Port Elizabeth - After its most recent attempts at cracking the South African C-sized market with previous (and now discontinued) Punto and Bravo models, Fiat is taking another stab at the popular segment with its new Tipo hatch and sedan range.

The newcomer takes a sort of best-of-both approach, with dimensions leaning toward the bigger side of cars in the class, but with pricing strategically positioned in line with cheaper offerings. In other words, it’s a Golf and Jetta sized car, but at Polo hatch and sedan prices.

What’s the catch? Well, there really isn’t one. The Tipo range scores quite well in the value for money game, and if you’re looking for loads of space and features for not a lot of cash it’ll be hard to beat. But, and there is a but, Fiat has skimped a bit in the drivetrain department to keep costs down.

Motivation comes from a choice of three rather underpowered engines, starting with a 70kW/127Nm naturally-aspirated 1.4 petrol, moving up to an 81kW/152Nm naturally-aspirated 1.6 petrol, and topping off with a 70kW/200Nm 1.3-litre Multijet turbodiesel. I drove all three at the Tipo’s media launch in Port Elizabeth this week, and all were underwhelming.

A lack of turbocharging on the petrol side was very noticeable even at sea level, and though both engines rev smoothly and quietly, they do need to be wrung hard to keep up with the flow of fast-paced traffic. The 1.4 comes with a six-speed manual, and the 1.6 makes do with a basic but effective six-speed auto gearbox.

Interestingly, the Multijet diesel option, which is by far the nicest to drive, comes only in the Tipo’s sedan body style and is paired with a five-speed manual transmission only. It’s a torquey little unit with enough low down grunt to make lighter work of hills and overtakes, and though it won’t blow your hair back by any means, the diesel’s still our pick of the bunch for its more relaxed demeanour. Fiat South Africa says it opted against a diesel hatch combination based on recent market research.

Weak engines aside, the Tipo makes a strong case for itself with handsome exterior styling and a relatively upmarket and spacious cabin. Boot space is measured at a cavernous 440 litres in the hatch and 520 in the sedan, and that’s with a full-size spare under the floors of both. Back seat space is also very good with plenty of knee and head room for taller passengers.

Quality-wise the cloth-lined and black plastic-dominated interior might be a notch below the best Kias, Hyundais, VWs and Toyotas, but it’s presented in a modern way with just enough class to pass as pseudo premium. A bland monochrome radio display comes as standard, but an optional colour-touchscreen with navigation (in all but lowest Pop trim) does well to lift cabin ambience to segment-leading rivals’ levels.

Base Pop trim comes with 16-inch steel wheels and hubcaps, electric front windows, airconditioning, steering controls, Bluetooth/Aux/USB inputs, six speakers, two airbags, ABS brakes, and stability control.

Mid-level Easy spec adds 16-inch alloys, rear-parking sensors, cruise control, LED running lights, colour-coded mirrors, leather-covered steering wheel and chrome door handles, while the top Lounge derivative (hatch only) gets the aforementioned colour screen with nav, a rearview camera, 17-inch alloys, automatic climate control, more chrome trim, foglights and a front armrest.

FIAT TIPO PRICES

Sedan

1.4.Pop70kW/127NmR229 900
1.4 Easy70kW/127NmR249 900
1.3 Multijet Easy70kW/200NmR274 900
1.6 Easy auto81kW/152NmR274 900

Hatchback

1.4 Pop70kW/127NmR249 900
1.4 Easy70kW/127NmR269 900
1.4 Lounge70kW/127NmR289 900
1.6 Easy auto81kW/152NmR294 900

All models come with 3-year/100 000km warranty and service plan.

IOL Motoring

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