Time is not a kind master. Everything and everyone is victim to its harsh whipping with the only mitigation against the sentence being the ability to evolve and re-invent – the constant struggle for eternal youth.
In the automotive sphere it is most demonstrated by a company that tops the sales charts for a period of time and then fails to make that re-invention quickly enough and is lashed into submission as an also-ran in just a couple of years.
Fiat in South Africa has been through this from the heady days of innovative and iconic models offerings such as the 124 Sport through the mass hysteria love affair with the Uno to a period of dreadfully bland product and such quiet only the neon lights at dealerships affirmed the brand was actually still alive.
True, in all of that the company itself – both locally and internationally – underwent changes and started to work the process of re-invention, the 500 and Abarth part of that.
However, mass market is the true goal of a major automaker and Fiat needed to put something into play that would satisfy customers not just within its European orbit but in other markets as well.
Enter the Fiat Tipo.
The Fiat Tipo hatchback and its sedan sibling mark Fiat’s return to the medium-compact segment with four sedan variants and four hatch models.
Our test car, the diesel-powered 1.3L Easy came in Ambient White, which actually served to enhance the contour lines of the car and attract some parking lot attention. It is 4,53 m long, 1,79 m wide and stands 1,5 m high so is fully C-segment in dimensions.
On price – R274 900 – it is bracketed by the Hyundai Accent 1.6 Fluid (R269 900), Mazda3 1.6 Active (R271 700), Ford Focus 1.0 Trend (R271 900) and the Volkswagen Jetta 1.6 Conceptline (R278 300) in terms of sedans. There are several hatch offerings in the same price grouping.
The Fiat, however, is the only diesel in that mix.
The 1.3 MultiJet II diesel engine has a Start&Stop system as standard. It is equipped with a manual five-speed gearbox and develops 70 kW at 3 750 r/min, while the variable geometry turbo-charger ensures high torque from low revs and a maximum torque of 200 Nm from 1 500 r/min.
A feature of the third-generation Common Rail MultiJet II system is a high-tech solution for controlling injection pressures, whatever the engine speed and injected fuel quantity. In practice, the engine introduces small fuel quantities (pilot injections) to minimise noise and optimise emissions and, with the main injection, manages the injected quantity of fuel ensuring smooth engine operation in all driving conditions.
That is the theory. In practice, despite the willingness of the engine to work, it was a little breathless and left me looking for more. It is also driven through a 5-speed manual gearbox when six is the norm even for smaller capacity engines.
At the upper end of the rev range there is also a bit more diesel clatter – that, perhaps, would be quieted with the inclusion of an additional ratio.
The Fiat Tipo hatchback measures 4,37 m in length, 1,79 m in width and stands 1,50m high, while the sedan measures 4,53 m in length with the width and height the same as the hatchback.
The new car features a suspension layout made up of independent McPherson struts on the front axle and an interconnected torque beam on the rear. The two layouts are optimised to reduce weight and contribute to improved fuel efficiency, without compromising the dynamic driving experience.
I cannot fault that setup and the Tipo was comfortable to drive on long and short-haul journeys, the cloth-clad driver’s seat offering enough bolstering in the right places to minimise journey fatigue and with enough movement options to find an ideal driving position.
Never designed for real press-on motoring, the Tipo has a top speed of 183 km/h and ambles up to 100 km/h in 11,8 seconds.
More significant as a commuter vehicle it is a fuel sipper. Fiat claims 4,5 l/100 km in the urban cycle and 3,7 l/100 km overall. Reality was a little tougher and our urban measurement was 4,8 l/100 km with overall 4,1 l/100 km.
Allowed to get on the plane in its own time, the diesel engine finds a happy place that permits long stints of sustained cruising up hill and down dale with no need to row it along – it also sits nice and flat through the curves with little body movement.
In tighter sections, it does opt for understeer, but nothing outside of a controllable norm.
The Tipo accommodates five passengers, even tall people up to 1,87 m in height at the front and 1,80 m in the rear travel in comfort. The secret, according to Fiat, is the regular shape of the rear end, with the horizontal roof profile providing passengers added cabin headroom. Legroom is also class leading, with 1,07 m between the edge of the front seat and the passenger’s heel and 934 mm for the rear seat.
In fact, the interior dimensions edge it closer to those offered by D-Class sedans.
The load capacity is also impressive with 520 litres available. The boot sill is low and stepless, to facilitate loading even the bulkiest of packages. At the sides of the luggage compartment two panels for holding small items can be removed to further increase the width of the luggage compartment.
The interior of the Tipo features numerous compartments with a variety of shapes and capacities totalling no less than 12 litres. Easily reachable by driver and passengers, these compartments are perfect for storing personal objects, smartphones, bottles, coins and more. Furthermore, a media centre for connecting devices is situated in front of the gear lever.
The Tipo features the latest-generation audio systems including a hands-free Bluetooth interface, audio streaming, text reader and voice recognition, AUX and USB ports with iPod integration, controls on the steering wheel and, on demand, the optional rear parking camera and the new TomTom 3D built-in navigation system is optionally available on all models except the Easy.
Standard items include automatic air-conditioning, power front windows, electrically adjustable door mirrors with defrosting function, 16″ alloy rims, LED daytime running lights, chrome door handles, body-coloured mirror covers and a leather steering wheel.
Active and passive safety devices include driver and front passenger air bags (with side and curtain air bags as an option).
Also standard is electronic stability control (ESC), that includes system includes Panic Brake Assist (PBA), which intervenes in case of emergency braking by increasing the braking force; anti-lock braking; traction control (TCS) and Hill Start Assist.
All Fiat Tipo models come with a standard 3-year / 100 000 km warranty and service plan.
Displacement: 1 248 cc
Power: 70 kW at 4 000 r/min
Torque: 200 Nm at 1 500 r/min
CO2: 117 g/km
Fuel Tank: 45 litres
Price: R274 900
Lease: R5 660