| 11.8°C Dublin

It really is hip to be square, writes Philip Hedderman

YOU know a new model is gonna be a little bit special when a car company invents a whole language to describe how good it is.

I kid you not.

Yes, the third generation of the FIAT Panda features a revolutionary new design concept called 'Squircles'.

This new phenomena centres around square circles or to use its technical term, squared-off circles.

In lay man's terms it has taken the edges off the old model giving it a more polished, sleeker look.

This is evident from the front with more oval headlights underlined by LED strips and sunken fog lamps.

The rear is similar with rounded reverse lights and reflectors and even the side windows on the back can't escape.

But the interior is where the whole idea explodes into life with every clock, switch, instrument, even the gear knob, getting the 'Squircles' treatment.

But FIAT needn't have spent all that money on marketing and linguistics when they had one trump card up their sleeve -- the old Panda.

You see, its older brother was one of the finest small cars ever produced.

Small cars are what FIAT do best and thankfully they worked off a similar blueprint making the new offering 114mm longer, 65mm wider and 11mm taller.

The interior gets a more upmarket, younger feel to it too.

To say the change is refreshing is an understatement - making the Panda even more funky and functional.

The build quality is remarkably better with comfier seats, chunky stalks and sturdier padded steering with mounted controls virtually eliminating vibration and road noise.

There are three engines in the Irish line-up including the entry-level 69bhp, 1.2-litre petrol, a 75hp, 1.3-litre, MultiJet II turbo diesel and the 900cc TwinAir -- all with Start&Stop as standard.

We tested the 1.2 petrol which is expected to make up the majority of sales here.

A punchy little engine gives this city car a fun, nippy feel and the featherlight steering was sublime -- especially when parking in tight spaces.

It had more than enough grunt for city driving while it held its own on a 80km motorway jaunt, although we would have liked a sixth gear and cruise control.

Economy is second to none with all powerplants boasting low emissions and high MPG (72mpg in the TwinAir) and all residing in Tax Band A -- meaning €160 annual road tax.

There was plenty of room for a growing family and thanks to back seats that slide back and forth the boot space can be easily manipulated and when folded flat has a very decent load capacity of 870 litres.

It is though, in essence, a small city car and despite having excellent room up front it is quite tight in the rear -- especially for adults.

That said, most customers will be bowled over by the price which starts at €11,995.

So maybe Huey Lewis was right after all .... it is hip to be square.