Fiat 500L 1.6 Multijet 105hp Trekking review – Bigger Brother Goes For a Hike

Quirky & individual looks, cool & interesting interior with practicality, Traction+ system works well, 1.6D frugal & torquey

Short seats aren’t as comfortable as they should be, bad torque-steer

Fiat 500L?

car on a muddy country lane

As soon as I mentioned I was getting a Fiat 500L, people assume I mean the cute little 500 they sell. Ahh, no. That L stands for Large, and it certainly is. Myself, and every person that chats to me about the 500L, cannot fathom why Fiat insisted on carrying across the 500 moniker, for the L is absolutely nothing like the small car, save for the styling cues. Should have been called the Fiat 700, or something, as it’s at least three stages bigger than its popular relative.

Anyway, the 500L is a large MPV, and as of 2013 there are now three versions of it – the standard 500L, the Trekking, and the MPW (Multi-Purpose Wagon). We were sent us the tougher Fiat 500L Trekking to test and review, so let’s see what it’s all about, and whether we actually like it or not…

Exterior. Butt-ugly or beauty?

Fiat 500L rear badge

Well, if anything the 500L Trekking is certainly an individual-looking vehicle. This is not one that you’ll easily lose in a car park. If Fiat set out to make this car recognisable to people in general, then they’ve likely achieved that, as the amount of looks it got while on test was possibly on a par with the Subaru BRZ. Of course, alongside its unique design, I had asked for it with the ever-so-slightly noticeable Hip Hip Yellow paint – a vivid hue that majorly stands out against the army of grey, black and silver cars you see on any given day.

Fiat 500L trekking next to a canal

Over the standard 500L, the Trekking looks tougher, bigger – actually it does have 10% more ground clearance than the others, taking it to 145 mm (5.7″) – and it’s more in-your-face, thanks to air intake cutouts in the front bumper, an unpainted plastic lower with diamond-cross grille, fog lamps and and an underbody protection tray situated at the lowest part of the front. This is followed by plastic moulding that goes all around the lower sections of the Trekking, for further ‘off-road’ protection against knocks and scuffs. Still, I’ll be honest, the front end does look like its a bit melted, though weirdly, I still like it.

front three quarter view of the Fiat 500L Trekking

Adding further to the unique design, the A-pillars are split, and house a convex piece of glass to not only aid the drivers vision, but to give an overall 360 degree view out of the interior. The raked-back roof – which can be optioned with contrasting paintwork – has is ridged to give it a tougher look from above, and its a bit of a neat touch really. From a side viewpoint, the 500L Trekking has a definite SUV impression about it, with a high shoulder line, and large sections of glass too. The 17″ alloy wheels – specific to the Trekking – are particularly striking – very cool, and very Italian, they wouldn’t look out of place on a Lamborghini.

Fiat 500L Trekking alloy wheels

The rear of the 500L Trekking is deceptive, as from a distance the car looks physically small in stature, but when you get up to it, you realise that this is a pretty big car. The tailgate is absolutely massive when you lift it, and someone small would have to jump on the rear bumper to grab the handle to get it back down again. Again, there’s another underbody plastic section at the rear, giving people a big clue that this is not the standard 500L.

Fiat 500L 1.6 Multijet 105hp Trekking review-1225

Frankly, my personal view is that I’m not particularly fond of the normal 500L’s looks. It’s slightly too girly, bulbous and… melty. However, I do like the Trekking’s design. It’s got a purpose about it, more resilience, and looks like a ‘proper’ SUV, even if it’s not a real 4×4. However, it’s very individual, and people’s opinions are very much love it or hate it, with no in-between. It’s down to you, this one.

Fiat 500L Trekking

Interior. Neat or nothing special?

Inside the 500L Trekking, you’ll find an interior as individual as the exterior. Across the dash, there are glossy plastics with satin-finish trim around the air vents, heating controls and door handles, giving it a slightly classy edge, especially if it’s in the black. You can spec white gloss plastics, but that makes it look a but like the inside of a stormtroopers helmet.

Fiat 500L interior console

It’s actually a very well laid out dash for the driver, with easy to reach switchgear, which are big and clearly marked. There’s dual climate control, for a bit o’ refinement, and an option you definitely should spec is the HiFi by Beats (as in Dre Beats speakers) for £600, as the sound is stupendously good from the 520-watt set-up, plus the built-in £100 DAB radio too. The 5″ touchscreen system, which includes bluetooth, is really well thought out, with straightforward, uncomplicated controls for the music, radio, and accessing your phonebook. No sat nav on ours, but you can option it for £500.

