The Fiat Tipo is not the sort of car that sets your pulse racing.
Launched at the same time as the 124 Spider, most of us felt that forcing us to drive a Tipo before allowing us to drive the Mazda MX-5-based sports car was a shrewd move to ensure that we at least tried one before rejecting it out of hand in favour of something more exciting.
The biggest surprise of the year?
And what a shrewd move that was because the Fiat Tipo might just be the biggest surprise of the year: it isn’t just the cheapest car in the VW Golf/Ford Focus/Vauxhall Astra class, it’s actually one of the nicer offerings, too.
For a start, it looks terrific, especially in a muted metallic, and has enough driveway presence that no one is going to think you a penny-pinching cheapskate, even if the interesting colours will set you back another £550.
Colour aside, there is little to moan about with how the Tipo has been specified. There is a range of three trim levels, from Easy to Easy Plus and finally Lounge, and all are well equipped for the price.
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Petrol or diesel?
Three petrol engines are on offer; a 1.4-litre engine in both normally aspirated (producing 95bhp) and turbocharged (with 120bhp) form, both of which come with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard. The third petrol engine is a non-turbo 1.6-litre with 110bhp and an automatic gearbox, which is best avoided unless you really do insist on letting the car change gear for you.
Diesel fans, on the other hand, can choose from a 1.3-litre with 95bhp, which is loud and a bit slow and only available with a five-speed gearbox, and a 1.6-litre with 120bhp, which is much better, partly due to the six-speed manual ‘box. All are fine engines, but I’d splash out a little on one of the more powerful versions if I were buying, given how cheap the rest of the car is.
Petrol vs diesel
Designed on a tight budget
That cheapness, of course, comes at a price and the places where the pennies have been pinched are obvious; the cabin might be spacious enough to seat a family of five in comfort but it is a long way from premium, being plasticky and sparse and conventional in the extreme.
There are simply no design flourishes to speak of and anyone looking for something with a Golf-like ambience is going to be disappointed.
Take, the sat-nav, for example. It is obviously a budget item, barely larger than a smartphone but, just like the rest of the interior, it works much better than it looks and gets the job done in the sort of understated, unobtrusive way that I find quite endearing.
Which is the Tipo’s USP. It’s easy to build a great car when your budget allows for a £25,000 showroom price, but few cars work this well when they’re designed on a tight budget. That the Tipo drives and rides as well as 90 percent of the cars in its class is a remarkable achievement and one that Fiat must be very proud of.
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Civilised with little to criticise
We spent a day driving it on a variety of roads and while you might expect it to be good around city streets, that it is so civilised and rides so well at motorway speeds was an unexpected bonus. I later had one for a week-long review and found that my first impressions were sound; the Tipo is a remarkably effective all-rounder with little to criticise.
Prices start at just £12,995 for the 1.4-litre petrol engine and the most basic trim level, and the walk through the range is simple and easy to understand: if you want the next engine, just add £1,000, the same sum that is required if you would like a more luxurious trim level. This transparency makes budgeting very easy.
Making a PCP ever more attractive
Yet the real genius is in the way the PCP payments have been calculated because each £1,000 step – a not inconsiderable sum – equates to just £10 extra a month. Buying a car via a PCP is a uniquely British approach and one that Fiat has fully embraced; while some would baulk at spending an extra £1,000, few will quibble over a tenner a month. With prices starting at just £159 a month (with a £2,699 deposit) and an interest rate of 0% A.P.R., the Tipo is very affordable family transport
My wife is rarely impressed by the cars we drive, but even she remarked on how impressive the Tipo was. By the middle of the week she was ‘quite fond’ of it, and by the end of the week she was ‘going to miss it.’ Her current favourite – and mine – is the SEAT Leon, and she thinks that the Tipo runs it a close second. When she found out how little it cost, it rose to the top of her list. She’s never really understood the attraction of buying a car with a PCP, but she can see the attraction of a new car for under £160 a month.
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A car people can actually afford
You see, the Tipo turns the current new car model on its head. As other manufacturers seek to add profitability by way of ever-plusher (and ever more expensive) models, Fiat has done the unthinkable and built a car that people can actually afford. That it will simultaneously make the Italian firm a profit simply increases the pressure on everyone else to do the same.
The Fiat Tipo might just be the start of a new era of affordable cars, but until then you can buy one in the certain knowledge that no one is having a better time for the same money.
Power – 120bhp
Torque – 236lb ft
0-62mph – 9.8 seconds
Top speed – 124mph
Kerb weight – 1,395kgs
Official average fuel consumption – 76.3mpg
CO2 emissions – 98g/km
VED class – Band A
Towing capacity (braked) – 1,200kgs
Towing capacity (unbraked) – 500kgs
Warranty – 3 yrs/unlimited
Price – £17,995
Price as tested - £18,545
Nothing beats the Tipo if you’re comparing on a pound-for-pound basis.
The best of the rest
The Vauxhall Astra is a brilliant all-rounder.
The SEAT Leon is even better than the Fiat, but much more expensive. However, a broker such as Palmdale could probably get hold of one that is a year old for the same price as a new Tipo…
Next car review: Ford Kuga >>>
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