Fiat’s budget family hatchback takes on Vauxhall’s all-rounder
The all new Fiat Tipo is trying to establish itself in the budget hatch stakes. It’s not only less expensive than the Ford Focus or VW Golf, it beats them both on boot size and claims the same sort of 75mpg fuel consumption.
Although the latest Vauxhall Astra doesn’t have as much standard kit as the Tipo, it claims to do even more miles to the gallon, and it’s beaten good rivals like the Renault Mégane and Seat Leon.
Both cars are powered by 1.6-litre diesels, with the Fiat slightly topping the Vauxhall on outright power and on its strong pull from 1,500rpm (the Astra needs at least 2,500rpm on the clock for real urge). Add that to short gearing and you always feel the Italian car’s willingness to romp up the road.
The Astra claws back some points with its quieter and less vibey engine. At 70mph the Tipo suffers from wind noise around its windscreen pillars, while the Astra’s tyres slap the road noisily.
The Astra’s lower weight is clear when you turn into a corner. Response is far more eager than it is on the Tipo, and there’s less body roll than on the Tipo too. Having said that, neither car would win many prizes for its steering feel. The Tipo’s is too heavy at low speeds and the Astra’s is too light at high speeds. Despite its relatively soft suspension the Tipo seems to pick up on even small road blots. The Astra is more comfortable on every type of road.
Inside, both cars are roomy up front, and both offer good seat and wheel adjustability. The Astra’s front seats have better shoulder support, but even so you’re advised to splash an extra £260 on the adjustable lumbar support feature for longer trip. To get the same thing on the Fiat you buy the £300 Comfort pack, which also adds climate control.
The Tipo’s tall dash is a bit off-putting at first, but the high position of the infotainment touchscreen means you don’t have to take your eyes off the road quite so much. The Astra’s touchscreen is lower but also larger (seven inches v five inches) and it’s more user-friendly thanks to its clear menus. Both cars have standard Bluetooth, a USB socket and DAB radio, but the Astra doesn’t offer a satnav option (£250 in the Fiat).
There’s no real sensation of penny-pinching in the Astra. Silver dash plastics on the passenger side don’t sound too clever, but they’re offset by soft-touch materials and slick switchgear. The Tipo’s leather-wrapped steering wheel is nicer that the Astra’s plastic one but there are too many hard, weird-texture plastics elsewhere in the Fiat to make you feel good about sitting there.
Neither car is short of space, but taller passengers will be happier with the extra rear legroom and headroom in the Vauxhall. The Tipo beats it on boot size however, a feature that could mean not having to drop the seat backs. Both have high boot lips and no facility to adjust the floor heights.
On diesel family hatchback costs, you’ll struggle to beat these two. The Fiat’s sub-£17,500 Tipo list price looks tempting until you talk to Vauxhall dealers about discounts, after which the difference is only a few hundred pounds.
Over a typical three-year ownership period the Astra works out nearly £700 cheaper to buy, run and sell than the Fiat thanks to its better real-world fuel economy (56.3mpg vs 49.1mpg) and smaller insurance premiums. 40 per cent taxpaying company car drivers will sacrifice £5 a month less for the Fiat, but £37 a month more to lease it.
Both cars get 16-inch alloy wheels, air-con, cruise control and all-round electric windows. Rear parking sensors are free on the Tipo and £460 on the Astra, and you can have your Tipo’s front seats heated for a decent £175. No heated seats option exists for the Astra, and nor does the Vauxhall have a Thatcham-approved alarm, so it’s easier to break into than the Fiat.
But the Astra scored five stars for safety in its Euro NCAP crash test compared to a three-star score for the Tipo, which was marked down for child safety. Emergency city braking can be specified on both cars.
The new Tipo is disappointing. Its boot, engine and standard equipment are all good, but the Vauxhall Astra isn’t a mile off it in those departments and hammers the Fiat in handling, interior quality, smoothness and value.