The story of a car assigned the hard task of taking the name and inheriting the role of a triumphant predecessor. Silvia Baruffaldi tells the whole complex story: from the initial Ecobasic concept to the New Small and the Gingo and finally the New Panda, a Fiat model that promises to rival its illustrious namesake, which was finally withdrawn this year, after 23 years in production.

That’s nearly a quarter of a century and cars have changed dramatically in that time; changes the New Panda responds to with a design that can be interpreted in various ways. At first glance, it looks something like a compact MPV, an impression that persists, when you climb in to discover its high-set driving position and gear lever on the dashboard. In side view, it looks more like a station wagon, while from the back, its vertical tail-end, is pure people carrier. And yet it’s only 3.54 metres long, the ideal size for a city car.

Humberto Rodriguez, Design Coordinator for all the Fiat Auto brands, explains the evolution of a complex project that involved a variety of strategies: from the preliminary planning phase in the Fiat Style Centre, to ideas out of the Italdesign Giugiaro and Stile Bertone studios. Then the choice of the Bertone option and further work on that. And finally, the development of the production model, by I.DE.A. Institute.

The saloon already comes with a 4×4 version (the original Panda’s was a huge success) and the Simba, an unambiguous SUV, previewed at the Bologna Show last year and launched in its definitive guise at Frankfurt. Neither will be available until late 2004, but clearly the Panda family is already destined for expansion in the years to come.

The article continues in Auto & Design no. 142

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