Now that the 500’s been canceled, Fiat’s US lineup is down to just 2 crossovers. And they’re not particularly well-reviewed ones. Over in Europe, though, not only is the 500 still kicking, but the Italian automaker also has a more extensive car selection. And there’s one car that, somewhat strangely, never made it over here: the Fiat Panda. But there’s a strong case for why it should be sold here, in the form of the Kia Soul.
What is the Fiat Panda?
Despite Fiat’s reputation for reliability, the original Panda was a durable, if not exactly fast hatchback, Goodwood reports. The 1980 Panda 45 has a 45-hp 903cc four-cylinder engine, while the Panda 30 has a 30-hp air-cooled two-cylinder engine. However, it has independent front suspension, front disc brakes, and a folding rear seat. Plus, despite being just over 11’ long, it has seating for 5.
Over the years, Fiat refined the Panda, upgrading its suspension, engines, and level of technology. But one of the most significant updates came in the form of four-wheel drive from the Mercedes G-Wagon’s supplier.
Launched in 1983, the Fiat Panda 4×4 was one of the first 4WD passenger cars on the market, Motorious reports. Classic examples are still running around today, Petrolicious reports, due to their rugged design and fuel-efficient powertrains. Fiat even entered a few into the Paris-Dakar.
Today, the Fiat Panda is the best-selling car in Italy, The Drive reports. While it’s gained new features, it remains a stylish, affordable, tall-roofed hatchback. And it still offers both FWD and AWD, Car and Driver reports.
Hmm, an affordable, tall, stylish FWD hatchback? That sounds a lot like the Kia Soul.
What makes the Fiat Panda a good Kia Soul competitor?
Technically, the Kia Soul is a subcompact crossover, Car and Driver reports. But in terms of the overall design, it has a lot in common with the Fiat Panda. Both have seating for 5, a hatchback cargo opening, and sub-$20,000 base prices. But there are a few differences.
Updated for 2021, the FWD Fiat Panda’s most powerful powertrain is its mild-hybrid one, Motor1 reports. Though, with a 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine and a starter-generator, that only makes for 70 hp. And even the 4WD Panda Cross’ 0.9-liter turbocharged two-cylinder only has 84 hp, Parkers reports.
In contrast, the base 2021 Kia Soul has a 147-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. And the Turbo model has a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 201 hp, Autotrader reports. However, unlike the Fiat Panda, the Soul doesn’t offer AWD, Roadshow reports.
The Panda Cross may not have the Kia Soul’s output, but it does have some extra off-road features. The hatchback comes with skid plates, multiple driving modes, and hill-descent control.
On the overall features front, though, the Kia Soul has the edge. For 2021, all Pandas get a 7” touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. They also have upgraded interiors with some new optional trim pieces, including a reclaimed-wood dashboard. However, while automatic emergency braking is now standard, that’s about the only modern ADAS feature the Panda offers.
In contrast, while the base 2021 Kia Soul has a 7” screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, higher trims get a 10.3” screen, Motor Trend reports. And unlike the Fiat Panda, the Soul can be equipped with navigation, wireless charging, a Harman-Kardon audio system, and a heads-up display. Plus, while they aren’t standard, the Soul offers more ADAS features than the Panda.
Could it ever come to the US?
So, on paper, the Fiat Panda is a bit more basic than the Kia Soul. But that has an upside: price.
A 2020 mild-hybrid Fiat Panda starts at roughly $15,500 in the UK; the AWD Panda Cross starts at $22,770. It’s worth pointing out that the Cross’ price lines up well with the cheapest AWD cars available in the US, Automobile reports. A 5-speed manual Subaru Impreza starts at $19,720—and the Panda has a 6-speed manual.
Meanwhile, a base 2021 Kia Soul LX starts at $17,490; the S, with its additional ADAS features, starts at $20,590. And the Turbo starts at $27,550. Plus, you can’t get the Soul with AWD.
But could the Fiat Panda actually work in the US? Small European cars have often struggled here. Volkswagen, for example, isn’t even bringing the next-gen Golf over, just the GTI and R models. And before the addition of automatic emergency braking, the Panda got 0 out of 5 stars in the Euro NCAP crash test, Top Gear reports. Admittedly, the safety standards don’t translate directly to US standards, but that’s not a good sign.
However, the Kia Soul has proven very popular here. And if Fiat could somehow give the Panda Cross a larger engine and some more ADAS features, it would likely do well. The Panda uses the 500’s basic powertrain, and the latter’s four-cylinder engine was US-emissions certified. And now that FCA and PSA have merged into Stellantis, we could be seeing more Euro-style cars in the States.
So, please Fiat, let the Panda roam in the US.
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