Good: keenly priced, quiet, spacious
Bad: some nasty plastics, tiny touchscreen
Price: from £12,995; the car tested costs £17,995
Fiat has decided to divide its product range into two streams, called Emotional and Rational. The Emotional line-up currently consists of the 500 family of city car, cabrio, MPV and softroader, plus the recently launched 124 Spider sports car. On the Rational side are sensible, no-nonsense cars like the Panda, Qubo and Doblo.
And now into the sensible segment comes a new arrival – the Fiat Tipo. It borrows the name of a boxy 1980s hatchback that found two million buyers over seven years.
The new Tipo is not boxy, despite belonging to the Rational side of Fiat’s split personality. It’s pretty slinky, in fact, providing pleasing proportions from most angles. There are hints of likeable Italians of the past – a whiff of Alfa 147 in the side view, even a vague nod to the old 124 around the nose.
There are also some nicely chiselled creases along the flanks, and a channel pressed into the Tipo’s roof (which helps to reduce drag) that is echoed by a matching bonnet bulge – as if material scooped away has been moved. It’s clear that Fiat’s stylists have tried hard to produce a shape with some character and panache.
Lively looks aside, Fiat hopes to sell the Tipo on the basis of a few very sensible criteria – low cost, ample space and a peaceful cabin. Good economy should also be on offer, in the diesel versions at least, which all have official CO2 ratings below 100g/km. Opt for the diesel Business Edition with Eco Pack and the CO2 rating is 89g/km, with consequent benefits for company car tax.
The Tipo does feel remarkably spacious inside for a mid-size hatchback, especially in the rear. The legroom is roughly on a par with the Nissan Pulsar, which also aims for the rational rather than emotional buyer. The new Italian scores over the Nissan with a bigger boot, offering 440 versus 385 litres. Happily, both cars can accommodate a space-saver spare wheel rather than a hit-and-miss inflation kit.
The Tipo is also available as an estate, providing another 100 litres with seats up, and a vast potential load bay aided by rear seats that fold properly. The cushion lifts up to let the seatback flop down level with the boot.
Price will be one of the main attractions, with the Tipo range starting at just £12,995. Rising through the range then tends to go in £1,000 jumps - £13,995 will let you go up one trim level, from Easy to Easy Plus, say, or from a hatch to an estate at the same trim level. It also costs £1,000 to upgrade from the 95bhp petrol engine to the 120bhp option.
There is a slightly wider £2,000 gulf between equivalent petrol and diesel models, however, although the diesels will provide plenty of torque so should feel more capable as well as being more economical at the pumps.
As you’d expect for the price, there’s relatively little luxury on offer even in the top trim levels. While the top of the dashboard has a yielding feel, pretty much every other surface will firmly resist a probing finger. The Tipo does, however, feel quite sturdy as a result.
The shiny, mock-leather finish given to most of the interior surfaces is not quite so reassuring. It looks pretty horrible and it’s hard to understand why Fiat didn’t opt for a more honest finish. Some evenly spaced dimples would be preferable to fake leathery wrinkles.
The choice of surface is still harder to understand when you consider the effort Fiat went to with the plastics in the Panda, which are finished off with a charming pattern made up of the jumbled letters of the car’s name.
The Tipo I drove was a 1.6 MultiJet diesel in Lounge trim. Offering up to 120bhp and 320Nm of torque it’s a fairly brisk and lively proposition that can reach 62mph in 9.8 seconds. I found it quite involving to drive, with precise steering and a chunky feel to its gearchange. Indeed it is hard to believe the Tipo comes from the same company as the 500L, which I found vague and unnerving to drive on a twisty road.
For the economy conscious, the Tipo’s instrument cluster provides helpful hints about when to change gear, and there’s a prompt and unfussy stop-start system to save fuel at a standstill.
The central touchscreen measures just five-inches from corner to corner, making it not a great deal bigger than the average smartphone. Navigation comes as standard with the Lounge trim, but you can also add it to the base Easy trim for £500, or to the mid-range Easy Plus edition for £250.
That may or may not feel like good value compared to a device you can stick to the windscreen, though the TomTom navigation software employed does at least do a reliable job of getting you from A to B.
There’s nothing special about the Tipo’s front strut and rear beam suspension, but the car manages to rustle up a composed ride over bumps, combining decent comfort with well-judged cornering stiffness. You may not win any races but you stand a good chance of arriving fresh and unruffled. Good front seats help, providing firm support during a long day of driving.
There are no eco or sport modes to play with, though Fiat has provided its usual City mode for the steering, which serves up extra power assistance for parking – allowing you to twirl the wheel with one finger.
Fiat says the Tipo is class leading in interior calm, quoting an “articulation index” of 85%. I can’t really comment as I have no idea what the articulation index of any rivals might be, or what, exactly, an articulation index is.
During my tests the Tipo did seem to suffer quite badly from tyre roar over poor surfaces but on better tarmac it was indeed more serene than I expected. At motorway speeds in sixth gear the engine settles to a low drone and there’s very little wind noise, so I am prepared to believe that Fiat’s baffling figure might be an honest measure of a quiet car.
Overall, I felt that the Tipo offered a rather pleasing combination of talents, especially for the price. If you don’t mind Fiat’s iffy choice of plastics, there’s really nothing much to grumble about.