Just when you thought the crossover market couldn’t get any more crowded
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£21,595 when new
What’s the estate of this review? It’s a Fiat Tipo. What type of Tipo? Funny you are. Yes, Tipo is Italian for ‘type’, and it’s a strange name for a car. Anyway, this is a Tipo 1.6 diesel Station Wagon in Lounge trim. Which is the top engine and the top trim. Expensive then?
Not cheap. It’s £18,995. But it’s roomy and well-equipped. Every car in the 28-model Tipo range has a sticker ending in 995. Which tells you they want you to think it a bargain. And you can immediately knock £2000 off the 1.6 diesel price by getting the agreeable 1.4 turbo petrol. We would, in a heartbeat. And then lose another £1k by dropping a trim level. Then you really do have a surprisingly cheap car for the size. What’s the size? Focus-size. But actually the rear room and boot are in most measures bigger than the class average. OK, but I don’t just buy my cars by the yard. How does it look and feel? There’s something pudgy about the outside. Maybe that’s how they got the extra centimetres. The waistline is high, so you sit upright, giving the impression of space and making for a deep boot. Sit in the driving seat and a competently assembled but drab dash stares glumly back at you. Doesn’t sound very alluring? Fiat’s spin on this is that for all its history this has been a brand with two ‘poles’. The rational family cars – the 128, the Uno, the original 1980s Tipo even. And another pole of Spiders, luxury cars and oddballs. These days it has the fun and semi-premium stuff: 124 Spider, 500, 500X. And it has the rational remainder: Tipo, Panda, Doblo. While the Panda, despite being extremely rational and spacious, still manages to be charming. The Tipo is just a normal car cheapened in a charmless way. Useful though? Definitely. The boot has a double floor, and the rear seats fold properly – the cushions tip and the backrests flip. There are load hooks, and a roller blind that’s easy to remove and fits under the floor. This trim also has an easy to use TomTom sat nav, lane-keeping and blind spot warning. Any good to drive? Now we come to the reason we can’t forgive the charmless cabin. Because the dynamics are equally half-hearted. It feels bony, like a skeleton that lacks flesh. The engine has no appetite for revs. It’s noisy too – its crude knockings never really settle down, even at a cruise when it’s fully warmed. (In the 500X, the same engine is a lot more peaceful.) The gearshift too is unfinessed, its action clunky and awkward. At least you’ve six speeds to play with. The suspension operates with the same sort of graceless infelicity. It knocks and shudders even when the road’s fairly smooth. And even when you’ve got a bit of a load on board. To be fair it can absorb big bumps with some success. It just doesn’t seem to have had much love put into its finer motions. Cornering is competent, but nothing in the heft of the steering or the response of the tyres encourages you to find out. Again, not disastrous, but nothing to make you think the people behind this car in any way enjoy driving. And they don’t expect their customers to either. Well, most people don’t toast their tyres like a Top Gear tester. So what’s wrong with a simple bargain? Because cheap isn’t the same as a bargain. Not if it feels cheap. Sure if you want space and the assurance of a new-car warranty, go to Fiat, but maybe swerve into a 500L. Check first, though, the lifetime costs of, say, an Astra or Leon Estate. You might be surprised. The Tipo can only exist if Fiat is doing good finance deals. And even at launch, it is. Thing is, in the long run you forget the price and remember the car. There’s little memorable about the Tipo.