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Fiat’s Tipo gets a styling and equipment upgrade

Thursday, 31st January, 2019 8:34am

If there were a prize for The Most Forgotten Car Brand In Ireland, it would be Fiat.

Sadly, there isn’t such a prize, so the opportunity for Fiat to win something is reduced, once again, but the fact is that the great Italian car brand has suffered badly in an Irish context. Aside from a steady-ish stream of sales for the evergreen 500 small car, the rest of the range has been left well and truly behind by Irish car buyers. And this for a brand which, not quite two decades ago, was a national best-seller.

There are a number of background reasons for this. The continuing dog-with-a-bad-name image when it comes to reliability and quality (this is largely a tribal fiction these days — Fiats are no better nor worse built than most mainstream European rivals) doesn’t help.

A dealer network that has shrunk back dramatically doesn’t help either. Mostly though, Irish buyers just seem to have moved on, and left Fiat behind.

As we recently noted with the 500X small crossover, that seems more than a little unfair for a company which actually turns out some pretty decent product.

It’s true too for this, the Tipo S-Design, Fiat’s mid-size hatchback and a rival to the likes of the Ford Focus and VW Golf.

Except it isn’t. Isn’t a rival for the Golf or Focus, you see. It’s too cheap for that (and I mean cheap in the sense of affordable). Actually, if you look at the Tipo’s €18,745 basic asking price, it’s actually much more of a rival to the Dacia Duster.

Okay, so it’s not an SUV, but that is only to the Tipo’s benefit. Its conventional hatchback shape may be, well, conventional, but it’s a good looking car, and that’s amplified by the S-Design add-ons.

S-Design trim is basically the Tipo range-topper, and it adds the likes of a grille with glossy black trim, which continues around the edges of the fog lights and on the mirror caps. It also comes with bi-xenon headlights, which make their first appearance in the Tipo family.

New diamond cut 18 inch alloy wheels, tinted rear windows and body coloured handles complete the look. It is available in a choice of five colours including the exclusive new Street Grey, which looks a bit like Audi’s primer-like Nardo Grey and which really suits the Tipo.

Inside, you get new Techno leather and fabric seats. Double stitching on the Techno leather and Airtex seats is replicated on the gear knob and steering wheel, while glossy black accents highlight the dashboard and Tecnico Grey fascia, which spans the entire width of the passenger compartment.

Now, you won’t get a Tipo S-Design for €18,745. It is the peak of the Tipo range, after all. No, you’ll have to pay a whopping €22,995.

Or in other words, about the price of a pretty basic Golf. Or a specced-up Duster, and the Dacia doesn’t come with as much standard equipment as the Tipo S-Design.

That equipment list includes the Uconnect five-inch touchscreen with DAB radio, Bluetooth, USB, aux-in and satellite navigation system. It also encompasses fog lights that turn with the steering, rear parking sensors, automatic headlights, rain sensors, and a self-dipping rear-view mirror. It is, in other words, quite the bargain.

It’s also a better buy than a Dacia. Why? Because if you buy a Dacia, you know you’re buying a bargain basement car, and are constantly reminded of that every time you sit into the rather plain cabin, and on the rather uncomfortable seats.

The Tipo, though, has rather more of a dash of style about it, and while it’s certainly built down to a price (it’s actually built in Turkey, not Italy, and was primarily designed for emerging markets, rather than Western Europe) it only rarely feels like it was.

For a start, the seats are excellent, and well capable of cosseting you on a long journey. The rest of the cabin is roomy, and there’s a generous 440 litre boot out the back. Now, the dashboard is a bit of a mish-mash — there are some pleasant, high-quality plastics on display, but equally there are some that look and feel as if they’re made of recycled 1980s school shoes.

The fundamentals are right, but the Tipo is a long, long way from Golf or Focus levels of interior touchy-feely stuff.

That’s okay though, because the Tipo’s big surprise is that it’s actually rather enjoyable to drive. The suspension dampers could do with being a little more sophisticated, as occasionally the Tipo will clatter or crash over a big bump, and the suspension is quite noisy when dealing with lumps and bumps around town, but on the whole the Tipo actually acquits itself rather well.

The steering is quick and mostly accurate. There’s plentiful grip, and any impending loss of that grip is well signalled, so the Tipo feels nicely sure-footed even on challenging roads.

The 1.4 litre 120hp T-Jet turbo petrol engine may be getting on a bit now, but it still feels game, and it has reasonable 45ish-mpg fuel economy in daily driving, so you won’t feel the pinch if you’re trading out of diesel.

Cheap, then, and most definitely very cheerful — and much more so than most economy-minded rivals. As with many modern Fiats, the Tipo S-Design is a car that deserves not to be left behind.

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