Fiat had a great success back in the 60’s with the 500 model. It was cheap, practical and equipped with a 479 cmc petrol engine – that’s why it was called 500. Probably it was the first real city car.
But today 500 is changed. We had a discussion in Italy with a lot of old people regarding the “new” 500 model.
“Yes, it looks the same somehow, it has the same 500 cmc engine … everything is the same”. No sir, it has a 0.9 liter engine, and this one is the smallest unit”, I told to one of them. “900 cmc ! That’s impossible! said one man from Napoli. It’s called 500, so the engine has 500 cmc … you don’t know what you’re talking about, boy … “
So yes – I do know what I’m talking about. Fiat is changed, the 500 model is not that 500 you may know, and if this is not enough, there’s even the L model, a five door mini MPV that comes in three configurations: L, the “standard” Large/Lounge 4,140 mm long model, 500L Living, a seven seat version and our test car, the 500L Trekking. It even has ambitions to sell in the U.S. where the top 10 best-selling cars are huge! Take a look for example at the Ford F-Series, America’s best-selling vehicle.
So what’s with this “Trekking” model. It has a higher ground clearance (the car is raised by 13 mm compared to the 500L) is longer (by 11 cm) and if you put if next to a Audi Q7 for example, you may find out that it has almost the same height; so at least from this point of view it looks imposing.
In addition to some exterior SUV makeover (black front and rear bumpers with silver skid plates beneath, some plastic cladding around the wheel arches, larger 17 x 7-inch aluminum wheels …), the Trekking comes with all-season tires and Fiat’s proprietary grip-hunting Traction+, a system that controls the differential to optimize traction on slippery surfaces (something similar to Peugeot’s Grip Control).
It’s the most capable off-roader 500 yet, probably the best looking 500 and I have to say … the best500L to drive.
Engine, transmission, fuel consumption As expected the engine line-up mirrors the 500L’s with three diesel units (1.3 Mulitjet II 85 hp / 1.6 MultiJet II 105 CV / 1.6 MultiJet II 120 hp) two petrols (1.4 95 hp and 0.9 TwinAir 105 hp) and one 80 hp that runs on methane.
Our car was equipped with the 1.6 MultiJet II turbodiesel that capable of developing 105 hp and a healthy 320 Nm of torque at 1.750 rpm.
Great engine – is very capable of pulling you up quickly even if you’re under 1,600 rpm
It was Fiat’s most powerful diesel engine until November 2013 when the Italian automaker begun to deliver the 1.6 Multijet II 120 hp engine. Connected to a six-speed manual gearbox, the engine feels very flexible and will push the little MPV to speeds of over 140 km/h with ease. I can tell you that I was very satisfied with this engine, mostly because despite it has only 1598 cmc, is very capable of pulling you up quickly even if you’re under 1,600 rpm. Just push hard the gas pedal and the engine will come alive very fast. Well done Fiat! Well done. The only problem is that is not very refined like some diesel engines from Mini, so expect a little bit of noise inside the cabin when is cold or when it’s under heavy acceleration.
Don’t get me wrong here – it doesn’t sound like a tractor – is just a little bit noisy.
We’ve tested the car in extreme winter conditions (minus 22 degrees) and again the engine behaved exemplary during the startup sequence.
The six speed manual gearbox is controlled by a gear leaver that is soft, which is nice in general, but there’s a lot of travel on the clutch pedal. Also the gear stick it’s huge and some will consider it annoying.
First gears are short to maximize traction, while 5th and 6th gears are longer to help maintain fuel consumption and engine noise at acceptable levels (at 3,000 rpm you have about 170 hm/h).
Regarding fuel consumption, Fiat says the average fuel consumption of the Trekking model stand at 4.7 litres/100km. We’ve managed about 6.5 liters/100km but in normal conditions it should go down to about 5.5 – 5.7l/100km.
So far, this is the most “extreme” 500 model from Fiat, so we’ve decided to test the car for about one week at Livigno in Italy, where many prototype vehicles are tested during winter time.
