Fiat Tipo is priced well but falls short on power

Com­pared to tur­bocharged ri­vals the Ital­ian hatch­back’s 1.6 en­gine strug­gles at Gaut­eng alti­tude

The Star Early Edition - - ROAD TEST - JA­SON WOOSEY

EVER heard of a Fiat Tipo? If you’re a car nerd of sorts then you might have at some point, but for the av­er­age South African this will be a com­pletely new propo­si­tion. It’s ac­tu­ally a throw­back to a hatch­back that Fiat built in the late eight­ies and early nineties, but which never made it to our shores.

Like its an­ces­tor, the Tipo loosely fits into the Golf and As­tra class, but un­like its Bravo pre­de­ces­sor, the new­comer has a more back-to-ba­sics ap­proach to life. In an age where ev­ery­thing is try­ing to be all fancy and up­scale, Fiat hap­pily throws around pay­off lines like “Skills, no frills” for its Tipo hatch, and its sedan coun­ter­part, and that is ac­tu­ally quite a re­fresh­ing thing to hear.

This at­ti­tude shows in the styling too. The Tipo is not try­ing to be a daz­zlingly sexy Ital­ian model, al­though call­ing most spec­i­fi­ca­tion grades ‘Easy’ (our car was a 1.6i Easy auto) pos­si­bly makes it sound a lit­tle naugh­tier than it is. In­stead it’s a clean, ma­ture and mildly at­trac­tive de­sign with a hand­somely pro­nounced belt­line and some traces of BMW 1 Se­ries in its side pro­file.

Enough of that, let’s size it up. Mea­sur­ing 4368mm from front to back, the not-so-lit­tle Fiat is ac­tu­ally a good 90mm longer than a VW Golf, al­beit 7mm nar­rower, while sit­ting on a slightly longer wheel­base. It’s big­ger than prac­ti­cally ev­ery­thing in its class and has a spa­cious 440 litre boot. Rear legroom is am­ple and eas­ily at the sharp end of the class, dare we even spec­u­late that Pavarotti would have slot­ted in there quite com­fort­ably. So you’re get­ting a lot of space for the money as the Tipo is priced at the lower end of the seg­ment, start­ing at R249 900 for the 1.4i Pop, and thereby un­der­cut­ting all its ma­jor ri­vals, in­clud­ing the Ford Fo­cus (from R259 900), Opel As­tra (R264 300), Toy­ota Auris (R271 000) and VW Golf (R289 900). Our range-top­ping 1.6i auto test car re­tails at R294 900.

Cu­ri­ously, though, Fiat has also made a blun­der on the pric­ing front, with hatch­back mod­els com­mand­ing a R20 000 pre­mium over the equiv­a­lent sedans, so you’d have to be a real hatch fa­natic to not opt for the lat­ter, which seems like quite a bar­gain at R229 900 for the base model.

Yet even if we con­cede that the hatch­backs still of­fer good value in re­la­tion to their ri­vals, there’s the in­evitable ques­tion of whether Fiat has cut cor­ners else­where.

Sadly, yes, I must con­fess as we peek un­der the bon­net. Un­like most com­peti­tors, there is no tur­bocharg­ing for the petrol mod­els and in fact the en­gine ca­pac­i­ties are quite small by class stan­dards, with the ma­jor­ity of Ti­pos pow­ered by a 1.4-litre nor­mally as­pi­rated petrol en­gine that musters just 70kW and 127Nm. Our car’s 1.6-litre en­gine pro­duces 81kW at 5500rpm and 152Nm at 4500rpm, and it’s only avail­able with a six-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion.

Then there’s the weight prob­lem, with our car Tipo-ing the scales at over 1300kg.

The re­sult of that power-to-weight deficit is that the Tipo is quite slow, and econ­omy is merely av­er­age, with our car drinking 8.2 litres per 100km un­der mixed con­di­tions.

Al­though the trans­mis­sion is smooth enough in its op­er­a­tion, it’s not al­ways an easy-go­ing driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence as the ‘box of­ten has to labour the en­gine to keep up with fast-paced city av­enue traf­fic and it is rather loud at high revs. Over­tak­ing on the open road is an ex­er­cise in pa­tience and even mild hills on high­ways re­quire a bit of a run-up.

Yet other than that, and pre­sum­ing that most of the time you’re happy to plod around town at a rea­son­ably mild pace, it’s ac­tu­ally a pleas­ant and ‘Easy’ car to drive. The ride qual­ity is agree­able over most sur­faces, the steer­ing pro­vides rea­son­ably good feed­back and it’s easy to get into a com­fort­able po­si­tion be­hind the wheel. It helps too, that Fiat has the er­gonomics taped. There’s a but­ton on the leather-cov­ered steer­ing wheel for prac­ti­cally ev­ery­thing you can think of, be­sides pour­ing your espresso, and when you do run out of things to push, the touch-screen au­dio sys­tem is an easy stretch as it’s po­si­tioned re­ally high on the dash­board. The sys­tem is quite ba­sic, and sim­ple to op­er­ate.

The ‘Easy’ mod­els, which span most of the line-up, are also very gen­er­ously equipped. In ad­di­tion to that afore­men­tioned touch-screen set-up with Blue­tooth con­nec­tiv­ity, they pack cruise con­trol, au­to­matic cli­mate con­trol and rear park dis­tance con­trol.

As for the look and feel of things, it’s a far cry from the high-end, el­e­gant snooti­ness of the Golf and even the lines are more func­tional than pretty, but then I wouldn’t go as far as call­ing it cheap look­ing - even if some of the plas­tics are on the shiny side.

Safety wise, it packs sta­bil­ity con­trol and tyre pres­sure mon­i­tor­ing, but Fiat has skimped a bit on the in­flat­able cush­ions, with side and cur­tain airbags cost­ing ex­tra. A three-year or 100 000km ser­vice plan (and match­ing war­ranty) is in­cluded in the price. VER­DICT The Tipo is a prac­ti­cal, well-priced and gen­er­ally like­able lit­tle car, but the petrol mod­els strug­gle on the per­for­mance front, par­tic­u­larly at Gaut­eng al­ti­tudes. If you’re look­ing for the best price to sat­is­fac­tion ra­tio, the 1.3 tur­bod­iesel sedan is likely to be your best bet.

R

Tipo sells at lower end of the seg­ment against com­peti­tors like the As­tra and Golf.

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