What is it?
Fiat’s new Tipo is a rather interesting proposition when you consider the tumultuous marketplace that it’s trying to break into. With consumers across the board increasingly shunning conventional hatchbacks and MPVs for SUVs, manufacturers have responded in one of two ways: investing in new mid-sized platforms, like Seat with its Ateca, or creating more luxurious trim levels, like Ford with its new Vignale and ST-Line ranges. So it came as quite a surprise to see Fiat break ranks when it revealed its bargain-priced Tipo earlier this year.
Instead of offering a bewildering assortment of options, Fiat decided that the best approach was to offer an impressive amount of kit across three affordable trim packages: Easy, Easy Plus and Lounge. As a result, a base-spec five-door Tipo can be had for just £12,995, and even a diesel Station Wagon with a dual-clutch automatic gearbox comes in at less than £20,000. For a car that offers Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf levels of space and practicality, this might be a bold move that pays off.
What's it like?
We’ve already tried the petrol Tipo abroad, but here we’ve got the diesel 1.6 Multijet on UK roads. Producing 118bhp, it’s the most powerful diesel in the range and promises to endow the Tipo with impressive real-world flexibility. Granted, with a 0-62mph time of 9.8sec and a top speed of 124mph, it isn't exactly quick, but then again, at this price point, neither is the competition.
Turn the key and the turbocharged motor fires into life in a rather gruff and unrefined manner. It’s a disappointingly rattly unit, but once under way it’s a relief to find that the engine quickly settles down to a distant hum. Flex your right foot further and there’s plenty of pull from low down in the rev range, giving the Tipo impressive roll-on performance. Admittedly, there is a small amount of turbo lag, but in overtaking situations you’re rarely left wanting.
However, push on further and you quickly find that the Multijet unit is all done by 3600rpm, becoming rather coarse and asthmatic at the top of its rev range. Thankfully, in day-to-day driving it’s an area that you rarely need to explore, with the well-spaced ratios in the slick six-speed manual gearbox allowing you to keep the engine in the meat of its rev range.
Dynamically, the Tipo is equally a mixed bag. The steering is well weighted (albeit lacking in feel), the chassis balance is fairly neutral and the car resists body roll admirably. However, the ride isn't the smoothest. Larger compressions are handled in a fairly adept fashion, but the Fiat feels rather harsh and fidgety over broken surfaces. Ultimately, both the Volkswagen Golf and Vauxhall Astra have the Italian car beat for ride comfort.
The first thing that grabs you about the interior is the amount of space on offer for a car of this price. The cabin feels airy, and there’s plenty of adjustment on the front seats to allow a driver and passenger to get comfortable. Rear occupants are well looked after, too, with enough leg room to accommodate all but the loftiest of adults.
The boot is an impressive size, too, beating the capacity of the Volkswagen Golf. And thanks to a two-level floor, there’s little in the way of a load lip. In fact, with such a flexible layout, you might find yourself questioning the relevance of the more expensive estate.