You have to hand it to the press team at Fiat UK, they do a pretty good job of sourcing locations for UK car launches. Earlier this year the 500L was unveiled at Legoland. And then recently, they chose Longleat Safari Park as the host location for the new 500L Trekking.
And I’m not sure if it was the near-tropical temperatures, or the smell of barbecue food, or even the location itself, but I found myself warming to the Fiat 500L Trekking. Much more so than the standard 500L.
The Fiat 500L Trekking goes straight to the top of the 500L range, perched above the Lounge and commanding a £700 premium. For that you get Mud&Snow tyres, Traction+, specific bumpers, tinted windows and a ride height increased by 10%.
Is the 500L Trekking a better looking car as a result? Well you can be the judge of that, but – and I’m prepared to stick my neck out here – I’m growing to like the styling. The new bumpers and increased height only serve to turn up the weirdness volume, which is a good thing.
Preferably the 500L Trekking needs to be painted in a bright or garish colour, like the unique-to-Trekking Hip Hop Yellow, but I also think Beatbox Green works a treat. Just avoid the tedium of Darkwave Black or Heavy Metal Grey. If you’re going to draw attention to yourself by tooling about in a 500L Trekking, you may as well do it in style.
But just who is going to tool about in the 500L Trekking? Fiat claims it will attract more male buyers, but I’m not so sure. It’s arguably one of the least masculine cars in a sector that includes the likes of the Countryman, Yeti, Captur and 2008. Lifestyle-led vehicles that focus on practicality, space and fun.
Let’s consider a few men – some dead, some alive. Would Steve McQueen look good in a 500L Trekking? No. How about James Hunt? Of course not. Jeremy Clarkson? No way. David Beckham? Hardly. Louie Spence? Perhaps, but he’s a little on the short side, so will look faintly ridiculous in the 500L Trekking’s rather tall cabin.
And besides, the 500L Trekking only really works when you’ve got three screaming children fastened into the back seat, each one constantly asking “are we nearly there yet?” at regular ten minute intervals.
Look, you’ll either accept the looks of the 500L Trekking or you won’t. But the fact remains, Fiat has delivered a very convincing product.
We started out by taking a tour of Longleat’s Safari Park, with strict instructions NOT to enter the monkey enclosure. Which was a shame, if totally understandable.
So we made our way through the giraffe enclosure, past the lions and tigers and said a quick hello to the wolves on the way out. As it happens, the 500L Trekking was the perfect vehicle. The lofty driving position combined with the large windscreen and split A-pillars provide lots of scope for animal spotting. There’s also a huge amount of headroom in the front and plenty of legroom in the back.
It’s this headroom and large expanse of glazed areas that contribute to an incredibly light and airy cabin. It’s anything but sombre inside the 500L Trekking, which somehow manages to lift the mood. I’d defy even the harshest critics of the 500L’s styling not to be won over by the interior.
You’d think that the lofty dimensions would contribute to a pretty atrocious driving experience, but you’d be wrong. It’s a neatly packaged thing, with a relatively small wheelbase. This contributes to a driving experience free of drama or fuss. It’s not exciting to drive, but I suspect that most people won’t care. It’s just…well…it’s just nice to drive.
The 1.6-litre MultiJet diesel engine is the range-topping unit, with prices starting from £19,590. At 105hp it offers the same amount of power as the 0.9-litre turbocharged TwinAir and it’s perfectly adequate at propelling the 500L Trekking along at a pretty decent lick. Some hills will require shift down in gear, but it does just fine.
It will reach 62mph in frankly who cares and reach a top speed in excess of one hundred and it doesn’t really matter. Because performance isn’t really the point of this vehicle. Instead, sit back and delight in the simple addition of the Traction+ button.
I had the pleasure of testing the system in the otherwise forgettable Fiat Qubo last year and it’s a decent bit of kit. Rather than lug around an expensive and weighty 4×4 system, Traction+ simply stops spinning wheels and transmits torque to the wheels with better grip. It can be activated at speeds of up to 18.6mph.
It’s perfect for slippery grassy car parks, dusty tracks and muddy lanes. In other words, the kind of stuff us Brits are likely to be faced with. Those who genuinely need a 4×4 will still buy a 4×4. Those who don’t, but occasionally require some added traction, will revel in Traction+. What’s more, it won’t have the same impact on your fuel economy and it’ll be less expensive to fix when it goes wrong.
Combine Traction+ with the 320Nm of torque available in the 1.6-litre diesel and you’ll have enough poke to get you out of most trifles.
And talking of trifles, the 500L Trekking is the first Fiat to feature City Brake Control as standard. The system will apply the brakes automatically if it senses a potential collision. A neat feature that could avoid a collision, but will definitely save you money. As a result of City Brake Control, the insurance group ratings of the 500L Trekking are 8 to 15, which compares to 10 to 18 for the standard 500L.
Bear in mind that a typical PCP finance plan on the Trekking will cost £10 a month more than a 500L Lounge, this additional cost should be offset by the savings on the monthly insurance premium. Can’t see why you wouldn’t buy a Trekking really.
The level of standard kit is impressive, with cruise control, a 5-inch UConnect touchscreen infotainment system, Bluetooth, air conditioning and six airbags all offered on the Trekking. Things will start to get expensive when you add a few options, but you pays your money, etc, etc.
And yes, the £200 Lavazza coffee machine is available on the 500L Trekking.
So yes, I did find myself warming to the 500L Trekking. Enough to buy one, probably not. But enough to want to spend another day in its company, yes.
Maybe next time I’ll sneak one into the monkey enclosure. See what they make of the onboard coffee machine.