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Fiat Tipo review: it’s cheap, but is it cheerful?

Fiat Tipo

Fiat now claims to be “one brand with two souls”. By that, it means that it makes fun, desirable cars like the sporty 124 Spider and retro 500, while also producing very sensible cars such as the Panda and now this, the Tipo.

This medium-sized family hatchback market is filled with sensible cars though. The Ford Focus, the Hyundai i30, the Vauxhall Astra, the Volkswagen Golf – all of these brilliant products, and many more, are direct rivals to the new Fiat Tipo. That means the newcomer has to be extremely good.

Not unlike many of its rivals, the Tipo comes in hatchback and estate form, with Fiat expecting 80 per cent of buyers to choose this hatchback model.

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Space 8/10

A roomy relief for tall rear passengers

2016 Fiat Tipo boot

The Tipo offers some of the best accommodation in its segment. The front passengers are well looked-after with comfortable seats and excellent headroom, while those behind get an impressive amount of space to stretch their legs. 

Wide door apertures help with getting in and out and boot space is adequate for the segment. Rivals such as the Honda Civic offer more room, but the Tipo’s luggage provision couldn’t be described as small. It beats the Golf and the Focus and has a practical layout.

Comfort 7/10

Materials used fall short of expectations

2016 Fiat Tipo rear seats 

Soft seats and padded roof surfaces make this a far more comfortable interior than can be found in some competitors, while the suspension does a reasonable job of smoothing out unkempt roads. Some juddering does seep into the car itself through both the suspension and steering column at higher speeds – the Tipo is in no way class-leading but doesn’t ride like a cheap car.

Petrol Tipos insulate their occupants against noise reasonably well, but go for a diesel and the engine’s clatter can be heard at idle and at high revs. Wind whistling around the wing mirrors is pronounced at motorway speeds and the low-level rumble of tyres on concrete does penetrate the interior when you drive over certain patches of motorway surface.

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Dashboard layout 4/10

Inadequate infotainment system

2016 Fiat Tipo dashboard 

The Tipo’s interior lacks the technological mod-cons of its more upmarket rivals, instead presenting you with functional, intuitive controls. Some audio buttons are mounted on the rear of the steering wheel, presumably to avoid cluttering the driver’s field of view, but you get used to that ergonomic quirk quite quickly.

The touchscreen, however, is tiny. At just five inches diagonally, the display is smaller than that of many mobile phones. The software is dated and frequently hard to read – a disappointment, considering the rest of Europe gets a full-sized one. Given that it’s an optional extra on all but the top-spec car, though, we’d recommend avoiding it and buying a third party system. 

The Tipo’s scratchy interior plastics stand out in a field of increasingly well-upholstered family hatchbacks. 

Easy to drive 7/10

A straightforward car in town and country

2016 Fiat Tipo driving, rear 

The Tipo is an uncomplicated car to drive. The steering is light and direct, and all of the controls are in the right place and feel responsive. Ignoring the paltry touchscreen offering, the Tipo’s main functions are intuitive and easy to reach. Visibility is good, and parking sensors are fitted to all but the base model to help guide you into tight spots.

Fun to drive 7/10

Better than most, but behind class leaders

2016 Fiat Tipo driving, front 

Both the Vauxhall Astra and Ford Focus are superior in this department. Buyers looking for a rewarding car to throw around windy roads should definitely consider these rivals as they aren’t that much more expensive, and on finance most people are unlikely to notice the difference.

However, the Tipo is more satisfying to drive than its Korean rivals, the Kia Cee’d and Hyundai i30, and still represents a nice-handling budget hatchback.

Reliability 7/10

Too early to say for sure

Fiat has never had the best reputation for reliability. Whereas cars like the Hyundai i30 and Kia Cee’d come with enormous warranties, the Tipo comes with a more conventional three-year, 60,000-mile one. As it’s a new car, it’s impossible to accurately predict how reliable it will be, but we’d expect a Fiat to be more likely to develop faults than a comparable model from (for example) Mazda.

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Fuel economy  7/10

Quoted figures are impossible to achieve

Fiat hasn’t set out to build the most efficient car, but all of the engines available in the Tipo appear to be quite reasonable on the pocket. The noisy 1.6 diesel sipped fuel at a rate of between 40 and 50mpg during some spirited drives around North Wales, but this falls way short of the quoted (and inherently flawed) official figure of 76mpg.

The petrol engines are likely to be a compelling option for anyone who doesn’t expect to cover serious motorway miles – they’re cheaper, smoother and quieter to drive, and still returned between 40 and 50mpg in official fuel tests.

Affordability 8/10

Where the Tipo excels

The main selling point of the Tipo is “amore, for less”. Nauseating though this may be, the Tipo is clearly a serious step in the direction of affordable motoring. With prices for the base-spec model starting at around £13,000 – which will get you a very simple car with a small petrol engine and a manual gearbox – it’s easy to see where the Tipo could fit into the market, effectively offering you the advantages of a new car for the price of a second-hand one.

As with other characteristics of the Tipo, though, it’s not as compelling as it is in Europe. Expect to see this cheap family hatchback all over the Mediterranean – it might remain something of a rarity here.

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Safety 6/10

Not generous

While all models come with six airbags, more modern active safety equipment feels a bit sparse, with no automatic emergency braking as standard. This, along with adaptive cruise control and speed limiter, is available as an optional extra.

Euro NCAP, the crash test organisation, hasn’t got its hands on a Tipo yet, but the model needs to score highly in order to be compared favourably with the class leaders. Fiat has historically underperformed in these tests, with only the 500L earning five stars since 2012.

All models come with a space saver spare wheel, with a full-size alternative available as an optional extra.

Standard spec 6/10

Trim levels from ‘austere’ to ‘expensive’

2016 Fiat Tipo heater controls 

While it features air-conditioning, the entry-level Easy model is otherwise a rather spartan car, with steel wheels rather than alloys and no infotainment system. 

Upgrading to Easy Plus adds alloys, a leather steering wheel, electric rear windows, the five-inch touchscreen and rear parking sensors.

Top-spec lounge models see the air-conditioning upgraded to climate control, bigger alloy wheels fitted, plus the addition of satnav, a rear view camera and automatic lights and wipers.

Our favourite version

Easy Plus 1.4 95HP, list price £13,995

Options you should add Metallic paint (£550), third-party sat nav

Verdict 6/10

The Fiat Tipo doesn’t excel in any particular area, and in a lot of ways it falls far behind the market leaders. But the flexibility of the pricing structure and a very low starting figure means that the Tipo could still prove tempting. 

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