Fiat Panda and Volkswagen Gol: four decades of differences and similarities

Never having officially competed with one another might be the reason why both superminis have had such successful histories

1980 Volkswagen Gol and 1980 Fiat Panda
1980 Fiat Panda and 1980 Volkswagen Gol

Piccolo here, klein there

Fiat created its model to deal with Italians’ need for affordable transportation. It was suffering the effects of the oil crisis, so any new car should be small, nimble enough for urban streets and fuel-efficient. Beauty wasn’t a priority here, which made it clear that this was a rational purchase. Domus magazine says Giorgetto Giugiaro’s infant son quickly nicknamed it “refrigerator” due to its boxy design. The focus was to offer a spacious cabin with reduced external size at low prices.

1980 Fiat Panda and 1980 Volkswagen Gol
1987 Fiat Panda 4x4 Sisley and 1984 Volkswagen Gol GT

Ragione here, Gefühl there

Affordability was a priority in the Panda’s project, and it shows in many other ways. The upholstery was washable, the seats were removable, windows and windshields used flat glass and the general design differed from anything Fiat had offered so far — even the Ritmo, the immediately older model, looked too old compared to the newcomer. The Panda ended up setting a trend that was perfectioned for its urban sibling Uno and, years later, the larger and more sophisticated Tipo.

1982 Fiat Panda Super and 1982 Volkswagen Gol Copa
2003 Fiat Panda and 1994 Volkswagen Gol

Avventura here, Leistung there

Being made to measure to fulfill a need made the Panda quickly rise to market success: half a million cars were sold in the first year. Once Fiat had the Uno to better satisfy urban customers, the Panda was set free to go the other way: the 4x4 variation was released in 1983 and became another hit for what it offered and the fact that it had no direct competitors: the cheap, reliable car for short trips could now help people who lived and/or worked in remote regions even in the peak of winter.

2006 Fiat Panda 100HP and 2001 Volkswagen Parati
2012 Fiat Panda 4x4 and 2008 Volkswagen Gol

Solitario here, vertraut there

As the previous paragraph says, the Panda has always been a niche model for Fiat; the traditional hatchback market was taken care of by the 127, then Uno and Punto. That freed the low-cost compact to have an independent timeline which featured the aforementioned AWD system, a weird-looking Van version in 1986, the Elettra version in 1992, a second generation with countless trim levels, and a third generation that offered electric propulsion for the first time with a hybrid version.

2020 Fiat Panda Hybrid and 2018 Volkswagen Voyage
2019 Fiat Panda connected by Wind and 2016 Volkswagen Saveiro

Futuro here, Zukunft there

The most important conclusion one can make about those two histories is that there are several ways to reach commercial success. Fiat developed an oddball hatchback which rose to fame as affordable and practical but ended up getting better and better at comfort and style as well. Volkswagen, in turn, focused its model in sportiness at first but ended making it a reliable family of entry-level family cars whose only big problem is having become, perhaps, more rational than its public would like.

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Danillo Almeida

Content writer and engineer-to-be who aspires to work in car design. If you like cars but not the stereotypes that surround them, give my articles a try.