First drive: Fiat’s Tipo pulls off a cost-effective surprise

Cut-price hatch makes for surprisingly appealing family car that may sway Irish buyers

Make: Fiat

Model: Tipo

Year: 2016

Fuel: Petrol

Date Reviewed: November 22, 2016

Tue, Nov 22, 2016, 19:19

   

There aren’t many surprises in this job. Car companies, so keen they are on garnering as much publicity as possible, drip-feed information and stats on new models for years ahead of their actual arrival on the road.

The old motor show “big reveal” where the covers are whisked from some hitherto unknown or even unthought-of new models are all but gone and given the current trend for the sharing of engines and components across model ranges, we practically know what a new car is going to be like before we’ve even driven it.

So it’s rather pleasing to report a surprise, and one from a surprising quarter. Fiat has, in spite of the underlying strong performance of the ever-popular 500 hatchback, been something of a basket case in Ireland for some time.

Indeed, on more than a few occasions, rumours have swirled that the brand would cut its losses and abandon the Irish market entirely. Thankfully that didn’t happen, but what was clear was that Fiat needed a mainstream model to be a hit – something with broader appeal than the tiny 500, something with heftier profit margins, something with mass appeal.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t the 500x, an attractive and decent-to-drive crossover that has singularly failed to spark the imagination of Irish car buyers. It might, just might, be the new Tipo though, and that is surprising.

The Tipo didn’t seem to be, on the face of it, an especially sparkling product. Built down to a price in a Turkish factory, and arriving in the market on a wave of promises of cut-price costings, it seemed more like Fiat fighting a rearguard action against Dacia than the latest product from the company that once gave us the original, sophisticated 124 and 128.

Cheap

And it certainly is cheap. Right now, and certainly for the first three months of next year, €17,995 gets you a 1.4-petrol engine in well-equipped mid-level “Easy” spec, which includes a DAB radio, a touchscreen infotainment setup, some leather trim, alloys, fogs, parking sensors and more.

That €17,995 is supposed to be the price for the basic Pop model, but Fiat Ireland is offering a free upgrade to the mid-spec trim and in reality, it suspects that no one will actually buy a Pop and that version will quietly be killed off in the near year.

All of which is very nice, but a tad depressing. Buying a car purely on the basis of price and spec usually leads to a pretty dreary driving experience. It’s the motoring equivalent of buying your shoes from Lidl instead of Clarks.

Yet the Tipo surprises. Slip in behind the wheel and you are presented with an attractive and noticeably well-made dashboard, which you can survey from firm, comfy, Germanic seats.

Yes, there is far too much cheap plastic on the doors and around the lower reaches of the cabin (and one or two rattles in one of the test cars we drove) but on the whole, the Tipo feels at least as well made as a Focus or Cee’d, which is high praise indeed.

Fiat claims it also has one of the roomiest cabins in its class and the boot, at 440 litres, is one of the biggest too, so family practicality is more than taken care of.

Fully-loaded Lounge spec

The engines range from the most basic 95hp 1.4 to a 120hp turbo petrol 1.4, a 95hp 1.3 diesel and the 120hp 1.6 diesel, which is expected to be the best seller. Impressively, a fully-loaded Lounge spec 1.6 diesel, with an automatic gearbox, will still cost you less than €24,000 – a point at which most rivals’ ranges are just getting started.

So it must be awful to drive, right? No carmaker can slash prices and add toys like that and not skimp in some crucial area, surely? Well, possibly not.

The Tipo shares a chassis with the 500x and the Jeep Renegade which, although hardly class-leading, isn’t a terrible starting point.

And it makes a very good first impression – the steering feels springy and weighted with a touch of sporting heft (albeit without much in the way of true feedback) and the suspension feels smooth and calm.

The whole car is, in fact, quite good on the refinement front aside from a little too much road noise on coarse surfaces. The ride quality, although it can get jittery on really bad roads, is just fine and the Tipo displays better overall control of its suspension and body than does, for example, the much more expensive Renault Megane.

It’s not, perhaps, a junior hot hatch to drive, but far, far more engaging and pleasing than you might have hoped.

The 1.6 diesel engine is grumbly and rattly at low revs but it quietens down a bit when it’s had a chance to warm up, and its mid-range punch, with 320Nm of torque, is far better than that of many rivals.

The 1.4 turbo petrol is predictably smoother but needs to be revved to better than 3,000rpm to give its best, so its economy simply isn’t going to match that of the diesel. Worth thinking about if you only cover a low annual mileage though.

Pleasingly simple

Fiat’s PCP plans start from as low as €205 per month for the Tipo, and for every trim level or engine specification you wish to add, you simply pay an extra €14 a month and an extra €400 deposit, which is pleasingly simple. Fiat has trimmed its warranty though.

The old five-year cover (where the final two years were an extended warranty paid for by the local importer) is gone, leaving the standard three-year, 160,000km warranty.

Fiat says the reason behind the decision is to remove the price-tag padding that longer warranties require, but it may be an awkward signal to send out at a time when the company is trying to convince doubtful Irish buyers back into its dealerships.

Still, at least those buyers now have a valid reason to cross those thresholds again. The Tipo won’t go down as the most exciting, nor dramatic car of the year, but it is practical, it is pleasant to drive and it seems, on this acquaintance, really quite well built.

At that price, it’s most certainly one of the surprises of the year, and for a change, in 2016, a pleasant surprise at that.

Lowdown: Fiat Tipo 1.6 Multijet 120hp Lounge

Price: €22,770 as tested. (Tipo range starts from €17,995)

Power: 120hp.

Torque: 320Nm.

0-100km/h: 9.8sec.

Top speed: 199km/h.

Claimed economy: 3.7-litres per 100km (76.3mpg).

CO2 emissions: 98g/km.

Motor tax: €180 per annum.

Verdict: Fiat springs a welcome surprise with a well-made, well-priced family car. Worthy of consideration.

Our rating: 3/5