Fiat 500L Trekking touch screen system

Other luxuries you can option in the 500L Trekking include an espresso maker. Erm, come again? Yes, you read that right. Add the ‘Lavazza 500 Espresso Experience’ pack, and you’ve now got access to fresh coffee. Or, you simply save yourself £50 – £60 and buy the Handpresso Auto E.S.E Portable Espresso Machine which we reviewed ages ago, as it’s exactly the same machine but wireless, Lavazza-branded, and uses expensive Lavazza pods instead of the much cheaper E.S.E versions.

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Fiat 500L HiFi Dre Beats speaker

The speedometer, rev counter, fuel gauge and water temperature dials are simple, and look cool lit up blue at night. Here’s the thing though, my and another test driver found the speedo digits was partially blocked from view, unless you adjusted the steering wheel to a position that wasn’t where you’d have it normally (eg. lower). You can see the rev counter fine though, so Fiat obviously haven’t changed it from the left-hand-drive cars they make, and they need to for those of us driving on the right. The steering wheel looks to be the same as the one in the Fiat Panda, and has big, chunky controls for the stereo, phone, and cruise control on it. It’s a comfy one too, as they go.

Fiat 500L speedo dials and steering wheel

The 500L cabin is superbly light and airy, and you’ve got about as much chance as getting claustrophobic in it as you would sat in a meadow on a pleasant day. The windows are large all around, and as mentioned there are even split A-pillars with glass in them to give you a sense of 360˚ vision. To add to that, you can option either a panoramic fixed glass roof (£550) or an electric sunroof (£950).

Fiat 500L front seats

The front seats are fairly comfortable, especially if option the electric lumbar support each side. However, they are noticeably short on the back of your legs, even if you’re a shorter person, and for this reason they aren’t as comfy as they should be. Both myself and another driver and front passenger found this to be the case, so it’s not simply me being fussy.

The rear seats are good though, as you sit higher than the fronts, giving excellent vision out of the windscreen, and you can slide them forward and lean them back  too- great for long journeys.The middle section isn’t great unfortunately, as the arm rest pokes into your back, and the sealtbelt clips either side stick into your butt. Okay for short drives perhaps, but you’d be fighting for a side seat after a couple of hours, no doubt.

Fiat 500L rear seats

A negative my passengers found was that as the car is high up, and you have to kind of slide your legs down the sills to exit, if these are dirty, then it transfers to your jeans, to whatever you’re wearing. A small point, but I’d carry a cloth to avoid the problem.

Fiat 500L rear seats

The boot compartment is supremely practical, with loads of open or netted compartments dotted about to store stuff in, and it’s also got an adjustable two-level system, to store your gear easier. I loved that. The 60/40 rear seats slide forward and double-fold with one pull of a lever, to give you cavernous storage space. 343 litres seats back, 400 litre seats forward, and a cave-like 1,310 litres seats folded.

Fiat 500L boot space

In summary, the Fiat 500L Trekking interior is cool, modern, spacious, well designed, practical, and a good place to be all said. Negatives are the short front seats, and the speedometer view being partially blocked by the steering wheel.

Engine and gearbox

There are four engines available with the Trekking. Two petrol units; a 1.4 16-valve petrol with 95 hp, and a 0.9 (875 cc) litre, two-cylinder TwinAir Turbo, which has both more power and torque than the 1.4 litre! Then there are two diesel engines. A 1.3 litre 16-valve MultiJet II with 85 hp and available in manual or with a Dualogic semi-auto ‘box, and finally the one our Trekking had – a 1.6 litre 16-valve MultiJet II with 105 hp.

The 1598 cc engine is a turbo-intercooled 4-cylinder DOHC, and features a start-stop system. As with all diesels, this engine is all about torque, and produces a hefty 236 lb ft (320 Nm). Decent-enough, but I’ll mention this again later in the drive section. Only the front wheels are driven, but people usually assume it’s either 4×4 or all-wheel-drive because of the looks. I’ll talk about this in next section too, as the Fiat has what’s called Traction+.

