First Drive: 2017 Fiat Tipo Hatch & Sedan

First Drive: 2017 Fiat Tipo Hatch & Sedan
 

A glance at the launch schedule for some of the bigger manufacturers and one could be forgiven for thinking there is no end to the number of models they unveil.

A new engine, a slight change to design or perhaps a completely new model. For the big boys, hardly a month goes by without a launch of some sort. But for brands at the opposite end of the spectrum, it’s a completely different scenario.

Take Fiat, for example. Its new passenger car lineup is limited to the 500, 500X and Abarth range, and for April it sold a combined total of 70 units. Compare that with, say, Volkswagen, which sold more than 4 500 cars in the same period.

That’s obviously an unfair comparison, but it does give some perspective.

So it was with a great deal of interest that I travelled to the Eastern Cape last week for the launch of the all-new Fiat Tipo.

It’s taken a while for the vehicle to find its way down to the tip of Africa since its European launch in 2015, and will, according to a local representative, “put Fiat back in the mainstream”.

Someone even went as far as to say it would “turn the segment on its head”. Bullish talk indeed.

Problem is, slotting into the ultra-competitive C-Segment, it is going toe to toe with the likes of the Volkswagen Jetta, Toyota Corolla, Mazda3, Hyundai Elantra, Ford Focus and Honda Ballade. Hard hitters indeed.

The Tipo will be available in two body styles (sedan and hatchback), three trim levels (Pop, Easy, Lounge), three engines (1.3 diesel, 1.4 petrol, 1.6 petrol) and three transmission types (five- or six-speed manual, six-speed automatic).

First a bit about how the sedan and hatchback actually look.

According to the press release: “The Tipo was designed in Italy by the Fiat Style Centre and developed in Turkey together with Tofas R&D … involving a dedicated team of more than 2 000 people during the three-year development process.”

That’s a hell of a lot of man hours dedicated to a vehicle — and looking at the styling of the sedan in particular, one has to ask whether some of the best designs weren’t perhaps left on the drawing board.

Unfortunately, the Tipo’s generic looks lack the individual flair that comes through so strongly in vehicles such as the aforementioned 500 and the Panda.

It has been mentioned that the sedan may find its way into rental fleets, which is hardly going to appeal to a motorist looking at making a statement.

The hatchback, though, does offer a glimmer of hope. With a rather elongated shape, rear spoiler, nice overhangs and floating front grille (also on the sedan), it is a vehicle that you won’t be embarrassed to be seen in.

Driving from Port Elizabeth down to the beautiful village of Cape St Francis in the Eastern Cape, it was the sedan with a 1.4-litre petrol engine that we first got to sample.

Pushing out a claimed 70kW, the vehicle definitely felt underpowered. Put the same car on the Highveld with five passengers, a boot full of luggage and a trailer for good measure and you would be passed by a runner if you tried to go up a steep incline.

The pick of the engines has to be the 1.3-litre diesel. Although it produces an identical 70kW, it is its increase in torque (200Nm) that makes the car feel less asthmatic.

Work the five-speed gearbox and you can actually get up a decent head of steam — and the ride itself is quite acceptable.

The hatchback offers the choice of cloth or leather seats (cloth only in the sedan) and the list of both comfort and safety features is quite comprehensive — even in the entry-level Pop model.

In closing the business presentation, it was said Fiat would “never grow as a brand if we don’t expand”.

Quite true, but whether the Tipo is the car to do that, remains to be seen. – Bruce Fraser

2017 Fiat Tipo Pricing:

Sedan:

1.4l Pop: R229 900

1.4l Easy: R249 900

1.3l D Easy: R274 900

1.6l Easy Auto: R274 900

Hatchback:

1.4l Pop: R249 900

1.4l Easy: R269 900

1.4l Lounge: R289 900

1.6l Easy Auto: R294 900

All of the Tipo models come with a standard three-year/100 000km warranty and service plan.