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Test drive: the new Fiat 500L Trekking

Test drive: the new Fiat 500L Trekking

The bigger Fiat 500, made for the family with an added 'L', gets a new top of the range model with chunkier styling, taller suspension and enhanced rough terrain ability. The Fiat 500L Trekking is on sale now, priced from £17,095.

Fiat is on a mission to expand their range of models. They already have a supermini segment well and truly sorted with their best-selling 500 and 500C (convertible) models, and have recently grown the cheeky 500 into the 500L. The L model gets a bit of a body stretch to accommodate more people and cargo. Coming soon is the Fiat 500L MPW (Multi Purpose Wagon) which grows the 500L into a 5 + 2 seater with even more inner space. The 500 has certainly grown in sales and stature since its launch in 1998, and now we have the Trekking; a 500L that's ready for some rough stuff.

The 500L Trekking is the range-topping 500 model so far and is offered with plenty of standard kit, as well as a host of optional extra choices, and gets all of Fiat's current engines – 2 petrol and 2 diesel – with a new petrol and a new diesel also coming to the range later this year.

The range starts at £17,095 for the Trekking 1.4 95hp (petrol) and rises to £19,590 for the Trekking 1.6 Multijet 105hp (diesel). Today, I'm driving the top of the Lounge trim car with a 1.6 Multijet diesel engine and a few optional extras. The total price for the test car is £21,290, with the priciest optional extra being the Beats Audio stereo system with a subwoofer, at £600. That's a fair chunk of change for a stereo, but it does sound rather good.

We've had a few vicious snow falls in Europe in the last few years and many of the mainstream manufacturers have responded to customer wants with economical, two-wheel drive cars that, with a few extras, can handle far more slip and slide than their non-all-weather cousins - but without the need for costly, heavy and less economical four-wheel drive systems. And the 500L Trekking is Fiat's more mud-ready offering.

The base for the extra off-road ability are a set of Goodyear Mud & Snow tyres – with a deeper, more aggressive tread to cut through the gunk and onto the tarmac – plus a 10 per cent increase in suspension height and therefore suspension travel, and a retune of the traction control system called Traction+, that allows more wheel-speed and wheel-spin in slippery times, to help 'dig' the tyres deeper to find some grip. Without the Traction+ system working, the standard traction control would cut the power when it sensed too much wheel-spin. Traction+ also sends more power to the front wheel of the pair that is getting the most grip at the time of slippage.

I tried it off-road and while conditions weren't particularly boggy, it did make short work of the slight mud we had, and when I drove it really quite quickly around a bouncy grass track, the Trekking's raised suspension dealt with the bumps and ruts very well indeed. This car's torquey diesel engine also helped make the rough stuff more palatable. This wasn't a full slippery conditions test, but I think the Trekking, with its full Traction+ system and special tyres, would handle most of what the UK weather throws at us.

On the road, where most Trekkings will likely spend most of their lives, and the car feels much the same as the standard 500L, even though the Trekking with its chunkier, taller styling (new bumpers, wheel arch trims and 'bash plates') and special 17-inch alloy wheels might have paid a penalty for the taller suspension. But it doesn't wallow on its taller shocks and corners with little body-roll and respectable chassis composure. The beefier bodywork really looks good in the metal, too.

Of course, 500L is all about growing families with cargo to haul and while I found the driver's seat a little close to the dash and a little short for the seat base, I am very tall and these issues will not likely affect the vast majority of Trekking test-drivers. The 105hp diesel engine is plenty powerful enough to get the Trekking showing a good turn of speed (62mph in 12 seconds and 109mph), and with a quoted combined economy figure of 60.1mpg and CO2 at 122g/km, this Trekking's green credentials are up there with the best.

As Fiat promise, the 500L Trekking offers five good-size seats, and with a boot that grows from 343 litres to 1,310 litres, serious cargo can be carried. The styling inside is as funky as it is outside, although some of the plastics in my test car – which costs overs £20k – were a little rough to the touch in places. But, the important parts like the steering wheel, gear stick, seats and door cards all did the style and quality business, and for those that hanker over a little 500 but need much more space, the 500L and 500L Trekking should very surely fit their family bill.

As a fun-feeling, Italian-styled 5-seater that comes equipped with space and economy, and one that is bad weather-ready, the new Fiat 500L Trekking should very nicely fill the funky Fiat family niche.

Posted by Craig SalterADNFCR-3205-ID-801613231-ADNFCR