Side one they say is ‘the metropolitan city dweller navigating the urban jungle’. Then because of its Traction+ gripping function the second side is ‘the adventurous one for the traveller with an eye on the horizon’.
Still confused, let me retrace – the Fiat 500L concept follows the path pioneered in modern times by MINI and its growth from a hatch model through to an All4 Countryman bulbous crossover estate.
The Fiat 500 city car in hatch, convertible and Abarth forms has been a huge success for Fiat with increasing popularity. In the UK it has outsold MINI five months out of the first six and Fiat expects to sell around 35,000 units here this year.
Knowing customer retention for the brand is vitally important Fiat needed larger versions of the 500 to meet the demands of young but maturing singles and couples that Fiat calls ‘cool nesters’ who are termed ‘families to come’ customers. Earlier this year to meet this growing sector along came the 500L, a mini MPV with versatile seating, good load space, plenty of headroom, a good boot and a wide range of fuel efficient engine choices. Prices range from £14,995 to £18,890.This model has been popular with 62% of UK drivers being ladies, some we assume mums and 38% men, some we assume dads. Despite aiming to retain customers growing out of a Fiat’s 500 city car in fact over 70% of 500L sales have gone to conquest customers and Fiat UK has targeted over 12,000 sales annually of the model range. By the way watch out for Fiat’s cheeky but topical royal birth advertisement for the 500L.
Now perhaps with men more in mind, using the ‘Style + Dads’ advertising theme aimed at the ‘ultra cool nesters’, Fiat’s words not mine, along comes the 500L Trekking version. This is a more macho and muscular crossover version of the 500L with a 10% higher ground clearance, bulging bumpers and wheel arch protectors and protective undershields. Most important this model has Fiat’s Traction+ system and mud and snow all season tyres for added grip. There are no plans at this stage to add a 4×4 system used in the Panda hatchback range. The Trekking also has Fiat’s City Brake Control function, a system which applies the brakes in low speed driving conditions if the driver fails to. This function lowers insurance ratings by up to three groups despite the higher price of the Trekking over the 500L stablemates. The Trekking sits above the Pop Star, Easy and Lounge models in the 500L range with a £700 price premium over the Lounge version.
Fiat estimates they will sell in the UK up to 3,000 of the 500L Trekking models a year with a 50/50 split between retail and fleet customers. Prices currently range from £17,095 to £19,590 but there are two more engine options to arrive at the end of this year, a 1.4 T-jet 120hp petrol and a 120hp version of the 1.6 MultiJet ll diesel, both with manual gearboxes with prices to be confirmed. At launch the Trekking is available with a petrol 1.4-litre 95hp engine and a 0.9-litre Twin Air petrol 105hp unit both with manual transmissions. For diesel customers there is a 1.3 MultiJet ll 85hp diesel with manual and auto gearbox options and a 1.6-litre MultiJet 105hp unit with a manual gearbox.
In addition there is of course a wide range of extra cost personalisation options including a Lavazza on-board coffee machine costing £200. Bearing in mind the cost conscious world we now live in the Trekking is available with a PCP monthly finance package at £199 over three years with an annual limit of 10,000 miles.
Yet to come in September is another 500L version, the MPW, or Multi-Purpose Wagon, a crossover between an MPV people carrier with the option of seven seats, sort of MPV cum estate, which is 20cm (8-inches) longer than the 500L and Trekking models. This range is also targeted to add up to a further 3,000 UK annual sales but because of its styling and layout will appeal more to fleet customers who could account for 70% of buyers.
Karl Howkins, the new Commercial Director for Fiat Group Automobiles UK, said at the 500L Trekking media launch, Fiat’s overall sales in the UK are on the up, 15.4% for the first six months of this year. With the addition of the 500L family models we now have a wider range to compete in most areas of the UK car market, especially for fleet business. Overall in the UK fleet buyers account for 52% of registrations, Fiat only has a 34% slice of fleet sales so we can grow this area of the new car market. Mr Howkins joined Fiat in the UK after 20 years with GM (Opel Vauxhall in Europe) where fleet business is a big part of their business.
The assembled UK motoring media got to grips with the Fiat 500L Trekking at the Longleat Safari Park in keeping with the vehicles ‘macho’ rugged styling, higher ground clearance and family-friendly seating with boot space to match. After a sedate passage past, Lions, Tigers, Wolves and so on we moved to the rural jungle of winding narrow and hilly roads of Wiltshire/Somerset before a brief off-road section to sample Traction+.
We had the current top of the range 1.6 MultiJet 105hp diesel model available for test driving although this version is only expected to account for 15% of Trekking UK sales due to its high-ish price of £19,590. Family budgets are expected to make the 1.3 diesel the most popular model because of the £1,000 lower purchase price than the 1.6 diesel. With better fuel economy and lower taxes around 45% of owners are expected to choose this engine. Next most popular, appealing to 35% customers, will be the 1.4-litre petrol model as its the cheapest to buy and the 0.9-litre Twin Air two cylinder petrol unit should pick-up around 5% of Trekking UK sales.
