The Fiat 500L Trekking is a curious beast, looking at first glance like a regular Fiat 500 that’s swollen after being left in the rain.

It’s one of two new models – the other being the 500L MPW – designed to expand the range into new markets and, hopefully, encourage some of the 500’s mojo to rub off in the process.

The Trekking is best thought of as two cars in one: on the one hand, it’s a five-door family hatchback with a healthy degree of urban practicality, and on the other it’s a puffed-up crossover that’ll appeal to outdoors types with a strong sense of eco-responsibility.

Compared to the standard 500L, the Trekking is 10% higher lending it 145mm of ground clearance, and sits on 17-inch alloy wheels with all-season tyres.  Its ruggedness is emphasised by the chunky bumpers and faux skid-plates, while individuality arrives in the form of a range of customisation options and some in-your-face colours, most notably the Hip Hop Yellow of our test car that’s exclusive to the Trekking.

The interior is certainly spacious, and a little out of the ordinary, with a ‘squircle’ steering wheel, a hammerhead shark for a handbrake and a multitude of gloveboxes and cubby holes.  There are neat design touches everywhere, such as the embroidered 500 logos on the seats and that ‘squircle’ motif that makes an appearance throughout the cabin.

At 6ft4, I initially struggled to find a comfortable driving position: you sit high up in the 500L, which of course gives great visibility, but the pedals are arranged quite close to the driver leading to a ‘perched’ driving style.  It doesn’t take long to get used to, however; in fact, there’s something charmingly retro about it.

The instruments have funky white-backed faces but while the steering wheel adjusts for both height and reach, I couldn’t find a comfortable setting that didn’t cut off a large chunk of the speedo.  They’re also difficult to read at night, mostly because the needles aren’t illuminated leaving only the very tip visible against the white background.

Much of the rest of the dashboard is dominated by Fiat’s Uconnect multimedia system that’s standard on the Trekking.  It provides touch-screen access to phone, media and other functions, and can be upgraded with options for satellite navigation, DAB digital radio and an incredible ‘HiFi by Beats’ package that includes an ear-pulverising 520 watts of power.  Drive-thru here we come.

In the back, rear seat passengers sit slightly higher than those in the front and this, coupled with the large glass area, gives them an excellent view of the outside world.  There’s plenty of foot-room, too, thanks to the largely flat floor, and there’s the option of sliding the rear seats back for maximum legroom or forward for more cargo space, plus the ability to recline the seat backs for greater comfort on longer journeys.  Park up for a picnic and you can fold the front seats forward to create a pair of tray-tables.

If you’re loading up for a hiking trip, the boot offers 343 litres of space plus options for expanding this via a number of seat and boot floor configurations: fold the seat backs forward on to the bases and raise the floor to create a flat load bay with a compartment underneath; alternatively, tumble the seats forward out of the way completely and drop the boot floor to create 1,310 litres of space.

It’s quite a flexible arrangement, and with the front seat folded you can carry loads up to 2.4m in length, the only real issue being that there’s nowhere to store the parcel shelf when it’s not in use.

The 500L Trekking is available with a choice of four engines, starting with a 1.4-litre petrol unit with 95hp, plus a 0.9-litre two-cylinder turbocharged TwinAir with 105hp.  The latter makes more sense than the 1.4, with its 55.4mpg economy, 119 g/km CO2 emissions, and a 0-62mph time of 12.6 seconds.

Diesel options come in the shape of a pair of MultiJet units in 85hp 1.3-litre and 105hp 1.6 litre guises.  Our test car was powered by the range-topping 1.6-litre unit, which develops 105hp and a more appealing 320Nm of torque at just 1,750rpm.  CO2 emissions of 122 g/km place it in VED Band D (£105 pa), and while we couldn’t come close to the official economy figure of 60.1mpg, we had little trouble maintaining a 44mpg average.

It’s a little laggy off the line until the turbo comes on song, and it can be a touch coarse when asking it for the full beans, but in normal driving it settles down well.  Its torquey nature means you’re unlikely to be left behind in urban traffic despite what its 0-62mph time of 12 seconds would suggest.

On the move, there’s a gentle rumble from those all-season tyres, particularly at low speeds, but wind noise on the motorway is surprisingly well suppressed.  In fact, with cruise control as standard and that killer stereo, it’s certainly not afraid of a long journey.

At speed, bumps are absorbed without drama, although picking up the pace on your favourite back road will yield quite pronounced body roll.

However, it’s on the road less travelled that the 500L begins to make a stronger case for itself, as it’s here that those all-season tyres start to pay dividends.  Fiat have also equipped the Trekking with a new Traction+ system that’s designed to maximise available grip, and the system can be engaged at speeds below 19mph via a button next to the gear lever.

Click here to learn: How does Traction+ work?

While the system isn’t designed as a substitute for a full-blown four-wheel-drive system, Trekking owners will have the advantage when negotiating a festival car park or a recent snow-fall.

The Trekking is also the first model to gain Fiat’s new City Brake Control, a laser-based system that detects if a frontal collision is likely and applies the brakes if the driver doesn’t react.

Prices for the 500L Trekking start at £17,095 for the 1.4 petrol, rising to £19,590 for the 1.6 diesel, with all models equipped with automatic headlights and wipers, rear parking sensors, air conditioning, and cruise control as standard.

Spec a new Nissan Qashqai to similar levels and the Trekking is cheaper as long as you can make do with one of the lesser engines, but choose the 1.6 and a Mini Countryman begins to look like better value.

The Trekking is more practical, though, and its quirky sense of design will make your kids feel like they’re riding around in a Tomy Activity Centre.  They’ll absolutely love it.

Entry-level Price £17,095 Price as tested £21,740
Engine 4-cylinder turbodiesel, 1598cc Transmission Six-speed manual
Power 105hp @ 3,750rpm Torque 320Nm @ 1,750rpm
0-62 12.0 secs Top speed 109 mph
Economy 60.1 mpg CO2 122 g/km
Dimensions 4270 x 1800 x 1679 (LWH) Kerb Weight 1375 kg

Alex Kefford

Editor

Freelance journalist, ex-offroad driving instructor and long distance road-tripper. If you have any questions about this piece, feel free to hit me up on Twitter.