2017 Fiat Tipo station wagon: Saving the best for themselves?
Price: Starting at 17,300 euro ($19,040, as of June 1.)
Marketer’s pitch: “È l’ultima arrivata eppure e’ la piu’ grande.” (“It’s the newest and the largest,” agree several Italian speakers and translation apps.)
Conventional wisdom: Autoexpress.co.uk says the Fiat Tipo wagon “drives very similarly (to the hatch), which means it’s refined and comfortable — if a little dull. It’s a bit expensive, though, putting it closer on paper to much more accomplished rivals.”
Reality: A nice touring vehicle from Turin.
A trip abroad: As Sturgis Kids 1.0 through 4.0 have grown — 4.0 is now taller than his old man and the three others are living mostly on their own — we’ve been able to take some longer family excursions. But this year, the Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat and I left the Point-Ohs to travel Spain, France, and Italy for a couple of weeks.
And what better way to enjoy this trip but test some exotic European cars and report back to my readership in the States?
Alas, exotic European cars were not to be had; a front-wheel-drive Fiat Tipo station wagon was the closest we could come.
A different kind of Fiat: The company’s return to the United States about five years ago has been focused on the tiny 500, its slightly larger siblings, and now the 124 Spider.
This Fiat, though, is a middle-of-the-road family mover, about the size of a Golf Alltrack wagon, and very much resembling the now-defunct Acura TSX Wagon, which is one of my favorite vehicles of all time.
Up to speed: The Fiat Tipo wagon tested featured a diesel powerplant — like about 50 percent of new cars in Italy, France, and Spain, according to the European Auto Manufacturers Association.
The 1.6-liter turbodiesel produced 120 horsepower, but still provided decent pickup on the Autostrada, as we left the Fiat plant in Torino and headed for a long weekend in Venezia.
Shifty: Like most of the cars here, the Tipo featured a six-speed manual transmission. The clutch felt comfortable and simple to use, and shifting was easy.
On the road: Acceleration to 130 kmh (about 80) was easy and quick, and sixth gear could be used for anything above 100 kmh (about 60).
Driving in Italy offers plenty of acceleration testing opportunities, as Italian drivers going 110 will pull in front of you to pass, not troubled that you’re zipping along at 130 or more and they’re in your way. Slow down and wait, grazie.
Driver’s Seat: I’ve said some mean, mean things about Fiats in Driver’s Seat. The American versions can be awkward in driving position and in view of the dashboard and controls.
The Tipo wagon’s controls all seemed fairly logical — and as a Mr. Driver’s Seat who’d just spent a week in unfamiliar countries mangling unfamiliar languages and traversed five hours through the Alps, my brain was fried. Yet, the Tipo was an easy adjustment.
The cloth seat was comfortable, and the manual adjustments easy to perform. A power lumbar control was the hardest thing to find, and finding it made the rest of the journey far better — the person before me left it fully engaged, while I prefer it fully removed.
Friends and stuff: The rear compartment held a full-size spare tire, but we still had plenty of room for two checked bags and two carry-ons behind the rear seat under the cover.
The rear seat was roomy, with plenty of legroom, headroom, and foot room.
Play some tunes: Controlling the radio and music options was simple and the on-dash tablet-looking unit is attractive. Knobs control volume and station, while the touch screen worked well at handling the rest.
Coming to America? Not likely, Fiat spokespeople say. But if you have a chance to rent one abroad, I’d say go for it.
Fuel economy: We saw consumption running about 14.5 km/liter, which translated into 34 mpg, a little on the disappointing side. A Nissan crossover I also tested did better.
Where it’s built: An out-of-the-way industrial town south of the Alps called Turin. Don’t go there; it’s Cleveland but with the Alps instead of Lake Erie, and driving is a nightmare.
How it’s built: Carbuyer.co.uk says: “There are no two ways about it: Fiat finished last in our 2016 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, coming 32nd. While this may put some people off buying a Tipo Station Wagon, in fairness, the bottom five manufacturers included Nissan, MINI, and Hyundai — carmakers with superior reputations for reliability that all closely followed Fiat in the rankings.”
In the end: Station wagons are a hard sell in the United States, and I imagine Fiat has an image to maintain in our busy market. But I’ve often read Europe has access to a much better market of cars than the U.S., and the Tipo SW confirms that theory.
Next week: The 2017 Nissan Qashqai, a Rogue by another name.