What is it?
The all-new Fiat Tipo is the brand’s re-entry into the family hatch market, taking on some of the biggest-selling cars in the UK market.
Good interior space, well-equipped, competitive price.
The Fiat Tipo offers good value for money in a roomy vehicle, its price comparing favourably to smaller cars from rivals and including impressive levels of standard equipment. However, those rivals significantly outscore it on the quality of their interiors and their on-the-road performance, while the poor safety package is a definite minus point.
The all-new Fiat Tipo launched onto the UK market in late 2016 and signified the Italian brand’s latest attempt to take a slice of the large but highly competitive family hatch market.
Potential rivals to the Tipo include the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra and Volkswagen Golf, all permanent members of the UK top ten best-selling cars list. And that’s before one considers the Renault Megane, Peugeot 308, Honda Civic, Toyota Auris, Kia cee’d, Hyundai i30…
Since the previous Tipo disappeared in 1995, the brand’s offerings in this sector have comprised the Bravo and Stilo, both cars so forgettable that today they could feature on The Car Expert’s blink-and-you-miss-them list.
So Fiat needs to do better with the latest Tipo, and the recipe for steering buyers away from such well-known rivals seems to be a combination of practicality and value for money, rather than any radical design effort to give the car a visual presence.
Fiat says it now has two sides as a company, the aspirational side typified by cars such as the Mazda MX-5-rivalling 124 Spider, and the rational side typified by the Tipo. Following this mantra to the full, the latest Tipo is very conservative in its styling – if you don’t like standing out, you will like the innocuous look of this car, whether you choose the hatch or its sister estate model the Station Wagon.
Buying and owning the Fiat Tipo
The Tipo is offered with a five-strong engine line-up and three trim levels. Petrol buyers can choose from a 1.4-litre unit with 95hp, a turbo version with 120hp or a 1.6-litre ‘E-torq’ unit, with 110hp and only available with a torque-convertor auto gearbox – the 147g/km CO2 emissions levels should cross this one off the potentials list.
Diesel options lie between the 1.3 Multijet of 95hp or the 1.6-litre 120hp version as tested here. It’s available with a twin-clutch automatic transmission or a conventional six-speed manual like the one we are driving, with impressive official efficiency figures of 76mpg and 98g/km emissions.
The trim levels are dubbed Easy, Easy Plus and Lounge, and this is where Fiat scores some serious points on value. An entry-level Easy model starts at £12,995 (with the 95hp petrol engine). Such money would only buy a supermini from several of the Fiat’s rivals, the Tipo being heavily pitched as a large car for small-car cost.
It becomes all the more impressive when one considers that the standard specification includes such niceties as air conditioning, remote central locking, front electric windows, electric door mirrors, six airbags, DAB digital radio, USB and Bluetooth connectivity with steering wheel remote controls.
Our test car, meanwhile, is in range-topping Lounge trim – for just £2,000 more one adds a whole host of equipment, including leather detailing, navigation with traffic updates, connected services ranging from music streaming to social media access, a rear camera and parking sensors, bigger alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights, climate control… the list goes on.
All this comes at a price that is on average £2,000 cheaper than rivals with less equipment. However, there is one notable downside.
Today car manufacturers routinely expect to drive away with top five-star ratings from the Euro NCAP safety crash tests, so when the Tipo was tested in 2016, its three-star rating was a bit of a shock.
The major issue is the fact that a ‘Safety Pack’, which includes autonomous emergency braking and adaptive cruise control – but not pedestrian detection – is only available as an option. True it’s only a £500 option, but rivals consider such features important enough to specify them as standard. Adding the safety pack improves the car’s Euro NCAP rating to four stars, which is better albeit still off the pace of the best in this class.
Inside the Fiat Tipo
One of the most impressive aspects of the Tipo is its interior space. There is a lot of it! Even taller occupants will have no issue getting comfortable – okay in the rear seats they may find it a little cosy about the head, in which case the Station Wagon version, which is taller, might be a better choice.
The boot space of the hatch, meanwhile, knocks rivals aside – 440 litres outspaces the VW Golf by 60 litres, the Vauxhall Astra by 70 litres and the best-selling Ford Focus by a massive 124 litres. However it is deep, rather than long, space, and the high rear makes it not that easy to load stuff into the boot.
Less alluring is the dash layout. It is so boringly conventional, and as a result, the dials and vents look dated even before one begins checking out rivals. The info panel for the satnav and other functions is particularly poor, its surrounding instrumentation overwhelming the tiny screen which is not very user-friendly.
Add in surfaces that while reasonably put together, feel hard, scratchy and low-rent, and one sees where that value-for-money price requires compromises. The Tipo’s interior is significantly behind even those of former value brands such as Hyundai and Kia – the Koreans have upped their game whereas Fiat, it seems, hasn’t.
Driving the Fiat Tipo
The driving position is comfortable offering a good view ahead and behind, and ‘comfortable’ is also the best way to sum up the driving experience.
This is a very easy car to drive, so long as one proceeds in an unhurried fashion. Push on with enthusiasm and the result is less satisfactory, a combination of vague steering with little feedback, and a little too much body roll through corners.
When the Tipo launched, Fiat expected the 1.6-litre diesel engine to be the best seller. Whether that is still the case after the recent backlash against diesel in the UK remains to be seen, but it is generally a smooth, enthusiastic unit. But again, push it on too much and it becomes a tad agricultural, with an intrusive, clattery audio note. Generally, however, it is competent and the efficiency figures speak for themselves.
Should you buy a Fiat Tipo? It depends on how many compromises you are prepared to accept to take advantage of the low price.
The car scores on cost, and the amount of equipment you get for the money. But rivals do many aspects better, particularly their interior design and finish, and their on-road dynamics.
If you need a car to ensure you get from A to B with little fuss, then the Fiat Tipo could be a good option. But please ensure you pay an extra £500 for that safety pack…