I love classic cars , so I’m a little protective when a car manufacturer relaunches something from their past. It’s a genuine relief, then, when I first see the new Abarth 124 in the metal.
Fiat might have been concentrating on city cars, crossovers and even a sports car of late, but the Tipo marks the Italian manufacturer’s return to the family hatchback class. Of course it will have to go up against the might of the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra, but in reality the Tipo is more likely to steal customers from alternatives like the Skoda Rapid Spaceback and Nissan Pulsar. Like those cars, one of the Tipo’s main selling points is its practicality, with class-leading front and rear legroom and a 440-litre boot feeding into Fiat’s slogan “Amore.
For less”. Less, because the diesel Tipo starts from only £14,995 and is fairly well equipped even in entry-level Easy trim. This is realistically a Golf-sized hatchback you can buy for Polo money. The entry-level diesel gets a 1.3-litre with 94bhp, but we’re testing the expected best seller, the 1.6 Multi Jet with 118bhp. It can get the Tipo from 0-62mph in 9.8 seconds, which is respectable enough, but it’s the in-gear shove which is more impressive.
The Tipo isn’t particularly heavy, which helps the engine to feel quite lively and lag-free, although power does tail off noticeably higher in the rev range. The re’s a noticeable diesel sound at idle, but once underway the Tipo is impressively quiet, particularly given its price tag, with little road or wind noise. With words like “functional” and “value” taking precedence in the marketing material, this is one family car which hasn’t tried to be too overtly sporty, and we think it’s better for it. The steering is well-weighted, but it’s a bit vague, while the suspension is fairly soft, so though there’s more body roll than you’ll find in a Focus, the Tipo copes with our pockmarked roads decently, only losing composure over sharp bumps. The interior is a mixed bag, with a soft leather steering wheel which is pleasing to hold and an attractive mixture of analogue and digital gauges. But, despite some soft touch materials higher up, cheaper plastics are easy to find around the cabin, as you’d expect in such a price sensitive car.
Compared with the baby Fiat 500 range it also feels rather bland inside, with a five-inch navigation screen smaller and less clear than most smartphones. Space is definitely it’s number one attribute though, allowing two tall adults to sit in tandem with ample headroom. Fiat has kept its offering simple, with Easy, Easy Plus and Lounge trim levels. In reality, it’s the lower trim levels which make most sense, because at £17,995 the Lounge model looks less competitive, particularly viewed toe-to-toe with the Astra. With air conditioning, remote locking, DAB radio and Bluetooth, the Easy trim should suit families looking for a practical set of wheels with low running costs who can forgo the navigation system in favour of their smartphone. With a focus on usability and a low price point, as well as a claimed 76.3mpg, the Tipo’s package should be enough to attract customers looking for a sensible buy.
The Fiat line-up is starting to resemble the Marvel Cinematic Universe with old badges being rebooted left, right and centre. First there was the Panda and 500, and now the 124 and Tipo.
In the case of the latter Fiat has chosen to revive the name of a 30-year-old hatchback rather than making yet another 500-derived car. Where the 124 represents style and desirability, the Tipo is all about space, kit and value for money.
That’s not to say it’s a bad looking car, but you can’t call it distinctive. It’s a boxy- blend-in with function prioritised over form, and that’s fine. Interior quality is surprisingly good, save for the shiny plastic on the doors and lower dash, plus a weeny 5in sat-nav that’s comprehensively outgunned by your smartphone screen.
It’s also not a bad drive – the torsion beam rear suspension struggles to isolate rough surfaces to one side of the car but it certainly steers nicely. The 1.6-litre Multijet diesel motor’s strong mid-range makes it feel punchy in-gear, if a little asthmatic on a motorway slip road. The 1.4-litre petrol is much more invigorating though; cheaper, too.
In fact you get a lot more for your money with the cheaper grade. Even £12,995 boggo-cars with the above petrol motor come with air-con, DAB radio, and Bluetooth connectivity.
Climb the trims and engines until you get to the top-tier diesel car tested here and you’ll have to find £17,995 – enough for a better looking, better driving Ford Focus or Vauxhall Astra at which most UK money will be thrown. Probably best to invoke any Italian DNA you may be concealing and stick with the cheapest Tipo for a bargain instead.
Fiat Tipo 1.6 MultiJet 120 Lounge
Engine: 1.6-litre, 4cyl
Power: 118bhp @ 3750rpm
Torque: 236lb ft @ 1750rpm
Transmission: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Suspension: MacPherson struts front, torsion beam rear
Top speed: 124mph
On sale: Now
Not a Dacia. Cheaper than an Astra
No matter what you think of how it came about or how it looks, the 124 Spider is a good idea. Fiat’s line-up has been devoid of desirable froth for too long, and – at least from an enthusiast point of view – it’s a shortfall that can’t be made up with yet another 500 derivative or the return of the Tipo badge.
Italy’s flag carrier has been crying out for the marketing splash of something overtly sporty, and there are few more pleasing thoughts than the prospect of a small, affordable, two-seat, rear-drive roadster arriving on a manufacturer’s forecourt.
That is particularly so in the US, where the 124 is seen as key to Fiat’s resuscitation following the ignominy of a 30-year hiatus. It’s no coincidence that the model shares its name with Fiat’s biggest US hit, the original 124 Spider having enjoyed an almost two-decade production run following its launch in 1966.