Fiat 500L 1.6 engine

With the 1.6 engine, the Trekking will do 0 – 62 mph (0 – 100 kp/h) in 12.0 seconds dead, and max out a 109 mph. Not rocket-fast then, but the in-gear acceleration is pretty good thanks to all that torque. Fuel economy is really very good, with official figures stating 50.4 urban, 68.9 extra urban, and 60.1 combined. The 6-speed manual gearbox has long ratio’s, with 6th being simply a cruising gear, and not for overtaking, unless you actually like snails-pace. This means though, that you’ve got low rpm at motorway speeds, using less fuel.

It is genuinely frugal too, sipping diesel economically, even when you decide to have a spirited drive occasionally. On a motorway run, I was easily getting well into the late 50’s-to-early 60-mpg figures, and around town even in heavier traffic I was getting a return of around 40 – 45 mpg once we were moving. CO2 emissions are fairly good for the 1.6 litre, with 122 g/km costing £95.00 per year tax in the UK (Dec. ’13).

Ready to roll? Let’s drive!

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The 500L Trekking drives more nimbly than you’d expect from a car with such bulbous proportions. The suspension is independent at the front, and torsion beam on the rear, so it’s not going to ride as well as a car with an all-round independent setup, but it’s perfectly fine for urban driving, and in fact the slightly sponginess of the ride means it flows rather well over the awful road surfaces we have to put up with here in Blighty.

Giving it some down a winding section of country road I know, the Trekking held on to the road determinedly, but that spongy feeling is amplified over the undulations, making for more of a bouncy ride than I’d have liked. It’s not exactly a sporty car though, is it, and aside from the bounciness, it’s acceptable for what it is – a big MPV.

Fiat 500L 1.6 Multijet 105hp Trekking review-1305

The 1.6 litre diesel has bags of torque, which is great if you’ve got your Trekking full of kids or friends and a load of baggage too, as that 236 lb ft will get you up hills easily. The really long 5th and 6th gears meant I was often finding myself changing down to 4th for any sort of uphill gradient though, as the torque band is narrow, and you’ll get the most use out of it around 2 – 2,500 rpm. Once you’re motoring though, the 500L Trekking settles down, and actually makes a good motorway cruiser thanks to the long 6th.

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On that note, the torque really kicks in at just 1,750 rpm, so town driving is a breeze. However, I found all that low-down torque makes for noticeably bad torque-steer, and a few times, such as pulling out of a junction quickly, or booting the accelerator to overtake a slow-moving car, that torque steer has been strong enough to physically pull the front end one way or the other quite heavily. I thought that way no longer a problem, with the electronics and diff set-up’s on cars now, but it reared its ugly head too many times for my liking. First, second, and third gear all do it should you be accelerating hard. It’s not even the fun kind that you sometimes get on powerful front-drivers, it’s just annoying and shouldn’t happen.

Driving the Fiat 500L trekking

There’s loads of driver aids and safety electronic aids on the Trekking to make driving it an easy and safe affair, including City Brake Control, which automatically applies the brakes if it detects obstacles and cars in the road that you’ll hit if you didn’t stop. Clever. It’s also got hill-hold, which applies the brakes for a few seconds after you release the pedal, to stop the car rolling backwards (or forwards downhill), while you get into gear.

Safety electronics include stability control (ESC), with an anti-slip regulator (ASR) and engine braking regulation (MSR), then there’s ABS and electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD), rollover mitigation (ERM), which intervenes and helps to restabilise the vehicle when a wheel leaves the road surface or whenever an extreme dynamic movement is detected, and finally driving steering torque (DST), which helps to correct oversteer. There’s also 6 airbags 9 with option knee-protection – and the 500L has a 5-star Euro NCAP rating to cap it all off.

Fiat 500L 1.6 Trekking driving through mud and water.

Aside from the better looks of the Trekking, the main reason people will buy this version over the standard 500L is for the Traction+ system. This is an electronic system that increases the vehicle traction by distributing torque between the front wheels in the best possible way, or, more technically it’s ‘an electronic system that controls the braking circuit to simulate the behaviour of a self-locking electromechanical differential’. Helping the Traction+ system out hugely are the cool-looking all-season mud+snow tyres, which have deep grooves for better grappling action.

I tried the Traction+ out on a farm track that was made up of mainly water and super-slick mud, and it did surprisingly well, and definitely much better than a standard front-wheel-drive would in the same situation. The ground clearance isn’t too good at just 145 mm though, so the Tekking is best used for lighter stuff like the above-mentioned, snowy road surfaces, and over a boggy field for camping trips. Don’t think this is anything like as good as a 4×4 or AWD system though – it isn’t, and if you do decide to test that theory, you’ll get stuck quickly.

