Fiat Tipo - Launch Report

Tim Barnes-Clay heads to Turin to test Fiat’s all-new Tipo.

I have a soft spot for Fiat. Okay, I’m meant to be objective – but you always remember your first car, right? And mine was a Fiat Panda. There’s no logic involved here – it’s pure emotion – and so, for me, the brand is synonymous with 1988 and my glorious first days of true motoring independence.

The same year I got that Panda, a new Fiat was unleashed – the Tipo. The five-door hatch was boxy but appealed to the media and the masses, winning the European Car of the Year award in 1989.

Sadly, the adoration didn’t last and the Tipo went to the great scrapyard in the sky when it was replaced by the Bravo and Brava in ‘95. But Fiat may well have been listening to The Stone Roses at some point – particularly the track ‘I Am The Resurrection’. This title must have become stuck somewhere in the spirit of Fiat because here we are today with a brand new Tipo for 2016. Yes, the car is back from the dead and aims to replicate the early success of the former model.

If truth be told, the Tipo is no stranger to being brought back to life – the moniker was first seen on cars over 100 years ago. And in 2016, Fiat is determined to keep the name going again by going down the Dacia-esque value-for-money route. The Italian auto-maker is blunt about its intentions: the all-new Fiat Tipo is a car without frills and, even though it’s more or less emulating Dacia’s marketing strategy, its real competitor is the likes of the Skoda Rapid Spaceback.

Now, I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but the all-new Tipo is, in my opinion, better looking than the Czech-made car. This is due to its elegant nose design, and neater overall shape. Prices start from a remarkably low £12,995 on the road, which is bound to shake up the British motoring market.

The fresh Fiat Tipo is hitting our shores in September in five-door hatchback and ‘Station Wagon’ (estate) guises. The body forms are indistinguishable from the rear doors forward and the outside really doesn’t ooze ‘budget’ by any means. It’s only when you step inside that the ‘no frills’ element kicks-in.

Some of the switchgear is from the Fiat 500 range’s parts bin – as is the steering wheel. These components of the car feel good to the touch – it’s the plastics at knee-height on the doors and the dash that give the game away. The synthetic material is so cheap that it sounds hollow and scratches if you run your fingernails lightly over it. But, as with many things in life, there’s light and shade – and the Fiat Tipo’s factory-fitted kit tips the car back into the good books. All 2016 Fiat Tipo models receive six airbags, electric windows, DAB digital radio, USB and Bluetooth connectivity.

We tested the flagship ‘High’ trim version (equivalent to Fiat’s ‘Lounge’ spec) of the Tipo hatchback at its launch in Turin. Equipment at this level includes sat-nav with TomTom LIVE services, climate control, a rear view camera and 17-inch alloy wheels - pushing the price-tag up to £17,995. The car we drove came with Fiat’s well-known 120hp 1.6-litre Multijet II diesel power unit - but the range also offers the choice of a 1.3-litre oil-burner and 1.4 and 1.6-litre petrol engines.

Behind the wheel, it’s evident that the all-new Tipo has been put together so that it delivers comfort over everything else. Turin’s pothole ridden roads were a walk-in-the-park for the hatchback – its soft suspension enabling the car to sail over them without any discomposure in the cabin. Point its nose into a corner rapidly, though, and body roll is perceptible. The well-weighted steering helps to make up for this slightly, but it still doesn’t make you feel as connected with the tarmac as you’d like to be.

From a power point of view, the Tipo’s 1.6-litre oil-burning unit is nothing exceptional, but its six-speed manual transmission impresses with its positive-shift action. In lower gears lag is obvious and, while it’s a quiet cruiser, things become rowdy from 3,000rpm onwards. It tugs well, though, once that rev range is reached and is swift enough for the class of car. Its carbon dioxide emissions of 98g/km are just below the Skoda Rapid Spaceback, which in 1.6 TDI CR 115 SE Tech guise, emits 99g/km. Pricing is similar - the Skoda being just £675 cheaper at £17,320.

The all-new Tipo gets things right again when it comes to room. It’s even lengthier than a far more expensive Volkswagen Golf, so legroom is bountiful for rear seat occupants. The slanting roofline cuts into head space a little at the back, but this will only concern passengers over 6ft tall. The hatchback’s load-area is seriously decent, too - class leadingly so at 440 litres. In real-world terms, that’s more than enough space for the weekly shop and a couple of toddlers’ buggies.

All things considered, the all-new Tipo is mediocre to drive and its cabin quality isn’t the best. But it does look good; it has bags of room; it’s comfortable and it comes loaded with kit. So even though 2016’s Fiat Tipo has a few negative points, it still represents good value for money.