Fiat reverted to the 'Tipo' badge for its family hatch contender, that name being Italian for 'type'. So what type of Focus-class rival is this? We're told to expect space, economy and value pricing. Sounds promising. Jonathan Crouch looks at what's on offer.
Ten Second Review
Fiat's entrant in the family hatch segment is this car, the Tipo. Smartly styled in Italy and developed and built in Turkey, it looks a much more credible contender than anything the Italian brand has brought us in this class for decades. UK buyers get a choice of petrol engines and a frugal diesel, plus hatch and estate bodystyles that are exceptionally spacious.
Fiat has never managed to crack the Focus-sized family hatchback sector. Over the last few decades we've had a succession of models - the Bravo and Brava twins, the Stilo, and, most recently, another Bravo line-up. None of them made any real impact on folk much more likely to either buy Ford's best seller or the latest versions of Vauxhall's Astra or Volkswagen's Golf.
In recent years, it looked as if Fiat might be abandoning this traditional market segment in favour of more specialised Crossover models like their 500X. But cars like that still sell in something of a niche, so the Italian brand has, once more, turned it's hand to creating a conventional contender in this class. Arguably the last time the brand was truly competitive here was with its Tipo family hatch, which sold between 1988 and 1995. It's appropriate then, that this current model also wears a 'Tipo' badge.
The smart styling won't disguise the fact that this is unlikely to be the sharpest handling car in its sector, but we reckon it's close enough to the class leaders to satisfy most potential buyers. The engine range includes three options in total. There is a single turbo diesel unit - a 1.6-litre MultiJet II with an output of 120hp and 320Nm. This 1.6-litre diesel engine can also be combined with a six-speed TCT twin-clutch auto transmission. The petrol engine range kicks off with a 1.4-litre 16v powerplant producing 95hp and 125Nm, then moves on to a 1.4 T-Jet turbo petrol variant with 120hp and 206Nm.
The Tipo's roadgoing demeanour has been set up to favour relaxed comfort rather than any kind of dynamic drive. You can see why: this is, after all, a car designed primarily around the needs of buyers in developing countries who simply want to get comfortably from A to B. So there's no trick suspension for fancy ride quality, torque vectoring for classy cornering or ridiculously powerful engine options that hardly anyone will buy. Where Turin has had modern carry-over technology it can use - the engines, the modular platform, the Uconnect infotainment technology - then that's been thrown into the development mix, but the over-riding priority here has been in the creation of the best possible car for the lowest possible price.
Design and Build
Like its predecessor, this Tipo hatchback is exceptionally roomy and is capable of accommodating three six-feet-plus adult passengers in the rear - thanks to class-leading legroom and outstanding headroom within its 4.37m long, 1.79m wide and 1.50m tall dimensions. Its boot capacity is also best-in-class with a volume of 440-litres, while the estate version adds an additional 110-litres of boot space which, at 550 litres, is also class leading. It can carry loads of up to 1.8m in length courtesy of an extra 20cm of length (4.57m), a flip-and-fold 60/40 split rear seats and completely flat load floor. The estate body style has a height of 1.51m thanks to the standard-fit longitudinal roof bars.
Loading the boot of the Station Wagon estate is aided by a low load sill with reconfigurable components such as an adjustable load floor and removable side storage panels to further increase the width of the luggage compartment. At the wheel, the Tipo features numerous cabin compartments with a variety of shapes and capacities totalling no less than 12-litres. Easily reachable by driver and passengers, these compartments are perfect for storing personal objects, smartphones, game consoles, bottles and coins.
Market and Model
Fiat knows that it will have to price this car competitively if it's to make any real impact at all on the Focus, Astra and Golf-dominated family hatch segment. So prices start at around £15,000 for the hatch, with a premium of around £1,000 for the Station Wagon estate. There's a choice of six trim levels - 'Easy', 'Street', 'Mirror', 'Lounge', 'S-Design' and 'Sport'. The asking figures mean that this car can significantly undercut Focus prices and will be hugely cheaper than a comparable Golf. Fiat's targets here will be value-orientated players in this class like Nissan's Pulsar, Kia's cee'd, Citroen's C4 and Hyundai's i30.
Even at the kinds of figures we're talking here, Fiat will still need to make sure that this car is very well specified - and has. All UK models come as standard with air conditioning, Bluetooth 'phone connectivity, power mirrors, a multi-function steering wheel and a DAB audio system. Plus of course there are all the usual safety systems - a full complement of twin front, side and curtain airbags, plus the usual electronic assistance for stability, traction and braking. Fiat also offers some of the latest camera-related safety aids, including lane departure warning and an autonomous braking system that scans the road ahead as you drive for potential colliosion hazards. If one is detected, you'll be warned. If you don't respond - or aren't able to - then the car will automatically apply braking to decrease the severity of any resulting accident.
Cost of Ownership
The 1.6 litre turbo diesel engine, fitted with second-generation MultiJet technology and variable geometry turbocharger, delivers impressive fuel efficiency and low emissions. On the official combined test cycle, the Tipo 1.6 MultiJet II 120hp returns up to 53.3mpg and up to 113g/km of CO2emissions. Go for the base 1.4-litre 95bhp engine and you're looking at up to 41.5mpg and up to 132g/km. With the 1.4 T-Jet petrol, it's up to 39.2mpg and up to 154g/km of CO2.
Finally, a word about warranties. You get two years of manufacturer cover with this car, plus a further year from the dealer. Plus there's no mileage limitation, which makes this Fiat deal better than the restricted three year/60,000 mile package you get with rival Astra, Golf and Focus models. There's also a year of roadside assistance cover, a reasonable three year paintwork warranty and an eight-year anti-perforation guarantee.
Fiat knows it has an awful lot of ground to make up in this segment. Is this Tipo the car to do it? It certainly offers a more competitive proposition in this sector than anything the brand has been able to offer for a very long time. And it can be put together in its Turkish factory very cheaply, allowing UK Fiat dealers to offer value pricing and tempting deals, yet at the same time, include lots of equipment for the money.
No, it's not going to appeal to someone who would otherwise be buying a Volkswagen Golf. Or even, perhaps, a comparable Mazda3 or Honda Civic. But then here, you're not going to be paying the sort of inflated prices that tend to be attached to those kinds of cars. If you were looking at more affordable models in this sector, say, a Kia cee'd or a Nissan Pulsar, we definitely think you should include the Tipo in your deliberations. And it's a long time since we've been able to say that about any kind of Fiat in this class.