A seemingly harmless trip to the shops leads to a rare sighting of the lesser-spotted Tipo.
A stroll around my local retail car park in suburban Cork is a dispiriting experience at any time, even when the rain isn’t horizontal. Filled with the usual drear parade of monochrome conveyances, there is little for the eye to linger upon, or indeed from which the uninfluential auto-blogger can spin an article. However, earlier in the week, I was stopped in my tracks by, of all things, a 2017-registered Fiat Tipo Sedan – the first I’ve witnessed in the wild.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure if the ‘sedan’ was even offered in the Irish market, but lo, Fiat appears to have gone to the trouble of producing it in right hand drive form. This leads me to wonder where else it’s offered, because if Sergio’s banking on the Irish to bail him out, his delusions truly are boundless.
Fiat offer the Tipo with all three body styles, in three trim levels; Pop, Easy and Lounge – (well you did ask) – four engines, and with six speed manual or automatic transmissions. Engines are normally aspirated and turbocharged 1.4 litre petrols or 1.3 and 1.6 litre turbodiesels. Fiat Ireland are coy about the technicalities, but that isn’t unusual nowadays it does appear.
Okay, I’m almost 200 words in and to what end? Well, having taken the time to examine the exterior up close, I must admit to being quite pleasantly surprised. What I discovered was a surprisingly well proportioned shape, clean lines, a refreshing lack of fussy detail and at the rear especially, a strong sense that Fiat stylists made a genuine effort to make an inexpensive compact car look just that little bit nicer than strictly necessary.
It put me in mind of the sober, appealing Fiat berlina’s of yore – I’m thinking of the 1100 series, 124’s and 128’s really, although at 4.54m in length, the Tipo’s actually a good deal more generously dimensioned than photos suggest.
Certainly, if Autocar is any guide, the car itself has proved something of a critical disappointment, lacking finesse in steering, ride and handling. Interior space and cabin quality were also faulted. Which is a pity, because had Fiat finessed the car a little more, what we could have had was exactly the sort of pleasant and pleasing middle-ranking compact saloon that is becoming virtually extinct.
But herein lies the rub. For years a bastion of the three volume saloon, my Irish industry sources suggest this prevalence is dying out – or is being skewered by the inexorable rise of the crossover CUV. So with the format falling out of fashion, Fiat may have missed the boat here.
A lack of visibility could be another issue. Fiat’s pan-European TV ad campaign doesn’t make clear what’s on offer – or indeed that the better proportioned, prettier saloon is over €1000 cheaper than the ‘where did I park it again’ hatch. Once there were three large Fiat dealers in the central Cork area. Now, there is one, tucked away in a remote corner. As I said, visibility counts.
You’ve got to feel sympathy for Fiat Ireland. When you look at what they’re being given to sell, they clearly have their work cut out. The Tipo Sedan should have been ideal for budget-conscious Irish customers, being cheaper to buy, yet somehow contriving to look more upmarket than its hatch counterpart. But the growing shift away from saloons removes perhaps the only unique selling point for the model line.
Likely to be the final tre volumi Fiat to be offered here, when the Tipo Sedan is pulled from these shores an era will have come to a close. And with FCA’s stateside woes redoubling and Sergio flinging himself at anyone with a pulse at Geneva, Fiat’s mid-term prospects are not encouraging.
With the Tipo sedan, it initially looked a little like Fiat reverting to type, but in truth, once you drill down it feels much more like an ending.