We get behind the wheel of Fiat's new compact sedan. Unlike its fashionable 500 hatchback sibling, the Tipo does not make a style statement... it appeals to buyers in the market for value-oriented wheels. How does the Fiat Tipo Sedan 1.6 Easy Auto fare after a week-long evaluation?
We like: practicality, refinement, standard specification, occupant comfort
We don’t like: engine doesn't like being caned, some cheap materials used in the cabin
- The gold standard in affordable sedans: The Toyota Corolla Quest 1.6 Auto boasts impressive build quality and refinement, drives well and is, crucially, more affordable than its Italian rival. The specification is thrifty, to say the least.
- The proven quantity: The Honda Ballade, which shares its platform with the versatile Jazz, has been on the market for a while. It's a solid, if unremarkable, product that competes with the Tipo in top-spec 1.5 Executive Auto specification.
- A top-rated brand's product: The 2016/17 Cars.co.za Consumer Awards Brand of the Year winner Suzuki can hardly put a foot wrong these days and its Ciaz offers a perky engine with exceptional fuel economy. The Ciaz 1.4 GLX Auto is solidly made and, if less than generously specified, more affordable than the Tipo tested here.
What is it?
The typical sedan shape. Not helped at all by the silver paint colour.
Despite the car-buying public opting for the higher ground clearance and spaciousness of the compact SUV, there's still a market for the affordable, sub-R300k sedan. Think of the likes of ride-sharing company Uber and other metered taxi services. A sedan that offers a sizeable boot and enough leg- and headroom for 2 normal-sized adults in the back is what customers are looking for and Fiat hopes to exploit this niche with the Tipo sedan.
As ever, the market for a value-oriented sedan is competitive and there are a few offerings to choose from. At the low end of the market you'll find the venerable Toyota Corolla Quest – a favourite among the Uber clan – in the middle is the Suzuki Ciaz, but given its price and specification, the Tipo is positioned against the top-rung Honda Ballade (1.5 Executive).
The Fiat Tipo has found favour in the European market, where 75 000 have found homes. Then again, the continental Europeans do tend to be patriotic and pick homegrown brands over imports. The same could be said for South Africa, where the Durban-made Toyota Corolla is the segment leader.
Can an Italian sedan be worthy of your attention and should you be considering it if you're after a sub-R300k sedan? Let's find out.
How does it fare in terms of…
With sedan design so restricted by practicality, Fiat has managed to imbue it with some flair
Kerb appeal/on-road presence?
The problem with sedans is that they generally follow a generic template. Space, size and practicality of a sedan hinder the creative design and there's very little room for artistic flair. However, despite the lack of visual real estate, the front of the Tipo is smart looking. The detailing on the front around the badge is quite striking, while the tail lamps have a wrap-around look about them at the rear. There are some attractive alloy wheels, but there's not much going on to make it stand out from the road. Perhaps the rental silver colour scheme was partly to blame.
The cabin is of a simple design and has the basics covered
Fortunately, things improve dramatically when you step inside. Cabin space is great and we were fond of the rear doors which appeared to open wider than usual. Helpful, especially when loading things into the car. Speaking of loading things, we were able to fold down the seats and inserted a bicycle, albeit with the front wheel taken off. Still, it has always been a challenge to get a bicycle into a sedan, yet the Tipo made it look effortless. For those craving the facts, Fiat claims the Tipo sedan boasts 520 litres of boot space. Given the Uber scenario where rear legroom is an important factor, we were amazed at the room offered. The unofficial sit-behind-yourself-test was passed with flying colours and the Tipo feels as if it's one of those cars which you can happily sit in the back for hours on longer journeys, without feeling uncomfortable or cramped.
As for the rest of the cabin, it feels a tad more premium than some of its rivals. In terms of design, its more functional and ergonomic biased than stylish, but everything you'd need is here and within easy grasp. Being the top-spec model, there was climate control, CITY steering, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, USB port and a comprehensive trip computer. A touchscreen infotainment screen is available as an option. The materials used in the cabin feel acceptable at this price point and it strikes a fair balance between hard plastics and soft plastics.
Cruise control, radio, media and Bluetooth telephony can be controlled from the steering wheel
Powertrain and refinement quality?
This Fiat Tipo 1.6 Easy automatic is powered by a 1.6-litre naturally-aspirated four-cylinder. It offers up 81 kW and 152 Nm, which is on par with its non-turbo'd rivals in the segment. It's interesting to note that Fiat also offers a 1.4-litre engine with 70 kW and 127 Nm for the Tipo, and the two engines are very close in performance to one another. It's a front-wheel drive and the gearbox in question is a six-speed automatic. You can knock the transmission selector to the side and shift yourself sequentially, but we found it best to leave it to its own devices. Fiat claims a solid 6.3 L/100 km on the combined fuel economy cycle, but in reality, we hovered around the mid-7s, which isn't awful considering traffic jams and normal commuting.
A six-speed automatic transmission does duty in the Fiat Tipo
If there's one issue that we had with the Fiat Tipo's powertrain, it was the fact that it was very noisy when you were in a hurry. Anything above 4 000 rpm and the cabin filled with engine noise and it felt strained. Once was enough for us and we landed up driving the rest of the test period using gentle throttle inputs and being more relaxed behind the wheel, which was better for the economy and our stress levels.
The 1.6 engine combined with the six-speed automatic transmission offers fair performance. It's not going to be energetic by any stretch of the imagination and as mentioned earlier, it's best if you don't hurry it along and leave the gearbox in fully automatic mode. If you're wanting a bit more, then there is a 1.3-litre turbocharged diesel engine available, which will bring excellent fuel consumption to the table as well.
On the road, we found the Tipo to offer a fair, balanced ride on varying types of surface, which we'll put down to excellent damping settings. It really soaks up the bumps and things got better as we found that the vehicle didn't roll as much as its rivals. Many sedans tend to wallow about, a side effect of trying to soften the ride.
Ride quality of the Fiat Tipo is impressive.
Value for money?
With the Fiat Tipo range starting from as little as R229 900, it looks like extraordinary value for money. Tested here is the 1.6 Easy Automatic, which retails for R274 000. For interest sake, the diesel manual costs exactly the same. Do you get value for your money here? We think you do, considering the better-than-basic fittings and features, and it all comes in comfortably under R300 000. The more established players such as the Toyota Corolla and Chevrolet Cruze are both over R300 000.
Unlike the Fiat 500, which seems to sell primarily on its image and cuteness, the Tipo is a far more serious and logical purchasing proposition. Based on the product offering alone, we think the Tipo has enough going for it to make it credible. There's ample room and the vehicle offers credible levels of refinement and specification to tick most boxes.
Cheap, cheerful and spacious. That pretty much sums up the Fiat Tipo sedan.
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