It comes equipped with a cleaver traction control system called Traction+. Thanks to special algorithms for controlling and managing the braking system, the control unit electronically simulates the behavior of a self-locking electromechanical differential. Under conditions of low or zero grip from any drive wheel, the control unit detects slip and commands the hydraulic circuit to apply braking force to the slipping wheel, thus shifting drive to the wheel on the surface offering better grip. The system is activated using a button on the dashboard, and can be operated at speeds of up to 30 km/h.
Traction+ is clearly helpful and could even make the difference between getting home or not.
Does it really work? Our car was equipped with ‘snowflake’ M+S tires (these are standard), which, overall are ok, but these tires cannot achieve the performance of a real winter tire. However, even so, with Traction+ switched ON we managed to overtake many fwd. vehicles equipped with winter tires.
Don’t expect to act like a proper four wheel drive vehicle, but clearly this system is helpful and could even make the difference between getting home or not.
Even if it has 15mm higher suspension, the updated MacPherson strut and torsion beam suspension does a great job and keeps body roll in check, much better than in case of the 500 Living, the seven-seater Fiat (read the test drive).
The electric power-steering feels a little bit artificial at low speeds and even more artificial at high speeds. Overall it is reasonably direct, but it should give more feedback.
More impressively, is the City Brake Control function (is standard-fit) which uses lasers to scan the road ahead for obstacles. According to Fiat, it brings three benefits:
- frontal collision avoidance
- pre-fill braking to ‘charge’ the system ahead of a possible heavy braking event
- brake assist to increase stopping power
In some countries Trekking’s extra safety technology means it’s cheaper to insure than the regular 500L (UK for example).
The 500L was crash tested by EuroNCAP and achieved 5 stars (with an overall score of 83/100), as wheel as excellent results in other tested areas, so it should act very wheel in case of an accident. Standard equipment includes 6 airbags, ASR, Hill Holder, MSR, ABS, EBD and electronic stability control ESP.
Interior, cargo space and practicality
The interior is pretty well composed, the materials are decent and you have a lot of storage pockets – 22 more precisely. The Uconnect 5-inch touchscreen infotainment system is not as god as we’ve expected. It comes with TomTom navi, but the microprocessor is very slow and when it comes to recalculating routes it may take more than 5 seconds (or even more if there are a lot of alternatives), and during this time you may find yourself going in the opposite direction.
On the other hand, the 520 Watt Beats Hi-Fi Audio System sounds brilliantly, and we do recommend this 660 euro optional. Also, the voice recognition system works pretty well.
At 4,250 mm long is not a large car, but it feels big inside and can easily accommodate 3 average-size humans in the back row. Access inside is excellent thanks to large door openings. There’s plenty of head and legroom in the front and rear seats. The seats are very soft; you can electrically adjust the lumbar support but they don’t offer much side support. Fiat says they were inspired by airplane seats. Rear bench is higher, giving children a better view and it can move forward/backward and recline
You have 412-litre boot space, and if you need more you can all the seats down and get 1,375 liters. By contrast, the Mini Countryman offers 350 liters with the backseats up and 1,170 liters with all seats down, so you get best in class space from Fiat.
What we like / don’t like Trekking is comfortable enough to fulfil its brief as a family car. Problem is that it has a lot of competition. The Traction+ works pretty well and a function like City Brake Control is very rare in this class.
The engine is elastic and works brilliantly even in extreme winter conditions. It will start in less than 1 second at minus 22 degrees Celsius (by contrast our 3 years old Audi Q7 started in 3 seconds).
The revised suspension is firm, and the car will stay composed around corners, but we don’t indicate to push it to the limits; at the end it was designed for leisure driving and will offer honest quality to the way it drives. One thing is clear: It drives much better than the 7 seater model.
And … I’m sure practicality and comfort is much more important here and almost no one will care about body roll, steering … etc.
On the other hand, clearly, the navigation unit is too slow and the onboard computer is too sensitive. Let’s say you have 500 km of autonomy – push the gas pedal hard for no more than 5 seconds in sixth gear.
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