The last Fiat Tipo won the European Car of the Year title for 1989, but that matters little to buyers of C-segment hatchbacks in 2017, as Fiat hasn't had a decent contender in the sector for a long time. Now, however, Fiat has revived the Tipo name, and instead of trying to go head-to-head with the sub-premium models, such as the Honda Civic, Volkswagen Golf, Mazda3 and Opel Astra, Fiat is sensibly targeting the budget end of the market. In its words, the new Tipo "is not a budget car; it's a car for a budget". That could well be the making of it.
In the metal
If you're expecting sexy Italian styling, then look away now, as the Fiat Tipo is a modern, but inoffensive shape. Look at it a little longer and you'll spot hints of plenty of other compact family hatchbacks in the design, which gives the Tipo a rather generic appearance.
Design-wise, the interior won't grab your attention, either, but it's a decent place to spend time and feels well made. The seat fabric feels 'hard-wearing' but the seats themselves are comfortable and there is decent space front and rear. Fiat says the cabin itself is the biggest in the class, while the 440-litre boot is above average in volume terms.
The Fiat Tipo gets plenty of things right. The steering wheel is a good size, the steering system free of slack and yet not so pointy that it makes the car feel fidgety. The pedals are well-spaced and the brakes are easy to accurately modulate once you get used to their keen initial bite. The six-speed manual gearchange is a fraction long of throw, but actually quite accurate overall and though there's a bit of a gap between second and third, on the whole it's a good partner to the 1.6-litre turbodiesel engine. With 120hp and 320Nm of torque, this engine has plenty of go for the intended audience, though those that require extra oomph for regular overtaking may find it wanting. Neither is it as quiet as the most refined diesels on the market right now - that of the Renault Megane 1.5 dCi and the Opel Astra 1.6 CDTi. Refinement suffers further on anything but a smooth road surface with really noticeable road noise through the tyres and suspension. The test cars all wore 17-inch alloys so we're hoping the more common smaller wheel size helps reduce that.
Nevertheless, even on those larger wheels and more slender tyre walls, the Tipo rides very well, mixing great bump absorption with composure in the corners and a relaxed demeanour that will sit particularly well with those that spend most of their driving life on the motorway. We're not saying its's the most engaging chassis in the class, but it's certainly one of the most comfortable and it occupies a middle ground that will appeal to many buyers.
What you get for your money
Fiat's pricing for the Tipo starts at an eye-opening €17,995, lower than all its rivals. That's for the entry-level 1.4-litre petrol model. The trim levels are Pop, Easy and Lounge, with a minimum specification that includes air conditioning, electric windows all-round, USB port, Bluetooth telephony, controls on the steering wheel, split-fold rear seats and more. The Easy model additionally features a five-inch touchscreen infotainment system, a leather-trimmed steering wheel and gear knob, LED daytime running lights, 16-inch alloy wheels, front fog lights, rear parking sensors and cruise control. For quarter one of 2017 Fiat is offering the Tipo Easy for the same price as the Pop. Above those sits the Tipo Lounge, as tested here. For a premium of €1,250 over the Easy, it comes as standard with satnav, climate control, 17-inch alloy wheels, auto lights and wipers, a rear view camera and more.
Engine options include 1.4- and 1.6-litre petrol units of various outputs (95- to 120hp) with 1.3- and 1.6-litre diesels, also offering between 95- and 120hp. All of the diesels emit less than 100g/km for low annual road tax. Diesel power kicks off at €19,745 on-the-road.
If you've read all the way through this review you may have detected that we weren't exactly blown away by the Fiat Tipo. And yet it has been slapped with a four-star rating. Strange? Well, given the pricing, the Tipo represents a very sensible new option in the C-segment. It's not best in any one area, but it does everything well, and there's a lot to be said for that.