ROAD IMPRESSIONS – Fiat Tipo 1.4 Lounge

The task an automotive product planner is not an easy one, involving a lot of knowledge along with a suitable dash of thumb suck and gambling in order to correctly predict what the market will demand of a car that may still be a couple of years from actual production.

Rather like event organisers constantly faced with clients wanting the ‘Royal’ package but are prepared to pay only the ‘Joker’, the modern product planner has to balance the ever more demanding expectations of customers with the practicalities of the actual cost of the car when it does go to market.

In the South African market where the vast majority – in excess of 85% – of cars are purchased with some level of corporate involvement (pool car, company car or car allowance), the whole life operating cost of the vehicle is the primary driving force in the purchase process, followed by the ‘bang for the buck’ in terms of safety and comfort features.

The intensely competitive ‘C’ segment of the market offers an often bewildering array of choice and specification for potential buyers – and Fiat opted for quite specific targets with the Tipo.

The launch, in May this year, marked Fiat’s return to the medium-compact segment with a range that shares the same values but has unique personalities as diverse as their respective target audiences, from families and couples to young people or professionals.

The Tipo family was developed around the brief ‘Skills, no frills’ and the hatchback on test measures 4,37 m in length, 1,79 m in width and stands 1,50m high.

I previously tested and wrote about the sedan (that in diesel power) and this test involves the 1,4-litre petrol engine, more of which anon.

Corporate buyers have always favoured the sedan over the hatch for various reasons including the fact a boot is generally believed to be safer than the luggage space of a hatch and this is often reflected in insurance premiums.

However, the styling of the Tipo definitely favours the hatch in terms of pure aesthetics. There is nothing radical about the Tipo lines, but the flow into the hatch rear just works a lot better than it does for its sedan sibling.

The Tipo was designed in Italy by the Fiat Style Centre and developed in Turkey together with Tofa R&D, one of FCA’s largest research and development centres, involving a dedicated team of some 2 000 people during the three-year development process.

Like its sedan sibling, the Tipo hatchback is welcoming, practical and ideal for comfortable journeys. The designers adhered to the most modern ergonomic criteria in defining the parameters that measure the car’s capacity to respond to the need for on-board comfort. The result is excellent ergonomics: comfort, space configuration, accessibility, visibility and driving position.

The Tipo easily accommodates five passengers, even tall people up to 1,87m in height at the front and 1,80m in the rear travel in comfort.

The secret (says Fiat) is the regular shape of the rear end, with the horizontal roof profile providing passengers added cabin headroom. Legroom is 1,07 m between the edge of the front seat and the passenger’s heel and 934 mm for the rear seat.

The load capacity is 440 litres  and the boot sill is low and stepless, to facilitate loading  and the roller blind on the hatchback covers the load and can easily be removed and stored under the floor panel. Two lights, two bag hooks and four load-retaining hooks positioned on the floor provide added convenience.

The interior of the Tipo features 12 litres of storage in numerous compartments with a variety of shapes and capacities that are easily reachable by driver and passengers.

The Tipo features a suspension layout comprising independent McPherson struts on the front axle and an interconnected torque beam on the rear.

The 1,4-litre 16-valve Fire is the entry-level petrol engine of the Tipo family. This engine delivers 70 kW at 6 000 r/min and reaches maximum torque of 127 Nm at 4 500 r/min. The engine, combined with a six-speed manual gearbox, is a four cylinder with twin overhead camshafts and direct valve control.

Accepting the Tipo was never designed, nor intended, to be race-ready, the Fire engine is something of a disappointment being both noisy and rather breathless at the upper end of the rev range, while severely short of torque at the bottom end.

Put into the context of a daily drive to and from the office in medium to heavy traffic, the 1,4-litre engine copes well enough – and one must bear in mind here the price positioning and what it offers for that money.

It is more the open road that leaves this model wanting and sometimes frustrating to drive with regular downshifting required to maintain momentum – more than sealing the case for choosing the diesel variant.

To be fair, the petrol version offers ample luxury, a comfortable ride on long and short hauls, excellent handling and hassle-free operation.

The Tipo features a hands-free Bluetooth interface, audio streaming, text reader and voice recognition, AUX and USB ports with iPod integration, controls on the steering wheel and, on demand, the optional rear parking camera and the new TomTom 3D built-in navigation system is optionally available.

Besides the generous array of safety devices, comfort and practicality are assured by the fitment of automatic air-conditioning, power front windows, electrically adjustable door mirrors with defrosting function and the 60/40 split rear seat.

The Lounge trim, exclusive to the hatchback, features 17-inch alloy wheel rims, chrome details and a leather steering wheel and gearshift knob.

Comfort and safety features include rear parking sensors, front fog lights, automatic climate control, cruise control, front armrest and driver’s seat with optional lumbar adjustment. The Lounge also features the UConnectTM infotainment system with Navigation as standard.

Active and passive safety devices include driver and front passenger air bags (with side and curtain airbags as an option). Also standard is electronic stability control (ESC) that includes a number of devices such as Panic Brake Assist (PBA), which intervenes in case of emergency braking by increasing the braking force; anti-lock braking, traction control (TCS), and Hill Start Assist.

All Fiat Tipo models come with a standard 3 year / 100 000 km warranty and service plan.

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