Why the comparison?
This duo face-off against one another as they are about as close a comparison as you can get. They're both warmed over versions fighting for sales in the sub-supermini class, are both European, have 100bhp, and are within a few hundred pounds of each other on the price lists at around the £10,000 mark. Each exhibits its 'sportiness' with slightly more overt looks, alloy wheels and some additional bodywork to beef up otherwise rather cutesy lines. Of the pair it's the Renault that's the newcomer, the Panda having been around for a while. We like small fast cars here, but which one delivers the most fun?
How are they similar?
They both produce 100bhp, which might not sound a great deal, but they're light - which means that nicely-rounded bhp figure results in pretty decent performance. The Panda reaches the benchmark 62mph from standstill in 9.5 seconds, the Twingo trailing it by just 0.3 seconds. As they're based on regular sub-superminis - in spite of the racy additions - they're both actually rather practical small cars. Passenger accommodation seems to be the priority in each though, as neither offers a great deal of boot space. Being based on the cheapest, entry-level models in the range means that some of the trim feels a bit flimsy, particularly so in the case of the Renault. However both come pretty comprehensively equipped as standard, making them more attractive for day-to-day driving than their lesser brethren.
How do they differ?
Despite the obvious similarities there are a number of key differentiators between the French and Italian protagonists. The Fiat has a pair of additional doors, making it a far easier car to get small children in and out of compared to the three-door Renault. Their engines differ too. Although both offer 100bhp, the Renault comes with a 1.2-litre unit, the Fiat using a 1.4. The Renault achieves the same power as the Fiat by using a turbocharger. The key difference between the engines is regarding emissions. The Fiat's 1.4-litre unit produces 154g/km - not exactly planet killing - but nowhere near as clean as the Renault's 120g/km. Combined consumption figures also favour the Twingo, the Panda achieving 43.5mpg compared to the Renault's 47.8mpg.
But you'll forgive the Fiat its less parsimonious nature, as it's a far more entertaining drive. It feels quicker on the road, with far more feisty responses than the Twingo. The Panda feels like a junior hot hatch, the Twingo in comparison merely feeling like a warmed-over shopping trolley. You pay for that dearly with the Fiat's ride, which is bouncy and jarring unless the road is glass smooth; the Renault cossets its passengers with a far more compliant ride, but it feels detached as a driver's car. Renault makes a big deal about being better specified than the Panda, coming as it does with desirable kit like an auxiliary and USB socket, but you need to pay more for full climate control, which is standard in the Fiat. Start adding the sticker packs in an attempt to make the Renault look as racy as the Fiat and you'll spend more, too.
So which one would we have?
For fun there's no question which is the more entertaining car - the Fiat. Surprisingly though, it also feels the better built of the pair, the door cards in particular in the Twingo feeling very insubstantial. The Fiat feels like a proper feisty hatch too, and although you pay for that with unnecessarily harsh suspension it's worth it for the out of town grins. It's also the more practical, with its rear doors making access to those rear seats far easier.