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THE NEW FIAT TIPO

Fiat has had mixed fortunes in the South African market in recent years. Relying heavily on the small but expensive 500 city car for its survival, the brand may have turned the corner with the new Tipo compact hatch and sedan siblings, as BERNIE HELLBERG discovers.

South Africa’s decades-long love affair with Fiat steadily lost its lustre in recent years; as the company struggled to find breakthrough success with most of its models, save for the iconic little 500.

Even my memories of a red 124 coupé – which I piloted with a considerable lack of skill, in reverse down a steep driveway in Empangeni at age three-and-a-half – had begun to lose their vividness of late.

However, Fiat reckons the worst of their bad times in SA are behind them. If the newly minted Tipo sedan and hatchback are anything to go by, they company’s fortunes may well be about to improve.

IT’S A HATCH

No, it’s a sedan. Well actually, it’s both.

Not that it matters, as the Tipo looks really good in either guise.

It has a laid back Euro-cool, yet lithely powerful aura about it. Like an Italian catalogue model showing off activewear, and when you turn the page, there she is again, donning a business suit and high heels.

In the overpopulated medium-compact (or C-segment) of the market – where the Toyota Corolla, Mazda3, Hyundai Elantra, and Opel Astra play – the Tipo’s design is distinctive to the point of being a breath of fresh air. If looks alone determined a new car’s success, the sleek headlights, long elegant bonnet, purposeful character lines, and pleasing silhouette would sell more than the 100 units a month that Fiat South Africa hope to sell here each month.

STYLE OR SUBSTANCE?

Hedging their bets on successful new car sales to private buyers, as well as bulk sales to rental and other fleets, Fiat’s carefully assembly of the Tipo range is designed to optimise affordability.

Two body styles, three trim levels, three engines and three transmission types are already available.

The sedan can be had in either POP or EASY versions, while the hatchback is available in POP, EASY or LOUNGE configurations. The list of model-specific specifications is extensive, but the real meat of the new Fiat offering is in the standard equipment that goes into every model. This includes Fiat’s UConnect sound system with Bluetooth functionality, electrical windows all-round, steering controls, height adjustable driver seat, tyre pressure monitor, front airbags, and more.

Nothing is left to the imagination, or to chance, as a full-size spare also makes it onto the standard spec sheet.

ENGINE RANGE

The engine range offers one diesel and two petrol derivatives that target the heart of the 70 to 81 kW market. Depending on the engine, transmission options include either a five- or six-speed manual in the 1.3-litre Multijet turbodiesel, and the 1.4-litre petrol and versions respectively, or a six-speed automatic in the 1.6-litre Easy derivative.

During the launch (at the coast), we managed a ride in each engine model, and our pick has to be the Multijet turbodiesel. As both petrol versions are naturally aspirated, the 1.4-litre is likely to have a hard time at higher altitudes, leaving the 1.6-litre to be the unleaded flag bearer for the range.

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

LAST WORD

With its substantial offer of good value, great design, surprisingly good build quality, and fun to drive attitude, the Tipo is our favourite new vehicle this month. It promises to raise the profile of the endearing Fiat brand in South Africa once again, and bring Italian flare back to our motoring memories.

Report by BERNIE HELLBERG | Images © FIAT SOUTH AFRICA

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