THE Tipo Is Fiat’s entrant into the very popular mid-sized family hatchback category. Until now, the company has not had a competitive entrant in this class since the demise of the unloved Bravo a couple of years ago.

But the Tipo is still an important model for the company because it competes in one of the most popular market segments across Europe.

In this country that means the Tipo goes head to head with Ford’s Focus and Volkswagen’s Golf.

Loading article content

The Tipo is an interesting variation on the theme, because it aims to offer more for less.The original Tipo, which made its debut nearly 30 years ago, was a class leader for space and practicality. Fiat has no such expectations of the new model. Instead, its new model unashamedly offers the maximum bang for your buck. The estate tested here can be yours for £14,145 in entry level ‘Easy’ trim - £3,500 less than a Focus estate. And if that means cutting a few corners where drivers are unlikely to notice then so be it.

This means the new Tipo has more in common with value brands like Skoda and Dacia than VW. However, rather like the cut price supermarkets which have disrupted the market once dominated by Tesco, Sainsbury's and Asda, high value cars are very popular (particularly among private buyers) and if the Tipo can achieve the same success forecast sales as Aldi does for groceries Fiat will be very happy indeed.

ON THE ROAD: Externally, the Tipo belies its bargain price with a mature and stylish look.. It has nothing in common with the Fiat 500 range (a good thing) and thus goes its own way in terms of styling. The wide grille and large headlights give it a taut purposeful demeanour and the styling of the hatchback is particularly pleasing. It looks like a car that means business, making it the antithesis of the 500L, Fiat’s other family car, which aims for cute ‘n’ cuddly.

Sensibly, Fiat reckons the best-selling Tipo will be the 1.6-litre diesel. It certainly makes a lot of sense in the estate where the 118bhp and generous torque will be useful when you’re hauling a full load.

You’ll know it’s a diesel from the moment you turn the key, but the Tipo cruises quietly at higher speeds and feels relaxing to drive. A six-speed manual gearbox makes the most of the available power and improves the engine’s mpg on the motorway thanks to an overdrive top ratio.

The Tipo belies its price point around town and navigating country lanes where the suspension has its work cut out. Only the biggest pot holes find their way into the cabin and, for the most part, the Fiat has a mature and capable ride.

It’s an easy car to drive thanks to light steering and well-placed controls.

ON THE INSIDE: First impressions of the interior of very favourable.The plastics have a fine-grain pattern that is pleasing to the eye, there are no rough edges and everything looks very contemporary.

Sitting in the driver’s seat you are greeted by a traditional backlit speedo and rev counter with a small black and white LCD inbetween. The clocks are clear and easy to see with large numerals picked out in white. The steering wheel is leather wrapped and chunky. It has buttons for the cruise control, telephony and infotainment.

Moving across to the middle of the fascia the radio and music streaming head unit has a modest sized touch screen and two useful dials for on/off, volume and tuning. Although you can prod away on the touchscreen, I much prefered to twiddle the knobs.

The three control air-conditioning system is simplicity itself and just ahead of the gearstick you will find a USB port, an aux input and a 12 V DC socket.

So far so good. However, look a bit harder and it's easy to spot signs of cost cutting. The plastic on the door cards is hard, not the more expensive soft stuff, and knocking on the doors produces a hollow ring not a reassuring thunk.

The infotainment unit’s small 5.0-inch screen makes the satellite navigation graphics look cramped and there are only a couple of slivers of silver plastic to enliven the otherwise dark interior.

I suspect most private buyers will not be too bothered by the absence of posh plastic on the door tops or the lack of alloy trim pieces and adventurous colour choices. It’s more important the Tipo gets all the basics spot on without the niggling feeling that corners have been cut just to save a few quid and in this respect it feels a cut above the Dacia range.

HOW PRACTICAL IS IT? When it appeared in 1988 the original Tipo was able to boast more rear legroom than a Ford Sierra - a saloon from the class above.

All cars have grown a lot since then, but the new Tipo carries on that fine tradition with a cabin which has room for five adults if the middle passenger in the back is prepared to straddle a modest transmission tunnel.

The front seats have padded bolsters. They are comfortable and there is a wide range of adjustment. It's a shame the backrest adjuster is a coarse lever, but most drivers will set it and forget it, so Fiat can be forgiven for saving a couple of euros here.

The Tipo hatch is already a very practical car but the estate takes things to another level.

The boot can swallow 550 litres of ‘stuff’ (100 litres more than its sibling and more than a Focus). The hatch opens down to bumper level, so sliding in heavy items is made easier, and your luggage is covered by a soft fabric roller blind. There are useful compartments on either side of the main load space and a false floor which opens up to reveal a small space for valuables.

WHAT DO YOU GET?

Again all the basics, and one or two of life's little luxuries, are covered by the Tipo. Entry level models feature front electric windows, remote mirrors, power assisted steering and sat nav as standard. Fiat sent us a Lounge model which comes with a longer list of equipment including alloy wheels, a reversing camera, parking sensors, electric windows all round, a DAB radio tuner and cruise control. On the station wagon roof bars are standard, adding to the estate’s carrying capacity.

There are one or two features which come as standard on many modern cars that are missing no matter how high you go, however. There are no self-illuminating headlights and no automatic windscreen wipers, no dual zone air-conditioning and no interior mood lighting. If any of this is important to you, you will have to stump up more money for one of the Fiat’s rivals.

One thing you often don't get with a modern car, however, is a full sized spare wheel so Fiat is to be congratulated for including one on the Tipo.

RUNNING COSTS: Fiat claims a combined fuel economy of 76.3mpg for the 1.6 diesel. Figure on high-40s if you do more driving in town. That makes the Tipo competitive with its big name rivals.

VERDICT: Thanks to the vagaries of predictive text when I looked at my notes about this new Fiat I found the iPhone had changed Tipo to ‘cheapo’. That’s ironic when one of the main selling points of this stylish wagon is that it undercuts major rivals by thousands of pounds. Fiat has hit a lower price point by using cheaper materials in hard-to-spot areas of the cabin. The infotainment system, with its small screen, now feels rather quaint, too. But there’s a lot to admire here, as well. The styling is eye-catching, the chassis is nice to drive, the multi-jet engine pulls well and there’s plenty of room in the cabin. Buyers looking to save a quid but unable to stomach the idea of something like a Dacia will find the Tipo a very acceptable compromise.

Fiat Tipo SW Lounge multi-jet 1.6 manual.

Price: £19,145

SPEC: Engine: 1.6-litre, four-cylinder, turbo diesel Power: 118bhp Torque: Top speed: 124mph 0-62mph:10.1 seconds CO2:98g/km Fuel consumption:76.3mpg