THE going is getting tough for the competition now Fiat has toughened up its image with the launch of the rugged 500L Trekking at a time when the 500 range has been outselling the formidable BMW Mini for most of this year writes Bryan Longworth.
Fiat chose Longleat Safari Park to launch the impressive 500L Trekking which looks like a 4x4 but in fact is a two wheel drive car with an electronic device that helps to provide four wheel drive type traction with the aid of all season tyres.
It is also fitted with a laser controlled braking system that virtually prevents the Fiat running into the back of vehicles in front as was vividly demonstrated when the Trekking I was driving automatically stopped hitting an obstacle in front from 20mph without me touching the brakes...scary but very effective!
The 500L Trekking which starts at £17,095 has a real rugged appearance with a raised suspension of 13mm, special front and rear chunky bumpers, smart 17” alloy wheels, side skirts and mouldings with a new high tech fabric seat upholstery with leather inserts and special body colours the best being yellow which looks really cool.
The engine range is the same as in the 500L with two petrol and two diesel with six speed manual gearboxes plus an automated manual which changes gears for the driver or it can be used manually.
My test car for the launch route which included 40 miles on road and an off road section next to the wild animals in the safari park was powered by the 1.6-litre 105bhp diesel engine that was ideal for this exercise.
On road I was impressed by the road holding qualities of the Trekking which was just like driving the standard 500L and off road on a course through fields and woods it showed that it will be a good performer in adverse weather conditions.
Fiat staff had prepared a special wet hilly stretch for the demonstration of the Traction+ system which showed just how good it is linked with the all weather tyres at providing 4x4 type traction to keep the car moving which will be ideal for driving in snow and ice in hilly and rural areas when winter returns.
With the Trekking having raised suspension the driver is provided with an excellent view of the road ahead and to each side with a very user friendly steering position that helps to make the Trekking such fun to drive.
But for me the demonstration of the City Brake Control which also reduces insurance costs for the owner was the most impressive feature of the Press launch because it will either prevent low speed rear end shunts or reduce damage in such collisions which are extremely common and can result in expensive repair bills.
The Trekking with its trendy interior offers plenty of passenger space with a very roomy rear load area that is the largest in its class and for extra load space the rear seats can be folded for a flat floor and the folding front passenger seat allows Trekking to carry loads of up to 2.4m in length.
Trekking should further consolidate the offensive against the likes of the Mini Countryman which for the first time is encountering serious competition because the Italian company has created a fun crossover with rugged appeal and all weather ability without the added expense of four wheel drive.
My Verdict: Trekker is set to be a trailblazing Mini beater.
Model: Fiat 500L Trekking.
Engines: Two petrol and two diesel.
Transmission: Six speed manual and automated manual.
Drive: Front wheel with electronic traction control.
Braking: Laser controlled collision preventer.
Prices: From £17,095 on the road to £19,590.