That car, along with the similarly long-lived Alfa Romeo Spider, helped to establish Italy’s reputation for building pretty open-top sports cars. But they didn’t perfect the idea and nor did they manage to sustain their success much beyond the 1990s. Instead, Mazda resurrected the roadster as a real sales force, shifting a million MX-5s globally while cars like the Fiat Barchetta and Alfa Spider eventually wilted on the vine.
So who better for Fiat to partner up with than the japancse firm when it came looking for someone to share the cost of producing a bespoke rear-drive platform a decade later? Fiat (although it was almost Alfa) gets to use its own engines and homage-happy body while gaining space on the Hiroshima production line to account for the volume.
The catch, of course, is that, much like the Toyota GT86/Subaru BRZ conundrum, the 124 has to prove to buyers that it isn’t merely a shadow of the latest MX-5 but a distinct and credible product in its own right. Time to rule on whether Turin’s good idea has made it to the road.
Family hatchback offers Volkswagen Golf space at a Volkswagen Polo price
Fiat’s new Tipo is a rather interesting proposition when you consider the tumultuous marketplace that it’s trying to break into. With consumers increasingly shunning conventional hatchbacks and MPVs for SUVs, manufacturers have responded in one oftwo ways: investing in new mid-sized platforms, like Seat with its Ateca, or creating more luxurious trim levels, like Ford with its new Vignale range. So it came as quite a surprise to see Fiat break ranks when it revealed its bargain-priced Tipo earlier this year.
Instead of a bewildering array of options, Fiat decided to offer an impressive amount of kit across three affordable trim packages: Easy, Easy Plus and Lounge. Asa 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. 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 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 at this price point, neither is the competition.
The motor fires into life in a rather gruffand unrefined manner. It’s a disappointingly rattly unit but quickly settles down to a distant hum once under way. Flex your right foot further and there’s plenty of pull from low revs, giving the Tipo strong roll-on performance.
Push on further, though, 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, aided by the well-spaced ratios in the slick six-speed manual gearbox.
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, the Golf and Vauxhall Astra beat it for ride comfort.
As for the interior, the first thing that grabs you is the amount of space for a car of this price. The cabin feels airy and there’s plenty of adjustment on the front seats. Rear occupants are well looked after, too, with enough leg room to accommodate all but the loftiest of adults. The boot is also an impressive size, beating the capacity of the 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 question the relevance of the more expensive estate.
The overall impression of the cabin is that it has been put together on a budget – and, of course, it has been. The hard plastics on the door cards and lower parts ofthc dashboard let it down somewhat, but the soft-touch plastic on the top of the dashboard helps to add a touch of class, and the instruments are clear and attractive.
In addition, Lounge spec comes with an impressive amount of equipment as standard. You’re treated to automatic climate control, a 5.0in touchscreen with navigation, rain and dusk sensors, an electrochromatic dipping rear-view mirror and a rear-view camera.
It’s hard not to be impressed by the Tipo, considering its remarkably low price. Interior space is on a par with cars that cost significantly more, entry-level models have a decent level of standard equipment and the boot is impressively flexible.
The Tipo doesn’t offer a particularly engaging driving experience and the inconsistent interior quality will be a turn-off for some, but if you’re after a practical, affordable and economical hatch, the Tipo has a lot going for it.
Fiat Tipo 1.6 MultiJet Lounge
New Tipo offers impressive space, decent equipment and useful practicality for a reasonable price
Engine: 4cyls, 1598cc, diesel
Power: 118bhp at 3750rpm
Torque: 236lb ft at 1750rpm
Gearbox: 6-speed manual
Kerb weight: 1395kg
Top speed: 124mph
Economy: 76.3mpg (combined)
CO2/tax band: 98g/km, 19%
Rivals: Ford Focus 1.5 TDCi, Vauxhall Astra 1.6 CDTi 110
Ingrid the sat-nav is in a state of distress. The drive from London to Amsterdam was a slow-moving tailback that obviously melted her microchip. So for the past two days I’ve suffered phantom traffic alerts in a region of north Sweden jammed only with trees.
Silver birch and fir trees – millions of them blanket the countryside inside the Arctic Circle. Even the trucks are heaving with arrow-straight trunks bound for pulp and paper mills. Every load leaves a vapour trail that fills the open cockpit of my Fiat 124 Spider with eau de Christmas tree.
“Traffic jam ahead.” There she goes again, except I haven’t seen another car for 20 minutes. The only reason to slow is a solitary cross-country skier using wheeled skis on the smooth road surface for pre-season training.
It’s October and night temperatures have already dipped to -6deg C in these parts. The Swedes have swapped their summer rubber for winter tyres and stuffed the glovebox with snus – moist tobacco pouches that pop under the tongue to give a nicotine hit.
We have no need for artificial stimuli in the 124, although the Spider doesn’t have a glovebox, or door pockets, for that matter. Even so, Fiat’s long-awaited roadster is still giving a nation of Volvo owners something to smile about. It could be the dead raccoon keeping my ears warm, or the fact that I’ve driven from London with the hood stowed, but I haven’t seen Scandinavians this happy since Abba stormed Brighton in 1974.
In fact, it’s impossible not to be happy in a cheeky two-seater like the new Spider. It’s eminently affordable, too. There should even be enough left over from £20,000 to buy a silly hat for driving in the winter months.
The warm welcome in Sweden suggests the Spider has the ability to put the fun back in to Fiat. Not because it’s laugh-out-loud ugly like the old Multipla but because this is a spirited little roadster that doesn’t have any pretensions of grandeur.
