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What have we here?

The new Fiat Tipo hatchback.

That’s taken them a while, hasn’t it?

Yup – ‘Tipo’ is a name Fiat was applying to hatches in the 1980s. This new one is a successor to the disappointing Bravo, which replaced the disappointing Stilo, which replaced, well, you get the idea.

More disappointment this time around?

First impressions aren’t spectacular. The family hatch sector is one of the most hotly fought areas of the market, and the Tipo’s focus group styling would struggle to stand out parked in a desert, yet alone next to a Mazda 3, Renault Megane or Vauxhall Astra.

On the inside it’s clearly laid out but the materials aren’t great, especially on the lower half of the dash. It’s shiny, tinny and won’t keep Hyundai or Kia awake at night. Skoda, Seat and the French will sleep soundly too.

Hard-wearing and practical then?

That’s much more the Tipo’s bag. There’s lots of room up front, a massive 440-litre boot, and folk in the back will be impressed at the knee and shoulder room. Not so clever on headroom though, oddly. Weird how Fiat has taken a boxy roofline and misplaced the extra space inside. There’s a Station Wagon version that solves that particular issue.

I’m bored now. Are we going driving yet?

Yes, and you’ll want the 118bhp, 1.4-litre T-Jet turbo engine for the job because, although not as thrusting as its excitable name promises, it’s a bit of a peach. Throttle response is good, it doesn’t drone or resonate as the revs climb smoothly, and it punts the Tipo along at a handy pace. Good, zesty, Italian engine.

The six-speed manual feels like it’s made of rubber and lubricated with plasticine, but if anything that just lets you crash the gears in quicker and keep up with Turin traffic smartly.

Trouble is, sixty per cent of people who buy a Tipo, rather than hire one for the family holiday, will get a diesel by default because they’ll be fleet buyers. The 1.6-litre 118bhp MultiJet diesel does the job, but constantly chunters away as if it’s muttering to itself about the tedium of hauling around a cheap hatchback.

Meanwhile, the 1.3-litre 94bhp diesel has no torque and the clutch pedal is so flaccid you wonder if Fiat forgot to screw it in properly, so unless you really must emit C02 in polite 99g/km chunks, avoid it.

Bet it’s not as good to drive as a 3 or Focus though?

Correct, though it’s no disaster. The steering’s well-geared and decently weighted, it doesn’t understeer badly and it can be quite agile. It’s certainly handier than others (Nissan Pulsar, Hyundai i30) and might even embarrass the supposedly sportier Alfa Giulietta.

Unlike the Alfa, the Tipo’s actually based largely on Fiat 500L bits, and the ride is the main bugbear. Big bumps are dealt with acceptably, but smaller niggles fidget the car and rattle around the cabin. It’s where you can tell the car lacks some sophistication, and has been denied better dampers or independent rear suspension to cut costs.

Fair enough, so long as the price is right?

In Europe, you can pick one of these Tipos up, albeit in basic trim, for under €11,000 which is remarkable, Dacia-bothering value. It’s already selling rather strongly too, in notchback four-door saloon form that we won’t get in the UK.

Over here, it’ll start from £12,995 with Bluetooth, DAB and air-con thrown in. The range-topping Lounge spec we drove, fitted with the likeable 1.4-litre motor, wearing 17-inch alloys, a reversing camera, 5-inch sat nav (the better 8-inch system is weirdly denied to Brits) and so on is £15,995 – three grand less than the 1.6-litre diesel version. Worth considering if you’re not into intergalactic mileage to offset the entry fee.

Essentially, Fiat’s pulling the ‘one-size-up’ trick that used to suit the Koreans so well, offering a Focus-sized car for nigh-on Fiesta money. And yes, you can pinpoint where the money has been saved, but it doesn’t stop the Tipo being a fit for purpose, honest workhorse.

What do you think?

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