Time was when Fiat had a car for everyone and the company’s factories pumped out gazillions of units annually to an audience only too willing to purchase the attractive and cost-effective products on offer.
In Ireland, Fiat was backed by a slick PR machine, generous finance offers and a range which, while it often lacked top-end quality, offered pretty much something for everyone.
Sure, there times when the company appeared dogged by mechanical issues and various nasty acronyms were invented to characterise the Fiat name.
Latterly though, the massively successful Fiat 500 aside, there has not been much happening at the company and while attempts were made to stretch the ‘500’ brand into all sorts of market segments — MPVs, faux SUVs, etc — these efforts certainly did not put the company into a position to reclaim the top five sales place.
Sadly, the lack of product - or at least the public perception of same — has seen Fiat plummet down the sales charts to a point where it is one of the also-rans of the industry here in Ireland, but that situation may just be about to alter radically thanks to an old Fiat name and three brand new iterations of it.
The original Fiat Tipo was unveiled in 1988 and actually secured the European Car Of The Year title in 1989 (it also won the Irish version of the prize the same year).
Initially sold only as a five- door hatchback, the car was notable for its innovative packaging and passenger space and galvanised body panels aimed at countering various rust scandals which engulfed various Fiat Group models in previous years.
Tipo was a huge success as a down-to-earth, practical, affordable and reliable practitioner and sold well in every European market where it was offered. And now, Fiat has dusted off the nameplate and come up with three new Tipos — a saloon, a hatch, and an estate.
This week’s tester is the saloon version in ‘Lounge’ trim with the 1.6 litre Multijet engine and I have to say there were a lot more positives on offer here i than there were negatives. In fact, I have to say that what was on offer at a price just under €21,000, was pretty astonishing.
That is not to say that the new Tipo is perfect — far from it — but it certainly represents the most damnably decent value for money car as there is on offer here in Ireland right now.
We’ll pick up on some of the downsides of the car first, and at the top of the pile is the fact that, for a Fiat, this car is far from being a looker. For a company noted for the style and elegance of so many of its products down the years, the new Tipo saloon will not take the eye out of your head.
It has some nice detailing touches, but overall the look of the car does not stand out as being Italian and is in fact very ordinary-looking.
Indeed, the deep wine colour of the tester — I’m sure they have some fancy name for the shade — pretty much stole whatever good looks the Tipo had.
In fairness, I would say that both the hatch and the estate are both far smarter looking cars and if I was buying one and looking for a little styling flair and individuality, it is one of those I would plump for. The saloon does have merits such as its quite large boot, but the other cars are better looking.
Second complaint is that a lot of the interior décor leaves a lot to be desired. The shiny plastic door and centre console mouldings are a tad grim. They may not bother anyone who is on a bargain-seeking mission, but the phrase ‘could have done better’ certainly applies to the element of the design department responsible.
My third complaint regarded the on-road refinement of the car and, ironically, there is something here which might actually appeal to those bargain hunting types. The 17” alloys fitted to the tester were very noisy when plying their trade on anything other than a billiard table surface. One suspects therefore that smaller (and cheaper) steel wheels might actually suit the car better.
OK, with those bugbears behind us, what’s good about the car? Well, the interior is actually a decent enough place to be once you get over those plastic mouldings.
The seating is firm yet comfortable and the upholstery looks durable without being offensive to the eye. On top of that the car is kitted out to an impressive level.
Features including automatic lights and rain sensing wipers, LED running lights, 17” alloys, a chrome kit for the grille and the windows, automatic rear mirror, 5” touchscreen radio with sat nav and Bluetooth (which even a gom like me could use), rear camera, and a full size spare wheel all come standard with the ‘Lounge’ package and that makes this car — for the money being asked — a ridiculously decent proposition.
Practicality, too, is well sorted with oodles of passenger space, plenty of storage cubbies, and a workmanlike boot.
Then there is the excellent 1.6 litre Multijet turbodiesel engine, which outputs some 120 bhp and which you might have considered to be a tad weedy for pulling such a relatively big car around the place. But no. With a fairly impressive 320 Nm of torque on hand at just 1,750 rpm, the engine develops plenty of low-end grunt and at no time are you left feeling underpowered.
Allied to a six speed ‘box, the Tipo will accelerate from 0kph to 100kph in under 10 seconds and the 199kph top speed is similarly keen. Throw in a 4.2 l/100km (that’s 66 mpg) claimed consumption rate and a healthy 110 g/km and you’ve got a pretty thrifty car all told.
Sure the ride and handling are merely good rather than brilliant, but for the money you’re paying for the car you’re hardly expecting the agility of a leopard, are you?
I have to say I was quite taken by this car. It is not mechanically outstanding or wondrous to look at but, for the price being asked, the level of kit that is offered, and the general decency of the product as a whole, there is very little to be snotty about with the Tipo.
In post-austerity Ireland, there is a gap in the market for a car with very decent driving characteristics, massively low running costs and a frighteningly low asking price and it looks to me as if Fiat has just filled that gap with this surprisingly respectable offering from the Italians.
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