It’s not perfect, but after 2000 miles of travel from London to the 66th parallel, I can think of only one closely related, rear-wheel-drive roadster that would be just as enjoyable for the money…
THE START POINT
“Driving to the Arctic Circle in a Fiat? You’ll never make it, pal!” London taxi drivers have an opinion on everything, and 20 years ago I might have agreed, but then I remind him that the 124 is the sister car of the uber-reliable Mazda MX-5.
He’s taking me to the start point for my Arctic adventure: the quintessential English The Montague on the Gardens, in Bloomsbury. London is enjoying a warm spell and the Magnetic Bronze Fiat has even impressed the hotel doorman, who is more used to loading a cavernous Bentley.
I’ve asked for a boot-mounted luggage carrier, but it turns out to be superfluous. The Spider has a deep 140-litre boot that easily copes with two large bags and plenty of extras. That said, the bespoke rack does add something to the Fiat’s retro appeal.
The manual hood folds flat in a couple of seconds and soon I’m purring along the Embankment, with Ingrid’s satellites locked on the Channel Tunnel. I loved the old Fiat Barchetta for its simplicity, but this Spider is a proper giggle and a damned sight more sophisticated.
To start with, it looks almost as good as the 1966 original: the distinctive bonnet, thatwide-mouthed grille. It is 50 years this month since the Spider was unveiled at the Turin motor show, but it doesn’t feel that way in the London sunshine. Right now, I could be heading home with a dolly bird from Raymond’s Revue Bar, singing something by The Kinks and feeling smug about England’s World Cup victory six months earlier.
So far, the 1.4-litre turbo engine is coping well with the capital’s stop-start traffic. Yes, there’s some turbo lag, but it doesn’t detract from the driving experience. And once the Fiat is on the open road, it just feels that bit nippier than the MX-5.
There won’t be much clear tarmac on this trip until I reach north Sweden. Traffic is bad and it takes three hours to reach Folkestone, only to discover a train has broken down in the tunnel and I’m facing a big delay.
While I’m sitting in a queue with the roof down, a McLaren suddenly pulls up in the next lane. I can’t work out which model it is from side on, but its driver isn’t sure what I’m in, either. He’s off to Monchengladbach to drive flat out on the autobahn, which I suppose is what McLaren owners do.
Unfortunately, industrial northern France and Belgium don’t pass in a flash and it takes nine hours to make Amsterdam by nightfall. I encounter McLaren man again in a traffic jam near Antwerp. The congestion is so bad that somehow I’ve made the Dutch border ahead of him.
I imagined Amsterdamon a Friday night would be less than sober. Instead, I find a city of calming canals, cobbles and cyclists. There’s hardly any traffic and those pedalling give hand signals – most unlike London.
It’s 8.30pm when I finally pull up at the hotel, but it isn’t cold until I slip off the heated seat. There have been a few showers en route, but my hat isn’t not even wet. The cabin is a cosy little nest, although tall drivers and those with a wide girth might not agree.
There’s barely time to enjoy a passing narrowboat the next morning before I have to load up and head for Hamburg. I’m not sure how the Fiat will fare on the high-speed autobahn, but it holds its own at around 95mph. The heater is powerful and I can still hear the Bose sound system.
A couple of the speakers are hidden in the headrests, which is clever. Less ingenious is the infotainment system. It’s exceptionally user-friendly, but I don’t understand why the 7.0in screen can’t fold away to give the dashboard a clean look.
The rotary control dial is also set a few inches too far back on the transmission tunnel. My left elbow has accidentally activated the menu page several times already, putting Ingrid to unnecessary work. The traffic jams continue for the rest of the morning. The only form of transport moving slower than me in Hamburg is a monster Triple E supertanker, moored on the River Elbe. I stop to buy fuel and German sausage. The Spider is averaging 37mpg. It’s another five hours to Copenhagen, but at least the scenery is improving.
The Danish capital has a nautical vibe, but today the sky is grey and rain is falling. I’m a big fan of crime drama The Bridge. It’s not just detective Saga Noren’s 1970s Porsche 911 but the bleak scenery that adds to the atmosphere. I can see the towers of Oresund Bridge rising out of the mist and decide to rise early the next day to drive the five miles across to Sweden.
Twelve hours later and the weather hasn’t changed, so I point the Spider north and cross the freezing straits to Malmo. You might think Sweden has some of the safest roads in the world, but drivers are allowed to use mobile phones to talk and text – as long as it isn’t detrimental to their driving.
It’s a grey area but, even in bustling Stockholm, everyone is at it.
In the more remote parts of the country, telephones are a vital piece of safety equipment during the winter months. Studded tyres are allowed from October and everyone carries a candle – to provide heat if the worst happens.
And it’s starting to get remote as I pass through Gavle, on the E4 coast road north of Stockholm. An incredible two metres of snow fell here in one day in 1999 – not ideal for rear-wheel-drive sports cars like the Fiat.
Traffic is really scarce by the time I reach subarctic Umea and pass the 63rd parallel. I’m staying in a hotel converted from a seamen’s mission. The bar is empty, candles are glowing and Ingmar Bergman could walk in any minute.
Pm about five hours from the Arctic Circle here and the next morning I pass cars dusted in frost and ice. It’s only a couple of weeks before snow really starts falling, but not to worry because it’s kanelbullens dag – Cinnamon Bun Day.
At every fuel and coffee stop, I’m presented with a cinnamon bun. I’m heading for a place called Jokkmokk, where temperatures plummet to -40deg C and daylight lasts for less than three hours in the winter.
The road cuts through pine forests, past crashing rivers and occasionally snow. There are few signs of life until an ugly metal road sign comes into view. I’m half-expecting a white line painted across the tarmac, but this is it: the Arctic Circle.
