Affordable fun

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Our recent round-up of the performance hatchback crop, one that had been released for last autumn’s motor shows, highlighted the headline contenders from Ford and Vauxhall (RS2000 reborn and Astra GTE 16v), but commented in passing on the considerably cheaper 16v merits of entries from Fiat (Tipo 2.0ie 16v) and Renault (19 16v).
At the time, the Fiat was not available in Britain, but we have now driven the belatedly available £13,949 Tipo sedicivalvole and are glad to record that our warm Italian driving impressions of this fluidly fast five-door remained valid in winter Britain.

Despite saving over £1600 against the list price of the similarly powerful two-litre Vauxhall, the metallic silver Fiat demonstrator bore a host of standard equipment and has an appearance that is uncommonly individual. Excluded from that seductive pricing is the electronic ABS system that Vauxhall and Ford include, while the metallic paint was an option as well. Standard Fiat incentives embrace power steering, electrical assistance for the sunroof, wing mirrors and front side glass, remote ‘plip’ control of the five-aperture central locking and a four-speaker stereo radio/cassette of erratic receiver quality. The remote control for the central locking was similarly inconsistent.

Quality is always a prime issue when assessing a new Fiat. The demonstrator fared well, save for constant wind whistle on the export-only standard sunroof and a petrol cap flip top that rivalled Ford for dowdy plastic finish and fit.

Internally, you can forget all those jibes about Italian gorillas at the three-spoke Momo wheel, although the drilled throttle pedal made us apprehensive. The adjustable steering wheel obscured some of the comprehensive instrumentation. The only dynamic faults we could list were wheel scrabble in slow (second gear) corners and a brake pedal that exhibited more travel than expected on a young car equipped with a quartet of disc brakes. There was also an occasional confusion between brake and throttle, which are set closer together in the interests of easy heel and toe operation.

The machine ran jerkily in town traffic, although it did not reach the point of stalling. Whilst we recorded 34.9 mpg in country usage, we would expect closer to the Fiat figure of 24.6 urban mpg to be the truth on cheaper, unleaded fuels. Highly commended were the balancer shaft twin-cam motor and a remote but slick gear selector operating notably close ratios.

The Tipo 16v never overwhelms with its power, but there is enough for an honest 130 mph and 0-60 mph in less than 8.5 sec. Utilising over 6000 rpm is a pleasure, but there is also plenty of pulling power from 2000 rpm in top.

As a five-door, the Fiat proved exceptionally roomy and usable. It is also more comfortable than its rivals, yet remains composed under extreme pressure and proved a pleasure to conduct, whether shopping or indulging in fully orchestrated operatics. – JW

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