New Fiat Tipo 2016 review
Fiat is back in the family hatchback sector with an all new Tipo. Can it challenge the Focus and Astra?
If you’re a fan of the styling, and need a practical family car, the Tipo could make a lot of sense. A low starting price and solid kit list mean it’s decent value for money, plus there’s plenty of space in the back. The fact remains, though, that pricier rivals feel better built, are more fun to drive and even cheaper to run. The most disappointing thing about the Tipo is its lack of character, especially given the charm of other Fiats such as the Panda.
You might recognise the Fiat Tipo name, most recently used on a humble hatchback in the early 1990s. This new car has little in common with that model, however, and is Fiat’s latest stab at taking on the family hatchback market and battling rivals including the Vauxhall Astra and Skoda Rapid Spaceback.
We’ve already tried the saloon version, but that model won’t be available in the UK. Now we’ve had the chance to test the Brit-friendly hatchback, here in 1.6-litre diesel form. This engine is likely to be the top seller here, though the range will include more modest and affordable units from launch.
The Tipo is positioned to compete with its rivals on value - and with a starting price of £12,995 it is one of the cheaper C-segment hatchbacks on sale. Standard equipment includes a DAB radio, USB and Bluetooth connectivity, steering wheel media controls and air-conditioning - but this 1.6 diesel will come with a five-inch touchscreen display, LED lights, alloy wheels, parking sensors and cruise control.
The diesel engine feels punchy, thanks to the 320Nm of torque available from 1,750rpm, and in-gear performance is on a par with rivals like the Skoda Rapid Spaceback's 1.6 TDI. It does get noisy when accelerating, but at low revs it’s perfectly quiet inside the cabin. Road and wind noise is unobtrusive at most speeds too, meaning the Fiat is surprisingly refined.
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It’s comfortable too, with supportive seats and a good driving position complementing the soft suspension. Potholes and undulations in the road surface do cause a bit of bounce, but the Tipo’s ride never felt harsh on the roads around Turin during our test drive.
The trade-off for that ride is in the handling, as the Tipo suffers from fairly significant body roll when cornering quickly. The steering lacks feel, and the front-end isn't particularly keen in the bends either. That’s not to say the Tipo is bad to drive, but the Mazda 3, Vauxhall Astra and Ford Focus are all a better bet for keen drivers.
Unfortunately for Fiat fans, the Tipo is an uncharacteristically dull car for the brand. While the Panda and 500 have their faults, both are charming and fun in their own way, and this is a big part of their appeal - but the Tipo is disappointingly dull to drive, as well as to look at.
While the Zagato-style double-bubble roof and the bulging bonnet are nice styling touches, the overall shape of the Tipo is rather uninspiring. The sporty Mazda puts it to shame, and the Tipo’s usually stylish Italian roots add to the disappointment.
Once you see how practical the car is it’s easier to see the rationale behind the design, however. With a 440-litre boot it’s one of the most practical cars in the class, though the Peugeot 308 is bigger inside. There’s lots of legroom though, with enough space for adults to sit comfortably behind the driver - though taller passengers may find headroom a little tight.
The doors open wide as well, which should make fitting a child seat that bit easier. Storage in the cabin is good, although the hard plastics and cloth upholstery already seemed to be collecting dust and dirt on our brand-new test cars.
Just like the exterior, the Tipo’s interior doesn’t have much charm, and although the plastic surfaces aren’t too scratchy they do look rather dated for a brand-new model like this. The touchscreen display looks good and is easy to use, though, and the optional TomTom- sourced sat-nav is excellent. Our car featured smartphone connectivity as well, which adds support for music streaming and social media features.
Economy from the 1.6-litre diesel model is pretty good, with Fiat quoting emissions of 98g/km and fuel economy of 76.3mpg. There’s no model in the range that can match the Astra’s 91.2mpg and 82g/km diesel, but the Tipo still qualifies for the free tax bracket, while a low list price should help company car buyers save some cash, too.
Ultimately though, the Tipo isn’t so cheap that it will cause concern for cars like the Vauxhall Astra and Skoda Rapid Spaceback. The extra you’ll pay for an equivalent Astra will be worth it, as that car is more fun to drive, has a more upmarket interior and cheaper to run.