FIAT TIPO 1.9 Tds
I have said before, but it is worth reiterating for this test, that the turbo diesel seems likely to become the engine of the near future. Turbo diesel injection seems to offer the best short term solution to the environmental constraints which will be placed on the internal [ some say infernal ] combustion engine. It offers more economical fuel consumption, a reduced environmental impact yet still provides the performance of a petrol engine.
Clearly the day of the petrol engine is nearly at an end, yet battery and alternative fuel technology still requires a lot of development in respect of performance and range before it can be a serious alternative.
Turbo diesel injection therefore seems set to dominate the passenger car market over the next 10 or so years, particularly if the less favourable characteristics - noise and vibration - can be overcome, as they surely will be, all of the major manufacturers now see this form of engine as the way ahead.
The stylish and practical Tipo has been with us for a couple of years, winning the coveted European Car of the Year award in 1989, but the diesel variant is quite new and takes an already well established and popular Euro hatch and endows it with quite exceptional fuel consumption.
Being very well equipped throughout, the Tipo contains many large car features and the spacious cabin gives good visibility and impressive space and comfort levels. Indeed I comfortably carried 5 adults among them my teenage son and a group of his equally large teenage friends including a car mad german friend Arik, who compared the car favourably with the products of the German car industry.
The seats are a trifle firm but remain very supportive over long distances, trim standards are very good and the car has a very quality feel about it, a feel well matched by the high build standards evident. There is ample cabin stowage and the rear hatch area offers a good load space which the easily folding rear seats extend considerably.
Dash instrumentation is all digital, a feature which I am not too keen on, a little too distracting I fear, although the ability to convert, at the press of a button, from imperial to metric is very useful for continental travel. The equipment specification is quite impressive, just about everything being powered, a very full package.
Noise levels are surprisingly low for a diesel except on starting which is a bit clattery as most oil burners are, yet at motorway speeds it is difficult to tell from a petrol car, the smooth engine only turning over at 2500 rpm at 70 mph, with the turbo hardly spinning.
The overhead cam engine is very lively, the 92 bhp pulling the car along well and not the least bit embarassing at the traffic light grand prix, backed up by a good 5 speed box that encourages full use. Performance is easily the equal of most 1600 cc petrol engines although using the turbo excessively does reduce the fuel economy a fair bit.
However, with a reasonably light right foot the 12 gallon tank can give a full 500 miles cruising ability, impressive by any standards.
Handling, suspension and steering all clearly derive from the famous performance heritage of Fiat, being very sporting for a family hatch with good stability, balance and precision and very positive braking to match.
If you've now decided to make the change to a diesel or are considering doing so I can recommend a look at the Tipo, it's a very talented and economical package at the price.
First Published 1992 - Article © Graham Benge 2007