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.