Fiat plays the value card with this spacious family hatch-based Tipo Station Wagon estate. Jonathan Crouch looks at what's on offer.
Ten Second Review
Fiat's Tipo Station Wagon offers a sensible, spacious and affordable option to rationally-orientated buyers looking for a compact yet spacious five-door estate in the Focus-class segment. If you're not troubled by badge equity and don't need irrelevant niceties of design, it might actually be well worth a look.
If you're expecting that from this point, we're going to go on to tell you that Fiat has marshalled all its firepower into creating a definitively dynamic Focus, Golf or Astra estate rival, then you might need to manage your expectations a little. This car comes instead from a project the Italian conglomerate has jointly funded with the Tofas manufacturing firm in Turkey to create a simply-structured, low cost family model for developing markets in the Middle East and Africa. Selected European countries get it too, ours being one of them.
That doesn't mean that this can't be a very credible contender in the 'C'-segment estate category though. After all, it shares the same engineware and high-strength modular steel platform that already feature in highly regarded FCA Group products like the Jeep Renegade and the Fiat 500L. You get the same kind of infotainment technology too, yet the simple structure and low-cost manufacturing concept mean that Fiat can sell you a Tipo Station Wagon for thousands less than most competing brands will charge for a car in this class.
The Tipo Station Wagon's road going demeanour has been set up to favour relaxed comfort rather than any kind of dynamic drive. You can see why: this is, after all, a car designed primarily around the needs of buyers in developing countries who simply want to get comfortably from A to B. So there's no trick suspension for fancy ride quality, torque vectoring for classy cornering or ridiculously powerful engine options that hardly anyone will buy. Where Turin has had modern carry-over technology it can use - the engines, the modular platform, the Uconnect infotainment technology - then that's been thrown into the development mix, but the over-riding priority here has been in the creation of the best possible car for the lowest possible price. Which means that in almost every regard, this Tipo delivers most of what you need and not much of what you don't.
On the 'what you'll need' side lie a frugal pair of MultiJet diesel engines, a 95bhp 1.3-litre unit and a 120bhp 1.6-litre powerplant, which is the one you'll need if you want Fiat's dual-clutch DCT automatic gearbox as an option.. If you simply must have petrol power, there's an entry-level 95bhp 1.4-litre unit, a 120bhp 1.4-litre T-Jet turbo option and a 1.6-litre E-Torq variant that can only be ordered with an old-tech torque converter auto gearbox. Whatever your choice in engines, you'll find that on the move the Tipo's suspension is troubled only by really poor surfaces and body roll is well controlled through the bends. There's also a neat 'City' button that lightens the steering for parking.
Design and Build
This Station Wagon estate bodystyle is more distinctive than its five-door hatch stablemate, but neither derivation is particularly recognisable as a Fiat. Perhaps that's the idea. What's important is that there's plenty of room in the back - 550-litres to be exact. And you can make the most of the space thanks to what Fiat calls its 'Cargo Magic Space', a rather silly name for something actually quite conventional - a height-adjustable load platform floor. There's room beneath it to store the extendable load cover but otherwise, most of the room beneath the floor is taken up by the spare wheel: you get a space-saver one on the hatch but a full-sized wheel with this Station Wagon.
There are side partitions you can remove to increase the width of the loading area, plus there are two bag hooks, a 12v socket and four load-retaining brackets too. Push the rear seatbacks forward and on this Station Wagon variant, you begin to appreciate the benefit of this bodystyle's extra 20cms of exterior length. Buyers have the faff of having to fold forward the seatbases , but at least having done that, you get yourself the almost completely flat loading area that the hatch model lacks, in this case one that can carry items of up to 1.8m in length.
Market and Model
The Tipo Station Wagon, we're told by Fiat, offers you 'more car for less money'. Does it? Let's analyse the value proposition in a little more detail to find out. Prices for this car sit in the £14,000 to £21,000 bracket - that means a £1,000 premium over the alternative five-door hatchback bodystyle. In other words, you can save thousands over the cost of obvious sector competitors. The trim line-up is pretty easy to get a handle on - 'Easy', 'Easy Plus', S-Design and the top 'Lounge' level we're trying here, with a £1,000 price walk-up between each. Fiat's finance deals are tempting too.
There are two basic power levels in the range. At the foot of the range, 95bhp output gives you the choice of 1.4-litre petrol power or a 1.3-litre MultiJet desel. Alternatively, if you can stretch up to at least £15,000, 120bhp gives you the choice of either a 1.4-litre T-Jet petrol unit or the 1.6-litre MultiJet diesel we're trying here. In each case, the premium to go from petrol to diesel power is a not-insubstantial £2,000.
The only other engine on offer is Fiat's rather inefficient 1.6-litre E-Torq 110bhp petrol unit that's priced mid-way between the 120bhp engine variants and comes only mated to an old-tech torque-converter auto gearbox. We can't really see why you'd choose it. If you want a more modern automatic gearbox with a sensible set of efficiency stats, you'll have to have the 1.6-litre diesel unit and pay a £1,000 premium for Fiat's DCT self-shifter.
Cost of Ownership
The 1.6 litre turbo diesel engine, fitted with second-generation MultiJet technology and variable geometry turbocharger, delivers impressive fuel efficiency and low emissions. On the official combined test cycle, the Tipo 1.6 MultiJet II 120hp returns 76.3mpg and produces just 98g/km of CO2emissions. The petrol engines are way off that. The 1.4-litre T-Jet unit manages 47.1mpg and 139g/km. While the 1.6 ETORQ unit only gets 44.8mpg and 147g/km.
Finally, a word about warranties. You get two years of manufacturer cover with this car, plus a further year from the dealer. Plus there's no mileage limitation, which makes this Fiat deal better than the restricted three year/60,000 mile package you get with rival Astra, Golf and Focus models. There's also a year of roadside assistance cover, a reasonable three year paintwork warranty and an eight-year anti-perforation guarantee.
This isn't the Focus-sized compact estate that the magazines and so-called 'experts' will tell you to buy. But they're not the ones signing the cheque. Doing that may well leave you viewing this segment in a rather different light. A Focus Estate is good to drive but has quite a small boot. A Golf has a nice image but is very over-priced. And almost every other contender in this class costs more than perhaps it should do. Here's an exception.
And in summary? Well in some ways, this modern Tipo shares much in concept with the Eighties original. Like that model, it's a global car built in Turkey, uses modular front-driven architecture and prioritises plenty of interior space. The difference this time round though, lies in the simplicity of Fiat's approach - which wouldn't work if this car was priced directly against its main rivals. But that isn't the case. The bottom line is that if you're looking for the best car in this segment, then this isn't it. If you're looking for the best value choice in the class though, it might well be.