The Fiat Qubo isn't going to appeal to the vast majority of PetrolBlog readers. In fact, you'd be forgiven if you hadn't even heard of it.
The fact is, until a few months back, Fiat's boxy mini-MPV had completely passed me by. That was until a chance sighting of a very orange Qubo in Tavistock. Returning home I took a look at Fiat's website where I discovered that, amongst other things, the orange colour is known as Funky Orange. Fancy that?
I guess it's understandable that some cars simply slip under the radar. When I was growing up, naming all the new cars on the market was as easy as naming the number of foreigners in the top flight of English football. There were no niches, no sub-premium this or compact that. A crossover was simply a means of creating a figure of eight on a Scalextric track.
So discovering a car I had no awareness of was kind of like finding an original Lotus Cortina in an old barn. Okay, a slight exaggeration perhaps, but even so, I wanted a go.
Qubo ownership starts from as little as £11,485 for the entry level 1.4 Active model, but I tested the all singing, all dancing Trekking 1.3 MultiJet diesel, yours for £15,080. Fiat markets the Trekking model as 'dedicated to those want to live close to nature'. In doing so, Fiat positions the Trekking alongside the towns and cities that market themselves as ‘the gateway to the <insert famous beauty spot or landscape here>’. In the same way that those towns aren't quite in the boundaries of beauty, the Trekking is not quite an off-roader, but it'll get you close.
The Trekking is set apart from the lesser models by its 20mm increased ride height, sump guard, 'exclusive' wheel trims and Pirelli mud and snow tyres. You also get a sprinkling of Trekking stickers thrown in for good measure. But this is no 4x4, with the Qubo instead being fitted with Traction+, an electronic limited slip diff that improves stability by sending the power to the wheel with the most grip. The Traction+ system is activated via a small button the dashboard. Fiat claims that it's more appealing than a conventional 4x4 system as it reduces fuel economy, cuts down on emissions and minimises the cost of maintenance. Given that most 4x4 owners will never venture off road, Fiat may have a point.
When it arrived at home, the first thing that stuck me was the colour. In Wonky Techno Orange (no, really), the Qubo really works. It presents itself as a fresh, fun and unashamedly unconventional MPV. In fact, the only other colours worth considering are Disco Green and Techno Orange. It's a Fiat for goodness sake, it's allowed to be a little off-the-wall.
Clearly aimed at young families, I thought I'd test the Qubo almost exclusively with the family on board. As luck would have it, we had tickets for the Olympic canoeing at Eton Dorney, followed by a trip to see some friends in rural Lincolnshire. So three nights away, a total of 650 miles and some highly unusual hot weather.
A key feature of the Qubo is clearly the sliding doors. But unlike the Peugeot 1007, there's no fancy electric opening and closing mechanism in the Fiat, so you'll need to get used to good old fashioned manual labour. Fortunately it's an easy door to move backwards and forwards, although my 5-year old struggled to close it from the inside. I almost see this as an extra safety feature though, as it avoids any trapped finger horror shows.
So the sliding doors make it easier to enter and exit the car in confined spaces. But there's less good news around the back, where the tailgate is so large, it's impossible to open if someone has parked close behind you. There's no split tailgate trickery here, so you'll need to get into the habit of driving into car parking spaces, rather than reversing.
Inside, the Qubo Trekking makes good use of all available space. There's 330 litres of room in the boot and this can be extended to 2,500 litres with the rear seats down. There are also numerous storage holes and compartments, making it a perfect car for a family getaway.
In the front, leg room for the passenger is restricted by a glovebox and dashboard that extends into the footwell. With the seat forward to allow for rear seat passengers, it can make the journey quite uncomfortable. From a driver's perspective, there's a good amount of headroom and I liked the shaped doors that provide a ledge for resting your arm. I don't think it's a deliberate feature, but it's a nice touch.
The biggest compliment I can give the Qubo is to liken it to a slightly enlarged Panda. Inside it feels very Panda-like, with the swithgear nicely positioned, a decent driving position and a typically good steering wheel. It's an easy car to drive and live with. It doesn't do anything spectacular, but it has a practical and robust feel that I have to applaud. In fact, it's possible to almost entirely forget that the Qubo is based on a van (until you look at it!). The ride quality is good and it soaks up the worst of British roads with relative ease.
Fiat goes as far as claiming that 'everything about driving the Fiat Qubo is simple and enjoyable'. To be fair, they're half right. It's a simple car to drive, with a turning circle of 11m helping to make it an easy car to jostle around town. The steering is light and forward-facing visibility is good. But 'enjoyable'? No.
But this doesn't matter. Nobody is going to spend £15k on a Qubo Trekking and demand B-road thrills from it. It's a boxy, go-anywhere(ish), practical little car that's inoffensive and ever so slightly bonkers. So you can forgive its lack of driving prowess. That said, the 95bhp 1.3 MultiJet diesel lump is more than adequate at pushing the Trekking along. However, at motorway speeds, a sixth gear would be nice and after a long journey, it does become a little tiresome to drive. At which point you start to bemoan the awful gear change and lack of support from the front seats.
If I'm honest, the Qubo Trekking would make a very good second car. The kind of vehicle that is perfectly suited for ferrying the children to school or their sports clubs. A car for chucking a couple of bikes on the roof and heading on to the moors. Something to take to the beach, with a surf board tied to the top and a rubber dinghy in the boot. Just as Fiat intended then?
A Fiat Qubo Trekking is a refreshingly unpretentious car in an increasingly pretentious sector. Even its Traction+ system is a welcome alternative to the standard 4x4 offerings. It may be the most expensive Qubo in the range, but its low CO2 emissions of 107 g/km equates to road tax at just £20 per year. What's more, the fuel economy figure is a theoretical 68.9mpg on a combined cycle. Just watch the insurance on the Trekking, as its three groups higher than the rest of the range. To get a quote from Kwik-Fit, click here.
It didn't quite live up to the expectations of the Funky Orange Qubo I saw in Tavistock and it's not a car I'd ever buy with my own cash. But if you're after a practical, reasonably good value, 5-seater and don't intend to venture too far off the road this winter, it could make for quite a sensible buy.
Me, I'm off to continue my search for the Lotus Cortina.
Fiat Qubo Trekking
- Pint of Milk: Almost completely devoid of driving fun, unless you press the Traction+ button and head off-road: 2
- Filling station forecourt: It's no looker, but in a bright colour, it manages to look just a tiny bit cool: 4
- You don't see many of those: It's not a huge seller for Fiat, so don't expect to see that many on the road: 5
- Is it worth it?: Well yes and no. At £15k it's hardly cheap, especially when the Qubo range starts at £11,485: 7
- PetrolBloggyness: It's no PetrolBlog hero, but its relative obscurity helps it along: 5
- Total for the Fiat Qubo Trekking: 46/100
Full details of the scoring can be found here.