The family hatchback market is the UK’s most popular sector, with long-standing big sellers from the likes of Vauxhall and Ford traditionally leading the way. Attempting to break into those models’ territory is a brave move, but Fiat is doing exactly that with its latest Tipo, which majors on space, kit and efficiency for a budget sum.
That main selling point could be the Italian model’s first downfall, however. The fact the likes of the Astra and Focus have been around for so long means they are already available with decent discounts, and in fact the Vauxhall 1.6 CDTi 110 Design tested here is cheaper in the real world than its Tipo 1.6 Multijet 120 Easy Plus equivalent. For private buyers, those savings continue throughout the first three years of ownership as well, to the tune of £700 – although company car drivers will be a little better off with the Fiat.
The Tipo has more generous standard equipment, adding reversing sensors and an insurance-approved alarm to the air-con, alloys, cruise, DAB, Bluetooth and electric windows both cars feature. Unlike the Astra, it also offers optional sat-nav and heated seats. Where the Fiat does fall down kit-wise is in its safety provisions; it scored only a three-star Euro NCAP rating for crash protection, performing woefully in comparison with the Astra.
Inside, each car is roomy, with a good driving position – although both lack standard-fit lumbar adjustment. Thanks to the upright dash design, the Fiat’s controls are easy to reach and its media screen simple to view while keeping your eyes on the road. The Vauxhall’s touchscreen is larger, though, and easier to navigate.
The Astra is the bigger contender in the rear, while the Tipo has the larger boot, but the prize for superior material quality goes to the former. Fiat’s scratchy plastics just don’t impress.
On the road, the Italian contender pulls more willingly from low down but lacks the Brit’s engine refinement. The Astra matches that finesse with sharper handling responses, better body control and good grip levels. Its only drawback is its lack of steering weight at speed. When it comes to ride, again the Vauxhall takes the win, with its smoother, more settled and more comfortable behaviour.
It’s clear where this test is going. We rarely see such a mismatched pairing. Yes, the Tipo is marginally better for engine output, equipment and boot size, but the Astra isn’t far behind in any of those departments. And it’s streets ahead in so many other significant areas that the outcome of our head-to-head is painfully obvious.
The Fiat’s highly disappointing crash-test rating just doesn’t cut it in a family car, and neither does it come close to genuinely challenging the Vauxhall in any other aspect, whether it’s ride and handling or refinement and interior quality, not to mention buying and ownership costs. It simply isn’t good enough to win here.
Fiat Tipo 1.6 Multijet 120 Easy Plus
Engine size 1.6-litre diesel
List price £16,995
Target price £16,421
Power 118bhp @ 3750rpm
Torque 236lb ft @ 1750rpm
Top speed 124mph
Gov’t fuel economy 76.3mpg
True MPG 49.1mpg
CO2 emissions 98g/km
Vauxhall Astra 1.6 CDTi 110 Design
Engine size 1.6-litre diesel
List price £17,615
Target price £16,351
Power 108bhp @ 3500rpm
Torque 221lb ft @ 1750-2000rpm
Top speed 121mph
Gov’t fuel economy 78.5mpg
True MPG 56.3mpg
CO2 emissions 95g/km
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