I’m 66deg north on a latitude that passes through Greenland, Alaska and the very north of Russia.
I haven’t seen an interesting car since Stockholm and the 124 Spider seems strangely out of place – mainly because it isn’t a 4×4.
Then to cap it all, that evening I see the Northern Lights. They shimmer above the Spider for hours, as ice forms on the roof and the windscreen turns opaque. We’ve covered just over 2300 miles in five days and the Fiat hasn’t missed a beat.
The 124 Spider may have to live in the shadow of the mighty MX-5 for a while, but it is far more than just a rebodied Mazda. It has true character and will appeal to a different audience. And if I had the number of that London cabbie, I’d bloody well give him a call…
THE ARCTIC ROLL OF HONOUR
FIVE FREEZING FACTS…
1. It’s cold where the Arctic Circle cuts across northern Sweden, but the North Pole is another 1650 miles farther north. Temperatures there can drop to as low as -40deg C – but the South Pole is colder, dipping to-60deg C.
2. Apart from cinnamon buns, Swedish drivers love to fend off extreme cold by drinking coffee and eating semla. These carb-loaded cakes are flavoured with cardamom and filled with almond paste and lashings of whipped cream.
3. The Arctic takes its name from the Greek word ‘arctus’, meaning bear. The term refers to the Big and Little Bear constellations that can always be seen overhead in the Arctic Circle on clear nights.
4. The Arctic Circle is moving because it depends on the Earth’s axial tilt. It fluctuates and is currently slipping 15 metres farther north every year. The phenomenon was discovered by Serbian geologist Milutin Milankovic.
5. Up north, Swedes love eating reindeer but also meatballs. They’re served with gravy, boiled spuds and lingonberry jam. If you don’t want to travel to the Arctic to eat them, try a branch of Ikea.
Model tested: 1.6 Multijet II 120 Lounge Price: £17,995 Power: 118 bhp Torque: 236lb ft 0-60mph: 9.6sec 30-70mph in fourth: 9.9 sec Fuel economy: 49.1mpg C02 emissions: 98g/km
Fiat goes back to the future with its news, 1980s-inspired family hatchback
Delving into its recent past has become something of a habit for Fiat. Since the original late 1980s Tipo family hatch, we’ve had two generations of Bravo separated by the forgettable Stilo. Name recognition is handy in the overcrowded C segment, and there isn’t a car company in existence that isn’t preoccupied with its past.
Still, coming after the expansion of the extended 500 family and the return of the 124 Spider, this doubling back does make it feel like the Italian giant is less nodding at its past than milking it for all it’s worth. Thankfully, that isn’t all that Fiat is doing with this new Tipo. The first version, launched in 1988, was built in the same famously boxy groove as the original Panda and Uno, and while it was well received (and even fondly recalled), there’s no homage paid in the shape of the latest model. Rather, it is its predecessor’s once-renowned packaging to which Fiat is paying tribute, with class-leading leg room and boot space claimed for this rather more curvy new Tipo.
There are other connections. The 1980s version was a global car too, eventually produced in Turkey by the same Tofas manufacturing firm that Turin will have build its namesake. The first Tipo also featured the Type Two platform, an early example of the sort of modular front drive architecture that now dominates the industry. The General Motors-Fiat Small platform that underpins the 21st century variant is unrelated but not dissimilar in many ways; Fiat has been using it to underpin a range of models since 2005.
All of which will be considered incidental for most buyers of the new Tipo. From Fiat’s perspective, the ideal association with the past would be a repeat of the first Tipo’s sales popularity. In 1988, its design was cutting-edge compared with the leaden Vauxhall Astra and Ford Escort it was up against. And as well as finding early favour with buyers, the Tipo won the European Car of the Year award a year later. Fiat’s board would turn handsprings if this new assault on the C segment proved to be even half as worthy.
We’re testing the hatch (there’s an estate, too) in range-topping Lounge format with a 1.6-litre Multijet diesel engine, starting at £17,995.
DESIGN AND ENGINEERING 3/5
The Tipo destined for the UK is actually the second model to result from something called Project Egea, a Fiat-Chrysler/Tofas initiative intended to produce an affordable family saloon, hatchback and estate for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The three-box saloon – known as the Fiat Egea in Turkey – was unveiled at the Istanbul Motor Show last year and replaced the Fiat Linea (itself a car co-developed with Tofas). The two-box hatchback and estate are to be produced primarily for France, Italy and the UK and in all markets will succeed the Bravo – a model Fiat quietly deleted in 2014.
The Tipo gets the high-strength steel architecture co-engineered with GM that, in different configurations, has so far underpinned everything from the Grande Punto to the Jeep Renegade. Deploying the so-called ‘Small-Wide LWB’ version of that modular platform, the Turin-penned Tipo is most closely related to the Fiat 500L, although its wheelbase is marginally longer.
Unsurprisingly, the conventional platform gets an equally conventional suspension set-up, featuring MacPherson struts at the front and a rear torsion beam, while a fairly unremarkable 1295kg claimed kerb weight was rendered plausible on our scales, with our test car weighing in at 1379kg full of fuel.
The engine line-up is familiar, too. The five options are divided into three petrol and two diesel: a 94bhp 1.4-litre petrol, a 118bhp 1.4-litre T-Jet turbo petrol and a 108bhp 1.6-litre e-TorQ petrol twinned exclusively with a six-speed torque converter automatic gearbox. The oil-burners are a 94bhp 1.3-litre Multijet II and the larger 1.6-litre variant tested here.
