Some cars are less appealing the first time you drive them than they become after greater experience, and the Fiat Tipo turns out to be one of these. I wasn’t greatly impressed by it at the UK media launch, but after taking a 1.6 MultiJet Lounge from Glasgow to Exeter one day and back again the next I find that I’ve become quite fond of it.
I still think it’s very much a non-premium car, unlikely to impress anyone who had just had a test drive in a Ford Focus or Vauxhall Astra. However, it served me well on those two long journeys, and there was never a moment when I wished I was at the wheel of something a bit fancier.
It helped that there are no sharp corners on the M5, M6 or M74. There’s no disguishing the fact that the MultiJet diesel engine is heavier than the petrol engines Fiat also offers, and in this form the Tipo feels slightly unwilling to deviate much from travelling in a straight line. It’s not much fun through the twisty stuff, but on a motorway it cruises along very acceptably.
The MultiJet engine is the most powerful in the range. Its 118bhp maximum output is modest, but it performs well enough. The official 76.3mpg combined fuel economy is probably out of reach for most of us, though I couldn’t complain about being able to average in the mid 50s mpg for hundreds of miles. The CO2 rating is 98g/km, so you won’t have to pay any Vehicle Excise Duty from year two onwards as long as you buy the car before 1 April 2017.
There’s enough room for four tall passengers, even if the ones in the back may feel claustrophobic due to the lack of glass area, which will also cause the driver problems when he or she is trying to reverse. The tailgate is narrow and the load sill high, so putting in heavy items of luggage can be an awkward process, but at least there’s plenty of space in there. 440 litres with the rear seats up, while not a class-leading figure, is still pretty good, and Fiat has achieved it without having to resort to one of those silly tyre repair kits – all Tipos have proper spare wheels.
Reversing is easier in the Lounge model than in others because this one has a rear-view camera. It also has satellite navigation, automatic climate control, automatic headlights and wipers, a self-dimming interior mirror, adjustable lumbar support for the driver’s seat and, uniquely, 17″ wheels (cheaper versions run on 16″ alloys or, in the case of the entry-level Easy, 15″ steels). The 17s add some visual flair, but the low-profile tyres fitted to them do nothing to help the otherwise reasonable ride quality.
The central touchscreen is only five inches wide, which isn’t much by current standards. In particular, it doesn’t have enough space to display programme information along with everything else when you’re using the DAB function on the radio. To view that information you have to press a virtual button on the screen, then press another one to make it disappear again. That means making two movements (as opposed to the more normal none) which briefly but perhaps vitally distract you from the road ahead.
The Euro NCAP situation is complicated, as the Tipo is one of the first cars to have been given a dual rating. At its best it earns four stars, but only if fitted with the £250 optional safety pack, which includes cruise control, a speed limiter and Auto Emergency Braking (which incidentally isn’t sophisticated enough to be able to recognise pedestrians).
Without it, the Euro NCAP rating falls to three stars, partly because of a low score for Child Occupant Protection. This may be sufficiently bad news for some potential customers to decide they’d better look elsewhere.
Even without the safety issues, there are enough oddities to make this Tipo slightly frustrating, but to repeat the point I made in the first paragraph it does become quite endearing the more you drive it. Far from being the best medium-sized family hatchback on the market, it still has enough plus points to make me feel I wouldn’t mind owning one.
Engine size 1598cc
Top speed 124mph
0-62mph 9.8 seconds
Fuel economy 76.3mpg combined
CO2 emissions 98g/km
Towing capacity 1200kg (braked trailer)
Euro NCAP (2016) Overall 3 stars Adult occupant 82% Child occupant 60% Pedestrian 62% Safety assist 25% (without optional safety pack)