Fiat Panda 1.1 Active Eco

Susie Lidstone fiat and Alfie lr

Susie Lidstone with her Fiat Panda

By Tim Saunders

A passion for small cars led Susie Lidstone to buy one of the first left hand drive Smart cars “but the older it got the more the servicing cost and road tax was quite high,” she recalls. So she did what any sensible person would do and traded it in for something more efficient.

And that was a second generation Fiat Panda 1.1 Active Eco (introduced in 2003 and in production until 2012). Not something that will set the heart racing but one that will please the bank manager because when Susie was looking for her next car Fiat dealers were just launching the Eco Panda “and they gave me a very good trade in with my Smart,” she remembers. “They gave me £4,000 and the Panda cost £5,500.” The road tax on the little five-door Fiat is only £30 a year because it only emits 119 g/km of carbon dioxide. The insurance is just £94 a year and that is with her husband on the policy, too. With its five speed manual gearbox “it’s a fun car to drive, good with petrol, and has ample leg room,” says Susie. “My son who is in quite a few bands and has his own record label and uses it to transport amps, guitars and PA sets ups and the little car manages very well. It is easy to park and is responsive. So far I have done 46,000 miles in it. The nature of being an artist means that one has to travel quite a bit to galleries etc and a car that is economical with fuel is a real bonus.”

The Active, introduced in May 2003, features black self-coloured bumpers and front electric windows, central door locking, radio/cassette player, driver’s airbag and power steering. Manual climate control was available as an option. After September 2005, ABS and the front passenger’s airbag became standard. This model has the 1100 cc Fire engine. There were five other models in total: Active Plus, Dynamic, Emotion and 100hp. The 100hp was the fastest of the group reaching 60mph from standstill in under 10 seconds but due to tightening emissions regulations Fiat stopped production of the 100hp in 2010.

Probably the most exciting model was the 4x4 Climbing edition, introduced in 2004, which had a higher ride height, larger wheels and tyres. While the four wheel drive system made this edition slower than others it boasted slightly higher suspension, additional black plastic overlays on the bumpers and a Climbing badge on the rear. This car was considered a good choice for families wanting a city car with 4x4 capability.

The second generation Panda was considered a massive improvement on the boxy first generation model launched in 1980 and in production until 2003. In fact it was such an improvement that the ‘new’ Panda was voted European Car of the Year in 2004.

Issues such as poor build quality were improved while the vehicle itself was still as rugged as ever. While I was growing up an artist friend of mine had a first generation 1989 F-registered Panda for many years. It was lovingly cared for and proved to be reliable transport even if it did not like high winds where performance dropped noticeably and the doors would threaten to open. But there was something appealing about this little boxy vehicle, which when, many years later, my wife and I found ourselves driving through Turin, found a line of 20 white ones all parked next to each other. It was quite a sight.

In over 31 years Fiat has sold over 10.5 million Pandas globally with more than 4.5 million being the first series Panda.

The third generation Panda debuted at Frankfurt Motor Show in 2011.

Susie mostly drives the Panda but occasionally opts for her husband’s Kia Sportage.

Fiat Panda 1.1 Active Eco 2004 to 2012

Top speed: 93mph

0-60mph: 14.5secs

Economy: 56.5mpg

Power: 54bhp


Susie Lidstone is a member of Creative Coverage


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