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RPM TV Website | September 21, 2020

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Fiat hoping for sales boost as Tipo joins the compact car fray

Fiat hoping for sales boost as Tipo joins the compact car fray
Deon Schoeman

Fiat South Africa is hoping that its new Tipo compact car will give the marque a bigger slice of the hugely competitive SA passenger market. The Tipo represents a significant push for the Italian brand, which currently relies on the much smaller 500 for the majority of its sales volumes.

The Tipo comes in sedan and hatchback configurations, with a choice of three engines, two transmissions and three trim levels. But the real question is whether there’s any real potential for sales in a ferociously competitive C-segment already filled to the brim with quality contenders.

While Volkswagen’s Golf still sets the benchmark, Fiat is targeting the likes of the SA Car of the Year-winning Opel Astra, Renault Mégane, Hyundai i30, Toyota Auris and Corolla, and more. It’s a sector where price, and more specifically the price/value proposition, is a key determining factor.

Visually, the hatchback has the edge on the sedan, although both cars are handsome machines, especially from the front, where the multi-faceted grille and large, sweeping headlights create a powerful, head-turning identity.

The hatch matches that front to a chunky, angular rear that oozes poise and muscle. That’s especially true of the top-flight Lounge model, which benefits from wheel arch-filling 17-inch wheels. Lesser versions make do with 16-inchers, which look a little lost.

Talking of rears, the sedan’s posterior is both its strongest suit and its biggest weakness, at least stylistically. The extended overhang off the same wheelbase as the hatch creates a truly massive boot of 520 litres. But viewed in profile that overhang looks a little unwieldy.

The overall appearance is fresh and contemporary, with a definite Italian identity that’s a breath of fresh air in a segment marked by generic styling cues and smudged identities.

During a day spent driving the Tipo hatch and sedan in and around the friendly (some would say windy) city of Port Elizabeth, we got to sample the Tipo 1.4 Lounge Manual hatchback, and the 1.6 Easy Auto sedan.

The 1.4 Lounge is powered by a normally aspirated 1,4-litre four-cylinder engine with a rated output of 70 kW at 6 000 rpm, combined with 127 Nm of torque at a peaky 4 600 rpm. The gearbox is a six-speed manual.

The 1.6 Easy sedan’s urge comes from a slightly more powerful 1.6-litre four-cylinder that’s also normally aspirated. Power output increases to 81 kW at 5 500 rpm, with a torque peak of 152 Nm at 4 500 rpm. The six-speed auto is the only gearbox option with this engine.

There’s also a 1,3-litre turbodiesel , offered in the sedan configuration only, and mated to a five-speed manual gearbox. For upcountry buyers this might be the version to go for, but it’s a pity that there isn’t a diesel-powered hatchback, too.

The interiors of both cars came as a pleasant surprise. They reflect Fiat’s current ergonomic and cabin design approach, already familiar from the 500L and 500X, with chunky controls, clear instrumentation and a user-friendly layout.

There’s also a real sense of space in both cars, with decent legroom and shoulder room for rear passengers. The hatch impresses with a boot that swallows up to 440 litres of luggage. But even that pales in comparison to the capacious 520 litres of cargo space that can be squeezed into the sedan’s boot.

Equipment levels are admirable, even on the entry-level Pop models, which offer the likes of air-con, central locking, power steering, electric windows, a multifunction steering wheel, and an six-speaker audio system with USB and Bluetooth.

Dual airbags, ESC stability control, hill start assist, ABS brakes and tyre pressure monitoring are included on the safety systems list.

One up from the Pop is the Easy, which adds cruise control, rear parking sensors, automatic climate control and a 60/40 split rear bench seat to the list. The top-flight Lounge is even more comprehensively kitted out, featuring 17-inch wheels, a reverse camera, and an infotainment system with a touch-screen display.

Don’t expect too many fireworks in terms of dynamics, though. In a motoring era dominated by turbocharged engines, the normally aspirated drivetrains in the Tipo feel a little lacklustre. You need to use the full rev range to extract the best of these four-cylinders, which may sound like a chore, but actually makes driving the Italians more engaging.

Besides, cars in the league the Tipo plays in aren’t bought for their pep, but for their comfort, space and economy. Drive the hatchback with a measure of intent, and you’ll get to 100 km/h from rest in 11,5 seconds, with a theoretical top speed of 185 km/h if the road is long and level enough.

Despite the extra power, the 1,6-litre sedan isn’t much quicker, posting a 0-100 km/h time of 11,2 seconds, and reaching a 192 km/h top speed. Remember, these figures are at sea level: with 18 percent less muscle at Johannesburg altitudes will be significantly less sprightly.

Worth considering is that both test cars had only covered around 1 000 km by the time we drove them. The engines are sure to loosen up significantly over the next 4 000 to 5 000 km.

More relevant perhaps is how solid and surefooted both cars feel. The steering is meatier than expected, despite the electro-mechanical power steering, and the chassis always feels capable of handling more urge than the drivetrain can deliver.

The ride is smooth without becoming wafty, and mild understeer only becomes apparent when you plough into corners too fast, or too deep.

Economy-wise, Fiat claims combined-cycle consumption figures of 5,7 litres/100 km for the 1.4 hatch and 6,3 litres per 100 kays for the sedan, but frankly, real-world driving won’t yield anywhere close to those figures: 7-8 litres/100 km is a more realistic target.

Even so, it’s the overall Tipo package that pleases here: distinctive looks, a stylish cabin, loads of comfort and convenience items, the practicality of a big boot – and yes, the charm of chasing those engines into the red for optimum power output.

Don’t expect the Tipo to outsell the top players in the C-segment anytime soon. But given the competitive pricing, the high spec levels, the roomy cabin and the sure-footed handling, Fiat’s Tipo should attract a new group of buyers and bolster the brand’s sales volumes.

That said, we’d like to see a 1,4-litre turbo model added to the range, if only to prove what the Tipo is really capable of.

Fiat Tipo Sedan
1.4 Pop             R229 900
1.4 Easy            R249 900
1.3 D Easy        R274 900
1.6 Easy Auto   R274 900

Fiat Tipo Hatchback
1.4 Pop              R249 900
1.4 Easy            R269 900
1.4 Lounge       R289 900
1.6 Easy Auto   R294 900

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