DRIVEN: Fiat Tipo 1,4 Petrol Easy Hatch

PORT ELIZABETH – About a year ago, CAR‘s Peter Palm first drove this Turkish-built Fiat at the international launch in Turin. Finally released here in South Africa, I had a go in what’s likely to be the best-selling hatch in the range.

A new Fiat? Not often you hear about that round here…

That’s true. Those halcyon days of the ’70s and even ’80s when Fiats were a familiar part of the South African automotive landscape – they were even assembled here – have long faded. However, along with what looks like a resurgence from Alfa Romeo, sibling brand Fiat is also looking to increase its market share beyond the little 500.

And this Tipo will be spearheading that? Can it?

It will and yes, I think it can. It certainly is the right car at the right time. I think Fiat has been quite astute and is offering a vehicle that’s very well suited to the requirements of the South African market right now. Money is tight and we are all looking for good value wherever we can find it – be that in our groceries or the cars that we buy.

That sounds promising. Let’s hear more about this Tipo then.

Well, it’s essentially a C-segment car that’s offered in two body styles – hatch and sedan. There are three engines options – a 70 kW 1,4-litre, a 81 kW 1,6-litre and a 81 kW 1,3-litre turbodiesel (sedan only) – and three trim levels – Pop, Easy, and Lounge (hatch only).

The key info, though, is this: the Tipo offers a surprising amount of interior space; the range is very well priced; and the build quality is pretty good. Not VW Golf good, but the interior design is classy and there are enough soft touch surfaces to lift it out of the “budget” category.

Looking at the accompanying images, I must say, it’s quite a handsome car.

Good choice of adjective. It’s no svelte, groundbreaking piece of automotive aesthetics, but I think the design is perfectly suited to the what the Tipo represents … and that’s solid, functional and safe value-for-money motoring. Perhaps it errs a little on the generic side – particularly in profile and from the back – but I think there’s enough in the way those long, slim headlamps integrate into the grille to give it a distinctive personality.

Talking of the profile, it’s quite tall, isn’t it? You said interior space was good?

“Class leading”, claims Fiat. We’d have to measure the car ourselves to substantiate this, but it certainly feels very roomy. The sedan has a huge boot (520 litres is the claim) and the hatch we’re focusing on here offers a claimed 440 litres, along with plenty of rear passenger leg- and particularly head-room. As you mentioned, it is quite tall in profile … practically SUV/crossover-like. Raise the ride height, slap on some extra cladding, add roof racks and this would be an instant crossover.

Okay, so bang for buck is the Tipo’s schtick. What do you get for your money then?

This mid-spec 1,4 Easy hatch goes for R269 900 and for that you get LED daytime running lights, auto air-conditioning, a leather steering wheel with command control functionality, cruise control, rear parking sensors, a Bluetooth/USB/aux infotainment system, 60/40 rear seat split and 16-inch alloys.

Safety features, as far as CAR is is concerned, are always non-negotiables when it comes to budget motoring and the Tipo range comes standard with driver and passenger airbags (side and curtain airbags are options), as well as an ESC system that includes ABS, traction control and panic brake assist.

That, in my opinion, is spot on. Just enough spec to make for a comfortable, easy-to-live-with family car. Which is what this hatch is trying to be. The slightly cheaper sedan range will likely get more traction in the fleet market, but it’s the hatchback that I think SA families will be looking at.

By way of comparison, other hatchbacks in and around the R270k mark would be the Mazda3 1,6, Hyundai Accent 1,6 and Toyota Auris 1,3. (Click here for pricing on the full Tipo range).

The clincher, then … what’s it like to drive?

Look, a 70 kW naturally aspirated 1,4 is never going to provide a family car with much firepower, but it is does its job. Granted, it will struggle more at the Reef, but along our loop from PE to St Francis Bay and back, the Tipo hustled along nicely. It lacks a little torque – and it’s a pity the 1,3-litre turbodiesel isn’t available in the hatch body style – but the six-speed manual gearbox keeps you in the game.

What impressed me the most, though, was the ride. We drove over some fairly bumpy and uneven Eastern Cape roads, all of which the Tipo handled rather well. It’s quite softly sprung with independent McPherson struts on the front axle and an interconnected torque beam on the rear, but Fiat’s engineers really have nailed the damping. The Tipo absorbed the road imperfections admirably while also displaying very little body roll through the corners. And that’s no mean feat for a car at this price point.

All in all, I’d say Fiat has added an excellent family car to its range. It is exactly the kind of vehicle our market needs. Much like Suzuki does in South Africa, with the Tipo, Fiat is offering a somewhat conservatively styled but well made, excellent value-for-money vehicle.

Sure, Fiat is going to have to work hard to get South Africans back into its cars, but the Tipo is the perfect vehicle to start the ball rolling. And it deserves to find favour with SA car buyers.

Fast facts

Model: Fiat Tipo 1,4 Easy Hatch
Price: R269 900
Engine: 1,4-litre, 4-cylinder, petrol
Power: 70 kW @ 6 000 r/min
Torque: 127 N.m @ 4 500 r/min
0-100 km/h: 11,5 sec*
Top Speed: 185 km/h*
Fuel Consumption: 5,7 L/100 km*
CO2: 132 g/km
Transmission: 6-spd manual
Maintenance Plan: 3 yr/100 000 km warranty & service plan

*claimed figures

  • http://www.autoexpress.co.uk/ Miguel

    Quite nice car!!

  • Frodo

    Mazda 3 1.6L 77KW 144Nm. Mazda reliability is quite legendary, Fiat not so much. If I was looking to buy in this sector it would be a no brainer.

  • teofli

    This seems like a value for money proposition when one considers the prices in this segment compared with specifications on offer. Reliability issues will ultimately dechde.