. This compares to the Panda’s 120g/km and 54.3mpg respectively. The Citigo also sneaks into the lowest insurance group rating in the UK, which is quite some going.
But dig a little deeper and the Panda starts to claw its way back. You can opt for the brilliant 0.9-litre TwinAir engine as tested on the Fiat 500, but its tendency to deliver a fuel economy figure far less than promised is now the stuff of legend. However, the 1.3 Multijet with Start&Stop offers a combined figure of 72.4mpg, beating the Citigo’s best effort of 68.9.
It’s a tough call, but the Citigo’s insurance rating and emissions across the range gives it the edge.
It’s becoming a walkover for the Skoda. 1-7.
As you’d expect, the basic Panda Pop offers little in the way of toys. There’s no air conditioning, no remote central locking and no alloy wheels. Comparing it to the Elegance trim Citigo would be unfair, but against the S it’s remarkably similar to the Panda. It’s possible to spend a great deal on lavish extras on either car, but that’s against the spirit of the city car.
But rather than call this section void I’m going to make a special mention of the Citigo’s Navigon Portable Infotainment Device. It sits perched on top of the dash, but across the week I found it incredibly annoying. It would often drop the Bluetooth connection with the phone which was bad enough in itself. But the fact that it subsequently froze, rendering the sat nav and radio controls useless made it frustratingly awful and plain dangerous. It had to be removed, turned off again and then restarted. Annoying and proof that less can be more in a city car.
At last, some pride restored for the Panda, albeit by default. 2-7.
Last but not least – how good does your city car look? It’s an important factor for the chic and devastatingly cool city driver.
It’s another subjective opinion. Both look good and are neatly proportioned. But the Citigo is let down by the fact that it shares its suit with a Volkswagen and Seat. It’s just not unique. Neither is it something that raises a smile when you look at it.
You sense the Panda is comfortable in its own skin, which might go some way to explaining the multiple references to the name within the car. Like the inside of the door as you can see or the left. Or the name within the rear lights.
I’d be quite happy with the standard 14-inch steel wheels as opposed to the optional alloys fitted to my test car though.
The Panda is a unique and unmistakable shape. An easy victory.
A brave comeback for the Panda with the final score ending 3-7.
So that’s the end of the tale – an easy victory for the Skoda Citigo.
Well no, not exactly. Like every good story there’s a twist. A plot diversion to throw you off the scent.
By applying a healthy dose of PetrolBlog logic, the Fiat Panda is the winner. For all of the Citigo’s brilliance, and it truly is a brilliant little car, it’s just lacking in that certain something. There’s no emotional attachment. The Citigo is an appliance that’s ridiculously good at what it does. But whilst I appreciate the appliances in my house, I don’t love them.
The Panda on the other hand simply oozes character and charm. Whichever trim level you opt for and however much you pay for it, you’ll grow to love the Panda. Hell, you may even start talking to it.
Given the choice I’d opt for the plain and simple Panda Pop. It’s the natural evolution of the original from 1980 and it’s all the better for it.
But in both cars the spirit of the car is still alive. Two shining beacons in a world of excess and over-packaging. And they all lived happily ever after.
PetrolBlog Score: Fiat Panda 1.2 Pop
PetrolBlog Score: Skoda Citigo 1.0 GreenTech Elegance
Full details of the scoring can be found here.