Earlier this month, Matt Prior, a motoring hack with Autocar in the UK, tweeted: “Which hire company has bought all the Fiat Tipos?”
The tweet made me laugh, because I had only just given back the Tipo 1.6 Easy automatic hatchback that we had on test and his question hit the nail on the head.
I laughed even more when a newsroom colleague asked me if it was an Opel Astra? No, I replied, although it does sit on a joint General Motors Fiat small car platform. But her question was appropriate because the styling of the Tipo could best be described as generic. From some angles it looks very Astra, from others more Peugeot 308. It has been designed by the stylish-sounding Centro Stilo, but there is nothing unique when it comes to its styling at all.
Harking back to the days of the ad for the Fiat Palio, the new Tipo could easily be described as nice and the nicest bit about it is easily its price. Our test model retails at R294 900 for which you actually get quite a bit of car, including superb boot space and legroom. Yes, no-one is going to give it a second glance, but it undercuts all its major rivals such as the Ford Focus, VW Golf and Toyota Auris.
All of this is not to say that its styling is offensive, or even bland. It is just, nice. The same is true of the interior, although here you can clearly see where Fiat has managed to keep its costs down. In particular, the plastics along the top of the doors would be an embarrassment to some Chinese car makers. The same is true of those surrounding the glove box and along the centre tunnel. None of these things will bother a rental company, of course.
In spite of the naff plastics, the build quality seems decent and the doors even close with a relatively satisfying clunk. Perhaps not quite up to the feel of some German rivals, but again, we find ourselves referring back to the price.
That competitive price point is probably also why the Tipo lacks any of the good turbocharged engines in the Fiat Chrysler stable. Instead our test model had a normally-aspirated 1.6. This need not be a bad thing, of course, after all it is not that long ago that a normally-aspirated 1.6 was the mainstay of many a C-segment hatch model line-up.
But I found myself longing for one of those older engines. Producing 81kW and a measly 152Nm, the 1.6 in the Tipo struggles to have any kind of get-up-and-go whatsoever. This is exacerbated by the auto box and the fact that the peak power is only available at 5 500rpm with peak torque at 4 500rpm.
This means you have to wind it up to get the most out of it and with sound insulation also costing money, the engine can become rather noisy around town. Settle it on a longer stretch of highway at cruising speed and things are not so bad. It will be great for tourists cruising along the Garden Route, provided they don’t have to overtake anyone up a hill.
The ride comfort is quite good — again, not quite on a par with some major rivals, more perhaps like the last generation Kia Cerato — but it will be fine for those who want a vehicle to commute around town and which offers all the essential kit.
And it does have plenty of kit, at least in this Easy derivative. It has the company’s UConnect infotainment system, cruise control, a multifunction steering wheel, climate control, USB port and cup holders. All the essential stuff for a car that we have to think has been designed and engineered mainly to compete on price, although without the option of the Safety Package available in Europe, the Tipo in SA does also fall short when it comes to safety, receiving only three stars from EuroNcap.
Perhaps the Tipo, which is also available as a sedan, would be a good option for the Uber business or it could make a good rental car?
We know we have been fairly harsh on the poor Tipo, but where the company could have come up with something unique, stylish and with a good engine, it chose instead to produce what could best be described as a bean counter on wheels. – Mark Smyth
Fast Facts: 2017 Fiat Tipo 1.6 Easy automatic
Engine: 1598cc four-cylinder petrol
Power: 81kW at 5 500rpm
Torque: 152Nm at 4 500rpm
Transmission: six-speed automatic
0-100km/h: 11.2-seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 192km/h (claimed)
Fuel: 6.2l/100km (claimed combined)
Price: From R294 900