Fiat Tipo

No range of hatchbacks is really complete without a hot one. And that's what was missing from the Fiat Tipo line-up for too long. A souped-up 16-valver was promised for ages, and a 1.8-litre 16v did make a coy appearance on the Italian home market a little while ago, but the real cat's pyjamas had to wait until the end of 1991. But the wait was worth it.

The top Tipo is the 2.0ie 16v Sedicivalvole (it doesn't take a degree in Italian to work out what that means), featuring the smooth-spinning, balancershaft version of the Fiat Group's two-litre 16v engine as used in the Lancia Thema. There's Weber-Marelli-IAW electronic fuel injection and engine management, and a three-way catalytic Converter and exhaust gas recirculation to cut down on noxious emissions. Despite the clean-up act, the engine still delivers 148 bhp at 6250rpm - virtually the power you'd get from an Escort RS 2000 or an Astra GSi.


Potent as it is, the Sedicivalvole is nothing if not discreet. There are no wings or boy-racer spoilers, just extended front and rear under-bumper aprons, black- finished flared sills, a thin red line at sill and bumper level, and a new front grille. Naturally the wheels are wider; they are also of alloy, have five spokes and carry fat 185/55 R15 tyres. Finally, so other drivers know what has passed them, Sedicivalvole is written in large letters above the rear number plate.

Lowered suspension and disc brakes all round look after the roadholding and braking, while inside you'll find sporty seats (Recaros are optional), a leather- covered Momo steering wheel and - at last - a full set of proper analogue instruments instead of the hard-to assiamilate solid-state displays found in most Tipos. All this, and the Tipo's spacious, live door versatility.

The engine certainly makes the right noises. There's a purposeful burble at tickover and a deep-chested, hard-edged snarl as you accelerate away. It responds eagerly and solidly to the throttle even at low engine speeds, and pulls lustily enough in the higher gears to make it largely unnecessary to change down before overtaking - though if you do, you'll find the gearchange smooth, precise and very quick. You can take a roundabout in fourth gear and still accelerate away smartly. The power fades away at very high revs, true, but that's something you never need to find out. Maximum torque of 131 lb ft isn't developed until 5000rpm, but at least 118 lb ft is available from half that engine speed. This all adds up to a maximum speed of 129mph and a 0-60mph acceleration time of just 7.8secs, slightly better than Fiat's claims. On test, the Tipo's fuel consumption averaged a fair 25.8mpg.

Dashboard This hot Tipo is sportily low-geared, which of course explains why it's so frisky in fourth and fifth. The engine's muscle is such that it could quite happily cope with being more high-geared without spoiling the Tipo's reactions. But, if you're going to make a hot hatch, why not make it 'feel' really hot.

The Fiat is exceptionally agile, matching if not improving on the Renault 19 16V. It is fluid and tenacious in corners, gripping the road well. There is none of the sensation you get from some sporting hatches that the front wheels are doing all the work. Lift off the throttle, and the driver can feel the rear suspension help the car round the bend, neutralising understeer.

The power-assisted steering is accurate and quick to respond, stringing bends together fluently. The 16v could be described as fidgety around town, however, it is quite an acceptable ride for a sporty car and certainly not uncomfortable. Once really on the move, life is smoother with bumps and ridges in the road completely soaked up.

The brakes are perfectly servoed, pulling the car up gently and precisely. Unlike the 'wooden' feeling of some brakes, the pedal moves to a level depth with the other pedals, and biting is reassuringly progressive. The pedal travel makes heel- and-toe gearchanges far easier, especially with a bare metal, drilled accelerator pedal which just begs to be blipped.

Excellent performance family flyer

Interior The whole driving environment of this Tipo has a sporty air, with eight dials and that great Momo steering wheel. The seats with a height adjuster are excellent, holding both driver and front seat passenger comfortably in place during enthusiastic driving. Recaros are an extra cost option at £581.

As ever in a Tipo there's loads of space; this is a true five seater, with three moulded seats in the rear. The boot is also a decent size, and the rear seats split for extra load versatility.

Naturally the Tipo 16v is loaded with equipment - electric sunroof, mirrors and windows, a Grundig stereo with a thief-deterring removable control panel, remote central locking, front fog lights and more.

As for build quality, if the Tipo 16v is anything to go by, things are improving at Fiat. There were a couple of easily remedied rattles, but on the whole the car felt solidly screwed together from quality materials.

Running costs should be reasonable, bearing in mind the moderate fuel consumption and the 12,000 mile major service interval. There's also a six year anti-rust guarantee.

We expected much from the Sedicivalvole,and were certainly not disappointed. On paper the ingredients to make it a perfect family flyer, with power, performance and practicality are all on its side. On the road all this comes together, making the Fiat easy to drive in a fast, flowing way that leads to driving enjoyment. That's what performance cars are all about.


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