Rory Reid road tests and reviews the Fiat 500L Trekking, the 500L’s ruggedly handsome brother.
The Fiat 500 range has grown exponentially over the years; in terms popularity, vehicle styles and the sheer physical size of some its models. In 2009, Fiat launched the original 500 supermini, which was followed by the sporty 500 Abarth, and later the family-oriented 500L crossover. Not content with those offerings, the company has added the 500 MPW 7-seater and, more recently, the 500L Trekking to its line-up.
Fresh off our test of the MPW in Italy, we schlepped off to a slightly less glamorous Wiltshire to test drive the Fiat 500L Trekking — a sportier, more rugged alternative to the regular 500L.
We’ve always thought of the Fiat 500L as a Fiat 500 on growth hormones, and the 500L Trekking is much the same. Fiat pitches the standard car at women whose families have outgrowing the baby 500 and this 500L Trekking model will be aimed at men in much the same situation. Unsurprisingly then, this car gets a slightly more macho image enhanced by a set of plastic wheel arches, plastic diffuser-style elements front and rear, plus a set of mud and snow tyres that work in conjunction with Fiat’s new Traction + system, which helps the car find grip when traversing mucky, slippery ground. The car’s most distinguishing physical feature is its jacked up suspension — it sits 10 per cent higher than the standard 500L, boosting ground clearance to 145mm.
The 500L Trekking is just as practical a car to live with as the standard 500L, with the same advantages and disadvantages, most of which cancel each other out. It can seat five in comfort with good head and leg room all round, but the seat bottoms are very short, which can make you feel as if you’re perched on a bar stool. There are only three cup holders (rear passengers must share one) but the door bins at the front and rear are large enough to store small bottles of water and other flotsam.
The 500L Trekking has USB and auxiliary audio connectors mounted in the centre console within easy reach, next to a central cubby that looks as if it was designed to store your mobile phone, but it proves too small for most modern smartphones. That said, the car has a trio of glovebox compartments stacked just ahead of the front passenger seat, two of which can be closed for privacy. The third cubby is the perfect size for stashing small handheld gadgets. Just be careful they don’t fly out of the window when you corner enthusiastically.
Performance & Handling
The Fiat 500L Trekking uses the same engine range as its sister car, so it provides plenty of options for those wishing to prioritise either performance or economy. The cheapest of the group is the 95hp, 127Nm, 1.4 Fire petrol, which manages 0-62mph in 13.2 seconds and a maximum speed of 103mph. The smaller, but slightly more expensive 0.9 TwinAir Turbo engine is better still, producing 105hp and 145Nm of torque, which is enough for a 0-62mph of 12.6 seconds and 107mph. You’ll have to rev the knackers off it to extract peak torque, so be prepared to have your spouse accuse you of driving like a maniac when you’re just trying to stop it bogging down.
If you prefer to get your giant Fiat off the line without making like Lewis Hamilton, you’ll prefer the easy-going diesels. The 1.3 Multijet II produces a wheezy 85hp and takes all of eternity to get to 62mph, but makes up for it with strong economy. The top of the range 1.6 Multijet II makes 105hp, which isn’t particularly impressive on paper (on in the real world) but it’s smooth, sounds refined from inside the cabin and delivers a meaty 320Nm of torque at 1,750rpm, helping it pull willingly at low speeds. It’ll do 0-62mph in 12 seconds (yes, you will lose a drag race to a 1.0-litre Ford Focus Ecoboost) and it tops out at 109mph, but this is a car built for comfort not speed.
On the road, the 500L Trekking cushions its occupants from potholes well, but reveals noticeable body roll when asked to change direction rapidly. Its not averse to being driven enthusiastically, though. We left the kids behind, found ourselves a twisty stretch of b-road, gave it the beans and it didn’t entirely shame itself. Pitch it into a bend, hang on for dear dear life and it will, more often than not, come out the other side in a relatively composed manner.
Don’t let its chunky looks fool you, the Fiat 500L Trekking is no off-roader, but it isn’t shy when faced with a hillock. Fiat hasn’t bothered producing a 4WD transmission option, but those mud and snow tyres give it plenty of grip. The car’s Traction + system should help, too; if one of the two driven wheels begins to spin faster than the other due to lack of grip, the system will transfer more torque to the other wheel to help it pull away.
Sadly, we tested the car during what amounted to a mini heatwave in Britain, and we couldn’t find a puddle for love nor money. But we did drive it over a slightly muddy knoll before careening through some long grass and it coped just fine.
Economy & Environment
Low mileage drivers are likely to be better off with the entry-level 1.4 Fire petrol, which offers a decent 44mpg and CO2 of 149g/km. That said, we think the best option of the bunch is the nippy 0.9 TwinAir Turbo, which Fiat claims will deliver 54.4mpg and 119g/km. If you want even more economy and don’t mind sacrificing a huge chunk of performance, the 1.3 Multijet 85hp commands the same premium in exchange for 65.7mpg and 114g/km. A further £1,000 buys you the top of the range 1.6 Multijet, which gets 60.1mpg and 122g/km.
Equipment & Value
The Trekking costs £1,750 more than the cheapest 500L, but you get plenty for your money. All Trekking models come Traction +, bigger 17-inch alloys, hill holder, cruise control, headlights that turn on automatically when it rains or gets dark, air con, rear parking sensors and a Uconnect 5-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth. There are plenty of optional extras should you be willing to splash out. We’d skip the sat-nav (£500), splash out on the brilliant Beats by Dre audio system (£600), and would definitely consider the Lavazza coffee machine (£200).
The Fiat 500L Trekking is based on the 500L, which is as safe as houses. It scored a five-star rating in Euro NCAP tests thanks to six airbags, three-point seatbelts on all five seats, and a chassis that transfers impact energy under the car in the event of front impacts. The car also features City Brake Control, which uses sensors to scan the road ahead for obstacles. If it detects you’re about to run into something, the car applies the brakes automatically.
If you love the styling of the 500L, but want a version with a little more attitude; one that’s slightly more capable in bad weather, then we’d recommend the 500L Trekking. It’s not a massive departure from the standard 500L, but that’s no bad thing. It drives well, is hugely practical and oozes charisma; even more so now it’s been given a more rugged treatment.
Model tested: Fiat 500L Trekking
Engine: 1.6 Multijet II
Acceleration: 0-62 in 12 seconds
Top speed: 109mph
Emissions: 122g/km CO2
Price: From £17,095 (£19,590 as tested)