The range-topping four-cylinder diesel – already featured in the 500L – develops 118bhp and 236lb ft, the latter available from 1750rpm. A six- speed manual gearbox is standard (and featured on our test car), but as an option the engine can be had with Fiat’s new DCT dual-clutch automatic. Both variants deliver sub-l00g/km CO2 emissions.
MULTIMEDIA SYSTEM 2/5
When we first drove the Tipo on its European press launch in Italy earlier this year, the range-topping versions were fitted with a 7.0in touchscreen infotainment system, dubbed ‘Uconnect HD Live’. It didn’t seem half bad, offering decent satellite navigation mapping at a clear and readable scale, easy Bluetooth connectivity and both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring functionality.
But somewhere between that launch and the UK sales introduction, Fiat UK has decided to ‘de-content’ upper-level Lounge trims and offer only the 5.0in Uconnect system as standard. This lesser set-up still offers DAB radio and limited smartphone app online functionality, allowing you to stream music and connect with social media, but its screen is small, its navigation mapping is tricky to read and its responsiveness often disappointing.
Positioned high on the dashboard and perfectly flush with the fascia, the screen is also very difficult to read in direct sunlight. Audio quality is at least respectable.
The Tipo’s job here, whether Fiat likes it or not, is to deliver more for less: to beat the hatchback class’s prevailing standards on comfort, space and equipment while imposing little or no apparent compromise on material quality or fit and finish – and all at a price that’s relatively appealing in precisely the same way.
As unreasonable an expectation as it may seem, that’s exactly what the likes of the Nissan Pulsar, Hyundai i30 and Skoda Rapid Spaceback all do – admittedly with varying degrees of success. And that’s because the customers who are paying less for their new car don’t actually expect to get less of any of the above considerations.
With its interior, the Tipo makes a pretty poor fist of its response to that challenge. It may seem adequate in most of the ways that will matter to bargain hunters, and there aren’t many places where the cabin feels cheap or austere. But there is no escaping the pervasive impression that this is an interior designed and engineered with no greater ambition than to be passable. Nowhere is it genuinely good.
Although the Tipo outwardly looks as if it will be generously proportioned inside, cabin space is actually no better than average. A Nissan Pulsar beats it hands down for passenger space and it doesn’t have much of an edge over a Ford Focus. The boot is deep but not particularly wide or long, and its sizeable lip makes it tricky to load heavy objects.
The front seats are a good size but a little too hard and flat to be described as comfortable. They also seat you higher and more bent-legged than you’d be in certain rivals (a packaging trick often employed to make extra second-row occupant space), and the front passenger only gets cushion height adjustment as an option. The controls are conveniently located and the driving position itself is sound, with a roomy footwell featuring a decent rest for your left foot.
Oddment storage is again about passable; there are usable cupholders in the centre console and a good- sized armrest cubby, although the car’s door pockets could be bigger.
Material quality varies from okay (column stalks, steering wheel switchgear) to poor (shiny, unyielding interior door and centre console mouldings). As a result, in more ways than one, the Tipo fails to make the kind of first impression it really needs to do in order to win friends in one of the most crowded market segments of them all.
On to better news. The Tipo’s most convincing strength is delivered in an area where Fiat has a history of innovation: with its diesel engine.
It remains to be seen how much uptake there will be for the pricier of the two diesel options in a model range defined so squarely by value for money. Those who are willing to spend the kind of cash that might otherwise have bought a full-sized economy-minded diesel hatchback from Ford, Vauxhall, Seat or Hyundai, however, should find the 1.6-litre Multijet diesel in the Tipo broadly to their liking.
The motor is a bit peaky in the way it serves up its lump of turbo-induced torque, suffering with some lag at low revs, followed by a slightly abrupt rush of boost that the car’s accelerator pedal mapping could make easier to manage. But the problem is also partly caused by the engine’s healthy 236lb ft, which is a fair amount more than that produced by most downsized oil-burners.
That advantage manifested itself in the performance figures we recorded. A typical 1.5 or 1.6-litre diesel needs about 11 seconds to accelerate from 30-70mph through the gears and between 13 and 14 seconds to do the same sprint locked in fourth gear. The Tipo managed both in less than 10 seconds.
Unusually short gearing also contributes to the car’s assertive performance (there’s a longer-legged economy version powered by the same engine in other markets, but it isn’t offered in the UK). Even for a six-speed manual, you’re therefore obliged to do more cog-swapping than you might do elsewhere if you want to maintain that frothy pace – which would be better news if the shift quality weren’t so rubbery. Rush a gearchange through (as you must when doing benchmark acceleration testing, for example) and the gearbox begins to feel unpleasantly notchy and mechanically harsh at times.
The Multijet engine revs as all of its ilk tend to: with useful force up to a point but increasing breathlessness and noise above 4000rpm. But at medium cruising revs it’s decently hushed, contributing to a quieter cabin at 50mph than plenty of more expensive hatchbacks we could mention. It’s decently economical, too, as we’ll get to shortly.
RIDE AND HANDLING 2/5
Dynamically, the Tipo feels very much like a car whose basics are sound enough but which has been tuned and generally finished with little care or skill.
It would be pompous and unfair to assume this necessarily had anything to do with the fact that it was developed in Turkey, away from Fiat’s western European engineering base, by the same company that will build the car. And yet, whatever the cause, there’s no mistaking where the Tipo is left. Even a driver who didn’t much care how sophisticated or easy to drive their prospective new hatchback was might get out of the Tipo, we fear, drive one of its direct rivals and immediately appreciate what the Fiat had been doing badly.
