Cheap starting price
Fiat has returned to one of the biggest segments of the new car market, but it hasn't done it in quite the way you might expect. Rather than trying to compete with the Ford Focus, the VW Golf and, perhaps more pertinently, the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, the Tipo is taking on the budget end of the market, going head-to-head with the Hyundai i30 and Kia Cee'd.
The Tipo is certainly a budget car. The £12,995 asking price is more in line with superminis such as the Ford Fiesta than spacious family hatchbacks, yet it's one of the most practical cars in the segment. It's roomy, comfortable and endowed with a huge boot, as well as a sensible amount of standard equipment.
It doesn't look like a cheap car though. The dimpled grille and squinting eyes give it a classy 'face', while the clean, simple lines give a thoroughly modern look. Inside, it gets a comfortable but quite simple cabin, but it's incredibly spacious and family friendly.
Under the bonnet, customers can choose from a range of 1.4-litre petrol engines, a 1.3-litre diesel and a 1.6-litre diesel. The chances are that most will opt for the larger diesel, given its greater motorway capability and impressive economy figures, but some will be tempted away by the cheaper petrol engines.
On the road, the car feels comfortable and cossetting, although it's no driver's car. Long-distance motorway miles are its forte, and it soaks up long journeys with aplomb. Equipment is more than adequate without being plentiful, and there's a certain something about the Tipo's no-frills approach.
The Tipo won't win many accolades from thrill seekers, but there's something charming about its lack of pomp and circumstance, the way it simply admits to being a sensibly priced, useful, small car. Crucially, though, it doesn't look like a budget car and, for the most part, it doesn't feel like one either. It's cheap and cheerful in the best possible way.
Prices start from £12,995, and though the basic car doesn't have much in the way of toys, it's still a Golf-sized car for the price of a Polo. Even the top-of-the-range Lounge trim only starts at £14,995. Okay, that comes with the entry level 1.4-litre petrol engine, but when you can get satellite navigation, climate control and a reversing camera for less than £15,000, you've got some serious value for money.
The Tipo is roomy in both the front and back seats, with plenty of legroom and adequate headroom for all but the tallest passengers. There's a smattering of useful cubby holes, too, but the clincher is the enormous boot. The 440-litre space is up there with the best in the business and beats mainstream models such as the Volkswagen Golf by quite a way. If that isn't enough, though, you can have an even more capacious estate.
The Tipo is an easy car to drive thanks to very conventional controls and clear, fuss-free displays. Top-spec cars get a seven-inch display between the instruments, which also scores well in the clarity stakes, but the fly in the ointment is the five-inch touchscreen infotainment system. The small screen size makes it fiddly to use, and the lack of resolution becomes an issue when planning a route.
Fiat has very clearly set the Tipo up to be a comfortable cruiser, and the Italian brand has pretty much nailed it. The Fiat rides well, even on pockmarked surfaces, and it feels really soft on long motorway runs. The diesel engine fitted to our test car was a little grumbly at idle, but it quietened down in the cruise, and the seats will be comfortable enough for most, even if they are a touch shapeless.
All Tipos come with central locking as standard, and keyless start is not available on any trim level, which will come as a relief to those worried about the spate of car-hacking incidents. In truth, though, the Tipo's understated looks are likely to stop it being too much of a target for would-be thieves.
The standard Tipo achieved a three-star Euro NCAP crash test score, which doesn't sound too bad, but that's before you consider that the majority of family hatchbacks boast at least four stars, it doesn't look so great. Under the new rules, the car was re-tested with the optional safety pack, which improved the score to four stars, highlighting the advantages of going for the electronic safety gear.
The Fiat is built with comfort in mind, but this does mean the car's handling suffers slightly. The steering feels woolly around the straight-ahead and there's very little feedback through the wheel, but the body roll is kept in check and you can, if you try hard, wring out a bit of cornering performance.
With its plentiful space and hard-wearing cabin materials, the Tipo would make a great family car. Everywhere you look there's a cubby hole perfect for storing those miscellaneous items that family cars seem to horde, and you'll have more than enough separation to keep a couple of children from fighting too much on long journeys.
Without the cute look of the more emotionally appealing 500 models, the Tipo won't have that much of a following among the country's youth. A range of small-ish petrol and diesel engines mean insurance premiums should be fairly palatable, though, and the space will be useful for those travelling to and from universities. The low price may tempt a few, too. Having a stylish and brand new Fiat for less than a year-old Golf will be quite a draw.
The Tipo is part of Fiat's 'rational' range, which provides more user-friendly alternatives to the more 'emotional' 500-badged offerings. The result is a utilitarian feel combined with a stylish but ultimately quite bland exterior. The interior feels fairly solidly built, and although some of the plastics do feel a touch low-rent, that's to be expected in such a reasonably priced car.
With big doors and good packaging, the Tipo is an easy car to get into and out of. The seats are at sensible heights, which makes getting out easier for those with limited mobility, while the doors and tailgate all open wide for best access. The biggest problem is likely to be the boot lip, which is a little big for comfortably hefting heavier items in and out of the luggage bay.
Tipo customers will get digital radio and Bluetooth connectivity as standard, but only the mid-range Easy Plus and top-spec Lounge models will get a touchscreen infotainment system. It's only a five-inch unit, so it's a bit fiddly, and the screen resolution isn't brilliant, but it comes with plenty of useful functions and it makes it much easier to use when paired with a mobile phone.
The Tipo's colour palette is a largely bland affair thanks to a range of greys, whites, blacks and browns, but there is a smart-looking metallic blue and a deep ruby red that will inject a little more life. The advantage of the simple colour schemes, though, is that the shiny brightwork of top-spec cars works even better, providing a contrast to the austere paint colours.
Parking the Tipo is relatively easy thanks to heavily assisted steering and decent visibility, although it's far easier when you can use the parking camera fitted to high-spec cars. Even though the associated screen is small and relatively low-resolution, the camera removes any difficulties some drivers may have when reversing into a bay.
Spacesaver spare wheel supplied as standard.
Petrol engine options: 1.4-litre (94bhp), 1.4-litre T-Jet (118bhp). Diesel engine options: 1.3-litre MultiJet II (94bhp), 1.6-litre MultiJet II (118bhp). Transmission options: Six-speed manual, six-speed automatic. Trim levels: Easy, Easy Plus, Lounge.