Fiat 500L Trekking's all season tyres

In conclusion, the Fiat 500L Trekking drives fairly well, there’s plenty of torque from the 1.6 diesel, it’s comfortable over bad roads, easy to drive around town (thanks to the superb city-steering button), is really a very safe car to be in, and itll eat up the miles economically should you want a cross-continent excursion, and the Traction+ is a good feature too. Negatives are the awful torque-steer from that 1.6 engine, and it’s a bit too floaty at speed on winding, undulating roads.

Price

The Fiat 500L Trekking is a bit of a hard one to put my finger on, and I think it’s got a bit of an identity crisis. It’s a medium-sized MPV, but it’s got the trick Traction+ system on it and more ground clearance than standard, which makes it into more of a crossover in my book. The Trekking is not cheaply-priced, but it does have a lot of good kit and driver aids on as standard, and it’s within the same ballpark as other cars with a similar front-drive traction ‘2×4’ system on.

The 500L Trekking starts at just over £17,000 and goes to £19,500. Rivals include the Peugeot 2008 Crossover models with Grip Control as standard is priced between £16,250 – £19,345, but has the advantage of a snow/sand/mud dial for various situations, and slightly more ground clearance than the 500L.

Fiat 500L Trekking verdict & score

Fiat 500L Trekking next to a canal

The 500L Trekking is an MPV/crossover with individual looks and a funky interior that’s as different from most cars in its group as chalk is to cheese. With bold looks and a versatile cabin with loads of storage space, the Trekking is a good one if you don’t want to have the stereotype that an MPV brings with it, but do still want the practicality, and of course there’s the neat Traction+ system, which’ll get you out and about when other normal two-wheel-drive cars are still parked up on the drive.

The 1.6 litre diesel I tested was impressively fuel-frugal, and there was plenty of torque too, for when the car is fully loaded up, and there’s also a huge amount of safety technology on the Trekking too. The negatives are that bad torque-steer, and the short seats.

Do you own a Fiat 500L Trekking? What are your views on it, and what are the best and worst points? Share your thoughts and leave a comment below!

Exterior  7
Interior  6
Engine (1.6D)  6
Gearbox  5
Price  7.5
Drive & ride  6
Overall Score  6 / 10

  Specs

Model (as tested)  2013 Fiat 500L Trekking 1.6 MultiJet 105 hp
Spec includes  Traction+ system & Mud+Snow tyres, 17″ alloy wheels, city brake control, ESC, ASR, MSR, hill holder, ABS+EBD, ERM, DST, BAS, 6 airbags, 5″ touchscreen with bluetooth, aux-in & USB port, cruise control, electric adjustable mirrors, all-round power windows, air conditioning, start & stop, tinted rear windows, city drive power steering, See specs for more
Options you should spec  HiFi by Beats: £600, DAB (digital radio): £100, Comfort pack: £200
The Competition  Peugeot 2008 Crossover
Price  (Dec. ’13) 3-door: £17,000 – £19,500 O.T.R
Engine  1.6 litre turbo-diesel, 4-cylinder, 16-valve
Power, Torque, CO2  105 bhp @ 3,750 rpm, 236 lb ft (320 Nm) @ 1,750 | CO2: 122 g/km
Drive, Gears (as tested)  Front wheel drive with Traction+ | 6-speed manual
Top Speed, 0 – 60 mph, Euro NCAP  Max speed: 109 mph | 0 – 62 mph: 12.0 seconds | Euro NCAP rating: 5-stars
Fuel economy (UK mpg)  Urban: 50.4, Extra urban: 68.9, Combined: 60.1
Weight (kerb)  1,245 – 1,440 kilograms (2,744 – 3,174 lbs) – Dependant on spec
Websites  Fiat UK, Fiat USA, Fiat Italy, Fiat worldwide

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Words: Chris Davies | Tested by: Chris Davies | Photography: Chris Davies, Jake ThomasMatthew Davies

2 responses to “Fiat 500L 1.6 Multijet 105hp Trekking review – Bigger Brother Goes For a Hike”

  1. v-easy

    The measures of the boot compartment you mention (343-400 litres) seem those of the standard 500l. I read somewhere else the trekking should be around 410-455 litres.

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