The springing of the car’s suspension feels medium-firm, but its ride is fairly quiet and well bushed, so there’s little of the hollow coarseness you might expect from a budget option. But as the road surface you’re crossing goes from level to uneven, the cabin quickly becomes fidgety and hyperactive. The car’s dampers fail to respond either quickly or progressively enough to take the sting out of bumps from the beginning of the first compression stroke, only to then over-react as the amplitude and frequency of the suspension inputs increase. And so the car’s vertical body control ends up feeling quite rudimentary and always digital in its willingness either to allow body deflections or check them too aggressively. It’s often restless on the motorway and regularly unsettled around town.
The car’s lateral body control is more respectable, and while neither its grip level nor handling response is anything special, the Tipo is certainly happy enough and capable enough to be hurried along through a corner. But don’t expect to enjoy the hurrying much; the elastic-feeling steering, which is simply too variable in its weight as you add lock and overly corrupted by traction forces, puts paid to that, making the Tipo trickier to guide than it ought to be.
BUYING AND OWNING 3.5/5
At £12,995 for an entry-level car with air-con, remote locking, DAB and Bluetooth, the Tipo undercuts most rivals of its ilk. Even if you (correctly) dismiss the inefficient entry-level petrol, the road duty-dodging 1.3 Multijet at £14,995 is likely to pique the interest of anyone looking for a practical, cheap-to-run prospect.
Most C-segment buyers in markets such as ours tend to eschew bargains in favour of a bit more design and brand appeal, but the more desirable the Tipo gets, the more it falters. Mid-range Easy Plus trim adds the 5.0in Uconnect system, 16in alloys, front fogs, rear parking sensors and cruise control. With the 1.6-litre diesel (which returned a decent 49.1mpg average in True MPG testing), its £16,995 price is still a decent saving over an equivalentAstra or Focus.
Lounge trim, which is the closest to delivering a level of interior quality consistent with its rivals, is £17,995. With sat-nav, 17in wheels and climate control, it is better kitted out than most if its peers at the same price.
Contract hire deals aren’t so quite so competitive. Our sources suggest a mid-spec car with the 1.6 Multijet engine would cost £37 a month more than an equivalentAstra.
It’s also worth noting that minus the £500 Safety pack option, the Tipo only scores three stars in NCAP’s crash tests, or four stars with it. Most other rivals score five.
Acceptable but a long way removed from the class’s sharp end
Those of a certain age may remember the original Fiat Tipo with fondness; it was appealing to behold and fitted with a digital dashboard that made its European hatchback rivals lookbackward. But whether you‘re a child of the 1980s or not, you wont view the new Tipo with the same kind of esteem. And you were never likely to, this being a car designed primarily for developing markets and serving a more value-driven agenda than Fiat was aiming for three decades ago.
Nevertheless, we must apply the same standards here that we do for any mid-sized hatch on sale in Europe, and that means marking down the smart but derivative styling, the inconsistent quality and only averagely good packaging of its cabin and the poorly resolved ride and handling.
Creditable outright performance and decent but unremarkable value for money are some recompense but frankly not enough. At a cheaper price point than was represented by our test car, the Tipo might have made a more convincing case, but at £18k, in a class full of sophisticated European-built rivals, it was doomed to struggle.
THE Fiat Tipo is the Italian brand’s return to the family hatch market, rivalling the Skoda Rapid and Vauxhall Astra. We drove it in Italy earlier this year (Issue 1,421) and praised its practicality. Now we’ve finally tested the car in the UK. Sometimes a comfortable car can still seem too harsh for our pitted tarmac, but fortunately the Tipo has managed to keep its supple ride intact, suiting our roads well. The suspension allows body roll through corners, and the steering is light and vague – but driving fun isn’t what the Tipo is about. Even over rougher roads it rides smoothly, and does so without being too noisy inside. Really the only complaint when it comes to refinement is with the 1.6-litre diesel, which is rattly and noisy at idle, as well as above 2,500rpm. Keep things relaxed and it fades into the background, but there’s no mistaking the diesel drone.
It’s a very economical unit, though, claiming an impressive 76.3mpg and 98g/km C02 emissions. Go for a business-orientated Elite model – priced on a par with our Lounge model – and you get an Eco pack that reduces that to 89g/km. The engine pulls strongly at low revs, and while it feels gutless higher up, that won’t matter to most people: use the 320Nm of torque by staying in gear and the Tipo makes good progress. The six-speed manual box is okay, but it’s easy to use rather than enjoyable, as the action is a bit too light to be satisfying.
The 1.6 diesel will be the top seller, as it’s the only engine on the fleet-focused Elite trim level. As that spec gets sat-nav as standard it’s a decent buy, but that leads us to theTipo’s biggest problem: the price. This top-spec Lounge model has sat-nav too, plus air-conditioning, cruise control, DAB radio, Bluetooth and steering wheel audio controls, and with the 1.6 diesel it costs £17,995 (plus £550 if you want a colour other than white).
With the paint option ticked that puts the car within £500 of a Vauxhall Astra Tech Line with a 134bhp 1.6-litre diesel engine. Not only is the Astra more powerful, it’s just as economical (claiming 76.3mpg), more fun to drive, has a higher-quality feel inside and offers more standard kit.
The Tipo’s five-inch screen looks tiny next to the Vauxhall’s eight-inch unit, too. The Skoda Rapid Spaceback – another budget-focused hatchback – is similarly priced: a 1.6-litre TDI diesel model in top-spec trim costs £18,520, although it’s not as well equipped as the Tipo. It’s a real shame, as in continental Europe the Tipo is much cheaper than it is here in the UK, and there’s also a larger display screen available there.
