Fiat

Tipo 16v

The hot 2.0-litre Tipo finally arrives, but not before autumn here. It's good, though no real road-burner

THE TIPO 16V'S ONLY REAL problem is that it's off the pace. We'd done 50 miles, impressed with the package but lukewarm about performance, when an Astra GTE caught up as we tailed an overtaking slowcoach. When the autostrada cleared, GM's streaker - also with 2.0-litre 16- valve power-swept by imperiously. The all-out Fiat quickly lost touch.

In Motion

That's the disappointing news about the flagship Tipo, which Fiat pitches into an expanding market niche, contested by a GTi bratpack that accounted for more than 150,000 sales last year in Europe. That's 4,2 percent of the giant C-class sector. The more encouraging news is that the Tipo 16V is likely to be keenly priced. If Flat UK keeps to its forecast of £12,500-£13,300 come September, the top Tipo is going to undercut the rapid Astra GTE 16V by £3000 or more. With that fiscal advantage, it can afford to be slower.

The overdue 16V, delayed while other new models were released, severs previous links with the Abarth competition wing but upholds a long tradition of go-faster Fiats. It brings to 23 the number of Tipo models now made. Power comes from a counterbalanced 2.0-litre twin-cam, destined for service elsewhere, which decisively outranks the existing 138bhp 1.8 16-valve engine (not sold here) on performance and refinement.

Engine

The smooth, vroomy engine has promising credentials: two counter-rotating balancer shafts, Weber Marelli electronic fuel injection/ignition, four valves per cylinder, 148bhp at 6250rpm, and a flat torque curve peaking at 130lb ft. For all that, the 16V feels strangled - emissions strangled by a three-way catalyst that meets strict US '83 standards. The engine never really comes alight with the brio you expect at top-end revs. Performance is quite lively - Fiat claims 0-60mph in around 8.2 seconds, and a 128mph top - but shy of class benchmarks.

Dashboard Trickling in town, the engine is also tiresomely snatchy, the power either on or off when ambling on a light throttle, suggesting electronic management chip compromises that have penalised low-speed driveability, just as they have on the Peugeot 205 GTI. Who will be first on the market with a 'hot' exchange chip, vindaloo for mild? A second car we tried had smoother low-rev throttle response, and perhaps stronger flexibility, too, though it felt no different when extended towards the noisy limit

The balancer shafts effectively dissolve harshness, if not top-end hysterics. Hard-edged and thrummy, the engine is never particularly quiet (what sporting Fiat is?), shortish gearing emphasising cruise fussiness. Nor is wind noise as low as it should be, despite the Tipo's clean aerodynamics (Cd 0.31). The stiff body, much of it galvanised to allay old fears about rust, is well insulated from noise generated by 185/55 tyres (195s are optional).

The stiffened suspension - antidive MacPherson front struts, trailing arms on struts at the back - sometimes feels quite jittery, but the ride is commendably quiet. Steering assistance (which is standard) is neither too much nor too little, meaningful resistance being backed by pleasing precision. Response is not especially sharp, but it is delightfully linear, so the car corners cleanly, accurately, without lurch or discernible roll. Although tight turns betray determined understeer, the 16V's all-square handling and stability are among its more endearing qualities. Its brakes feel strong and true, too, though there's too much servo assistance to heel-and-toe smoothly.

Seats The standard seats are broader than the optional bum-pinching Recaros, but hardly any less supportive. You sit comfortably at the height-adjustable wheel (a leather-rimmed Momo) behind a neat dash carrying conventional instruments. I liked the 16V's interior architecture and check-cloth finish, though some of the plastic trim does not stand up to close scrutiny, never mind to touch. The gearlever knob, for instance, feels tacky, as if jammy fingers have been round it. Pity, because the short-throw change is otherwise light and loose.

When the Tipo 16V goes on sale in Britain, probably after the August rush, the price will include central locking, powered windows/ roof/mirrors, tinted glass, headlamp wash/wipe, split rear seats and heated, height-adjustable seats. Anti-lock brakes (spurned by some skilled drivers, Fiat asserts) will cost about £850 extra. On top of that you get class- leading roominess, bodywork, and dressy addenda that caught the eye of Italian car spotters.


Counterbalanced 148bhp four (above) is smooth but loud. Dash (top) has clear dials , interior (center) comfy and airy. Body that of normal five-door Tipo.

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