What is it?
This is the first Fiat in quite some time that hasn’t relied on retro charm to help sales. It may have a name that harks back to 1989’s European Car of the Year, but the new Tipo is a clean-sheet design.
Not that there’s anything ground-breaking here. The Tipo’s engineering is entirely conventional, with styling that’s unlikely to offend. Where this car really excels, however, is the amount of space it offers for a relatively small outlay.
You can spend less than £13,000 on a five-door Tipo, while even a top-spec diesel Station Wagon with a dual-clutch automatic gearbox is less than £20,000. With Ford Focuses, Vauxhall Astras and other C-segment contenders now stretching well beyond that higher figure, the Tipo is certainly worth a closer look.
What's it like?
Under the sculpted bonnet of this particular example is Fiat's familiar 1.4-litre T-Jet four-cylinder petrol engine. A turbocharger lifts power to 118bhp, the most motive force you’ll find in the current range. Performance is adequate rather than swift; 0-62mph takes 9.6sec and the quoted top speed is 124mph. Although the engine can pull from around 1500rpm, you have to work it much harder to extract its full potential. The gearbox is at least pretty slick.
Through the mid-range, the T-Jet sounds quite rorty but becomes strained at its top end. While on paper it may be a bit faster than the identically powerful 1.6-litre diesel, on the road the greater torque of the oil-burner makes it feel more muscular. It also offers much better fuel economy and CO2 emissions than the petrol unit’s relatively ordinary 47.1mpg (combined) and 139g/km.
When the road becomes bendy, you’ll soon find the handling errs on the side of stability rather than excitement. Pitch it hard into a corner and you'll find that the Tipo resists roll well and offers good grip but never feels as agile as a Focus or even an Astra. The steering is a similar story. The weighting is a bit lighter than that of some rivals but not overly so, and it’s also quick enough to deal with hairpins without having to twirl the steering wheel too much, but there’s little in the way of feel.
Calm things down and you can start to appreciate the car’s real assets. When cruising, the engine settles into the background, while the ride is mostly comfortable. We do have some concerns about the way the car jostled its occupants over particularly bad stretches of road, but we'll wait to confirm ride quality back in the UK.
Climbing aboard, it’s hard not to be impressed by the amount of space on offer at this money. Front-seat occupants will find it easy to get comfortable, regardless of height, and those in the back won’t be grumbling, either. Even with someone over 6ft tall driving, there’s still enough leg room for a passenger of a similar size to sit behind them.
Head room isn’t quite as generous, but you’d have to be very long of body to find your head brushing the ceiling. The middle seat isn’t where you want to sit, though. The base feels an odd shape, while the backrest is hard - not something you’d want to endure for long journeys. Move to the boot and you’ll find a load area that comfortably trumps that of a Volkswagen Golf. With the two-level floor in its highest position, there’s little in the way of a load lip and the opening is a good size.