Performance plays a lesser role in this family compact MPV/crossover segment, it’s all about space, comfort , versatility value for money, low running costs and Fiat say for younger buyers it’s also about must-have image. I’m against the customer pigeonholing of new models because I can see not just the ‘cool young’ going for the Trekking or the 500L variants, they will appeal to older ‘empty nesters’ as well who feel young. They have the money to indulge themselves in something more user-friendly and with a trendy image and not forgetting the Traction+ facility for when the road conditions get tough with mud, rain, snow, ice and more potholes. Another important group of customers are the ‘less-able’ who will attracted by the ease of access, the room to carry walking aids in a large-ish load space, the upright supportive seating and good visibility.
The youthful interior styling is fit for all ages and the exterior semi-rugged design I think improves the look of the vehicle. The 500L I thought looked a little odd and not really a Fiat 500 family member. Well the Trekking style doesn’t look much like a Fiat 500 either but the Trekking I found more appealing, distinctive with more character without being as muscle-bound as the steroid approach adopted by MINI for their bulbous and unbalanced Countryman. It also looks more stylish than other competitors such as the Ford B-Max MPV and the Skoda Yeti 2/4WD crossover.
Inside the Trekking is light and airy and easy to live with whatever the changeable seating/load carrying requirements are and there is plenty of headroom throughout. The front and rear seats slide forward, fold down flat in various combinations for a long load floor and there’s a height adjustable boot floor. The Trekking’s standard equipment list is high being the top model in the 500L range. Included are such items as air conditioning, electrically operated windows and door mirrors, stability control, Traction+., City Brake Control, Start&Stop, automatic lights and wipers, touchscreen radio, Bluetooth, cruise control, remote central locking, height adjustable steering wheel and driver’s seat, rear parking sensors, front fog lights, six airbags and a space-saver spare wheel. Extra cost paintwork combinations and gadget options can be added to suit one’s taste.
On the road, or off it, the Trekking is simple to drive; the ride generally comfortable but the course grip standard tyres do emit a road noise hum at higher speeds. There is some body roll during enthusiastic cornering but generally the car rides flat and level with reasonably cornering grip for a tall crossover family vehicle.
The Traction+ system operate on the front driving wheels and comes into use when the driver presses a button. Essentially the system applies the brake to a spinning wheel to stop the drive being lost through that wheel and the differential then puts the drive through the wheel with grip. It will work well and gives confidence in snow/ice and muddy conditions. It’s simple but seems surefooted.
The 1.6-litre turbodiesel engine didn’t overly impress. It can be a bit noisy, a bit tardy accelerating from low speeds and at crawling speeds instead of coping happily in second gear, as it should for a turbodiesel, it was less prone to stalling if first gear was engaged even just trickling along. Despite its turbo power with 236lb ft of torque from 1,750rpm top speed is a leisurely 109mph, zero to 62mph takes a relaxed 12.0-seconds and the Combined Cycle fuel economy is officially 60.1mpg. Our test drive figure was a modest 38.4mpg but that included our wildlife safari crawl through Longleat. I would imagine it should be easy enough to get above the 45mpg mark for open road driving. With CO2 emission of 122g/km the VED road tax is £0 for the First Year rate going up to £105 a year for year two onwards. Company car drivers will pay 19% BIK tax. Insurance is Group 15, over twice that of the 1.3-litre diesel power model which seems to be the engine of choice for cost reasons.
MILESTONES. Fiat 500L Trekking 1.6 MultiJet 105hp diesel. Price: £19,590. Engine/transmission; 1.6-litre, 4-cylinder, direct injection turbodiesel, Start&Go, 105bhp, 236lb ft of torque from 1,750rpm, 6-speed manual with Traction+. Performance: 109mph, 0-62mph 12.0 seconds, 60.1mpg (38.4mpg on test), CO2 122g/km, VED road tax £0 First Year rate then £105 second year onwards, BIK company car tax 19%. Insurance group: 15E. Warranty: 3-years/60,000 miles. Dimensions/capacities: L 4,270mm, W 1,800mm, H 1,679mm, 5-seats/5-doors, boot/load space 343 to 1,310-litres, braked towing weight 1,100kg. For: Youthful distinctive and fun styling outside and in, compact size but plenty of interior space, high specification, easy to drive, comfortable seats, will appeal to young, not to young and not so agile owners. Against: Road noise intrusion from the chunky tyres, fidgety ride at times, some cornering body-roll, lack-lustre engine response, prone to stalling at very low speeds in second gear. Miles Better News Agency