Where the Fiat starts to look more appealing is at the cheaper end of the range. You don’t need a model with sat-nav: the tiny screen is worse than any modern smartphone or standalone GPS unit, so we’d spend the money on one of those instead. Go for an entry-level 1.4 petrol and you could drive one away for just £159 a month on a PCP deal (with a deposit of £2,749).
That’s how to make the most of the Tipo. It can be the price of a supermini – or even a higher-spec city car – but with the space of a family hatch. The boot is bigger than the Astra’s (440 litres vs 370 litres), and rear legroom is also excellent.
The interior feels mismatched, with some soft-touch materials on the dash contrasting against plastics that would look out of date in a car that’s 10 years old, and it collects dirt far too easily.
It looks neat at a glance, but lacks flair and isn’t nearly as appealing as a Rapid or an Astra – a shame given the quirky and fun interiors in Fiat’s 500 and Panda models. With an entry-level car costing just £12,995, you can forgive some cost-saving measures. On a higher-spec model like the one we tested, though, it just doesn’t feel as good value.
It seems the world has gone crazy for SUVs, crossovers and high-riding hatchbacks, so it’s refreshing to drive a new drop-top sports car. It’s even nicer to drive a new small, Italian sports car, even if the Abarth 124 Spider isn’t exactly all-new or, for that matter. All-Italian. The Abarth is the more performance-orientated version of Fiat’s new 124 Spider, which is a less sporting version of Mazda’s MX-5.
If you didn’t know already, the 124 and MX-5 share the same basic underpinnings, but different engines and suspension calibration has given each one a different character.
Abarth has approached the 124 in much the same way as it has Fiat’s 500 in the past. This means more power, significant suspension revisions, more aggressive styling and substantially more noise.
Where the Fiat looks elegant, if a little bit like a Disneyfied version of an Italian sports car, the Abarth’s revised styling immediately gives it a more menacing presence. However, the Abarth retains much of the Fiat 124’s basic appearance, so It still looks slightly too large and a little cumbersome, almost as if a full-size, unaltered MX-5 could be hiding beneath the 124’s panels.
The Abarth’s visual aggression comes from a deeper front bumper, bigger wheels and four exhaust pipes instead of two, while the most obvious change on our test car is the matt black bonnet and boot, which are a no-cost ‘heritage look’ option.
So the Abarth certainly looks the sportiest of the Fiat/Abarth/Mazda trio and, thanks to the noise it makes, it sounds it too. As soon as you start the 124 there’s a loud blare from the exhaust that then settles into a deep, guttural rumble. Surrounded by Italians who are fascinated by this new and, Importantly, Italian car, the noise feels wholly appropriate. How suitable it will feel In a country such as the UK. where overtly sporty cars are often frowned upon, is another question altogether.
Once on the move the noise doesn’t seem to get much louder and you can lower the roof without fear of being deafened, but even so it could never be described as subtle. Given the Abarth uses the same 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine as the Fiat, the tremendous noise seems somewhat excessive given the modest displacement. Rather than making do with the Fiat’s 138bhp, though, Abarth squeezes 168bhp and 184lb ft of torque from just 1368cc. (For comparison, the 2-litre MX-5 produces 158bhp and 147lb ft.)
It isn’t just the engine where Abarth has tried to find more performance. The car also gets four-piston Brembo brakes (for the front) and a limited-slip differential and there are Bilstein dampers tuned to Abarth’s own specification, stiffer springs and thicker anti-roll bars, The LSD and anti- ro II bars bring a small increase in weight over the Fiat, adding 10 kg to take the total to 1060kg.
Unlike its siblings, the Abarth has a Sport mode. It’s engaged via a toggle switch aft of the gearlever and it relaxes the ESC, adds some weight to the steering and makes the accelerator feel more urgent. The more immediate throttle helps heel-and-toe downshifts, not that they’re difficult in the default mode as the pedals are nicety positioned, but the quicker response from the engine makes It just that bit easier to get the desired revs when you blip the throttle.
Inside, the Abarth 124 Spider is nowhere near as thoroughly modified as some other Abarth models; it doesn’t get proper bucket seats, lashings of carbonfibre or machined aluminium trim like a 595 Competizione, for example. Instead, the interior looks and feels much like an MX-5’s. Some of the trim is plusher, although the Abarth hasn’t forgotten it’s supposed to be the sports car, so Alcantara covers many of the surfaces, including the instrument binnacle to reduce reflections on the windscreen. One difference is the gearlever: it feelsshorter, with a fatter gearknob, and the shift action isn’t quite as light and snickety as the Mazda’s. More force is required, but the gearbox feels meaty and robust, so quick, determined gearchanges are satisfying.
It isn’t only the interior that feels like an MX-5, The way the Abarth drives – even with more power – is similar too.
The body moves in an exaggerated manner, small inputs to the throttle, steering and brakes causing the Abarth to squat, roll and dive accordingly. This gives the sense you’re really working the chassis, and when you’re unfamiliar with the car and the road, these traits make the Abarth a very dependable and faithful companion. It reacts in an intuitive manner and the engine’s muscularity means there’s always enough oomph for you to manipulate your line with the throttle.
The engine is unashamedly turbocharged, whistling and chirping over the cacophony made by the exhaust. There’s an obvious increase in boost at around 4000rpm but the slightly irregular power delivery doesn’t detract from the experience. It might not have a screaming, sonorous top end, but the 1.4 compensates with mid-range punch that can be used to great effect midcorner. And what it lacks in character it makes up for in volume.
“With the back end squatting as you work the throttle, the Abarth can be extremely good fun”
The engine and chassis make the traction control work hard, and even in Its sportier setting it feels like it’s restricting the Abarth. With the system fully off, the car feels like it can breathe and fully express itself, and without huge reserves of power it’s never intimidating. The limited-slip differential is well tuned to the rest of the car, the speed and degree at which it locks up really helping the Abarth feel instinctive and transparent. With the back end squatting as you work the rear wheels with the throttle, the Abarth can be extremely good fun.
As you become more comfortable, your confidence and your desire to go faster grow. But push harder and start to rely more on front-end grip and the Abarth becomes less enjoyable. As loyal to your inputs as the rear end is. the front axle is equally as vague and aloof.
The steering feels remote while the slightly soft suspension seemingly adds another, impenetrable layer for any feedback to get through. On our Italian test route the Abarth’s structure feels more solid than the shaky Fiat 124 and MX-5. so the steering wheel doesn’t constantly quiver in your palms, but still trying to gauge just how much the front tyres can cope with is practically impossible, and sadly the II mlt of grip from the 205/45 R17 Bridgestone Potenzas is relatively low, too.
” The excessive body roll then makes the 124 feel scruffy and frantic from behind the wheel”
Th is combi nation of I ittle gri p and not much feel means it’s all too easy to carry too much speed into a corner. The resulting understeer can abruptly transition into oversteer as the weight moves to the outside and the whole car leans significantly. The excessive body roll then makes the 124 feel scruffy and frantic from behind the wheel.
The wayward body means you’re never completely sure how the Abarth will react, so you tend to overcompensate with exaggerated reactions.
Braking harder and deeper into a corner does help prevent the front from pushing on, but then the severe shift in weight makes the usually trustworthy rear end start to feel unruly too. Over wet tarmac where grip Is constantly changing, it’s difficult to settle into a rhythm with the Spider. It will easily break traction on the wet surface, at either axle, but just as in the dry, once you’ve lost the front there’s very little satisfaction to be had.
The Abarth 124 Spider isn’t as extreme and uncompromising as some other Abarth models, but it is a charming and enjoyable car. It looks and sounds fun, and if you keep it within the limit of its front tyres it’s entertaining to drive, too. However, It isn’t leagues ahead of a well-specced MX-5 In terms of pure thrills, which could make its £5000-plus premium hard to justify for some.
Engine: In-line 4-cyl, 1368cc, turbo
Torque: 184 ft @ 2500rpm
0-62 mph: 6.8sec (claimed)
Top speed: 143mph
Basic price: £29,850
When the Fiat 500 Nuova appeared in 1957, longtime Fiat designer Dante Giacosa defended it by saying, “However small it might be, an automobile will always be more comfortable than a motor scooter.” Today though, the diminutive runabout needs no defense, for time has justified Giacosa’s faith—over four million 500s and derivatives were produced up to the demise of the Giardiniera estate in 1977.
Ital Design’s Fiat Cinquecento was the replacement for the Fiat 126 and the name was a patent con — despite suggesting the engine was a modest 500 ccs, the truth of the matter was that the smallest engine offered in the new Cinquecento scoped out at an impressive 704 ccs. Naughty! Continue reading “Fiat Cinquecento – 1991”
For once Pininfarina was not the port of call for an Italian car company that wanted to create a stylish roadster. Instead, Fiat’s own central design studio handled the development of the Tipo B Spider 176 project. This tidy little sports car with its rounded contours and coupe-like soft-top was based on the Fiat Punto Mk 1 platform. The Barchetta had Fiat’s venerable 1.8 litre petrol engine, which wasn’t the quietest motor in the car park — even though it was tuned and featured variable valve timing for the first time in a Fiat production car. Continue reading “Fiat Barchetta – 1995”
It was born in Italy as the Ritmo, but in Britain and North America it was called the Strada. For several years from 1978, this small family car appeared in equally dull versions whose only real claim to fame was that, thanks to Fiat’s pioneering investment in automated assembly, it could be advertised as ‘handbuilt by robots’. Continue reading “Fiat Strada Abarth 130 TC – 1982”
There’s no getting away from it — the word ‘homologate’ had to be mentioned sooner or later, inevitably in a context involving Ferrari. Maranello was besotted with racing, but formulae in which Ferrari wished to compete required homologation — approval by the governing body (FIA) that a particular car is eligible to race.
It hasn’t actually been spotted around, but the ideal bumper sticker for a Fiat 124 would be MY OTHER CAR IS A LADA. For it’s the 124’s rebirth as Russia’s Lada BA3-2102/Zhiguli (later wisely shortened to Lada 1200, then Lada Riva) that puts the Fiat 124 series close to the top of the all-time bestseller chart with going on for 15 million units sold.
This small rear-engined car was an important step in Fiat’s long march towards fully paid-up membership of the international car manufacturers’ club. The two-door Fiat 850 was introduced in 1964 to run alongside and eventually succeed the Fiat 600, that hugely successful Seicento city car produced between 1955 and 1969.
The Fiat 500 is art adorable bubble of a car conceived by a philosophy so successful that in 2007 it was relaunched in its umpteenth incarnation. The philosophy was originally dictated by post-World War II economics. Fiat took its prewar 500 (the ‘Topolino’, of 1936) and created the first true ‘city car’, capable (just) of carrying four people in completely basic, no-frills, pitifully low-powered, rear-engined, bony discomfort.