Fiat's attempt to toughen-up its Qubo MPV is called the Trekking. Jonathan Crouch reports
When it comes to being cool and trendy in the automotive world, the van-based MPV resides somewhere near the bottom of the evolutionary scale. One method that is increasingly being employed by manufacturers to promote their vehicles out of the primordial soup at the base of the style staircase is to pile on some 4x4 design cues. Fiat's Qubo was already one of the more attractive van based MPV options so toughened-up in Trekking guise, it must have a chance.
The addition of 4x4 styling appendages has become the preferred option for manufacturers looking to inject some excitement into their more utilitarian products. Fiat's Qubo Trekking supplements the usual raised ride height and chunky bumper with an electronic differential and mud and snow tyres for extra grip. The looks will remain a matter of opinion but you can't argue with the Qubo's practicality.
The Qubo is based on the Fiat Fiorino van, a small commercial vehicle tailored to the needs of urban businesses. This stands it in good stead as a small MPV, as does styling that doesn't immediately suggest it's an electrician's van in drag. Fiat will be aiming the Trekking model certainly at customers who see the standard Qubo as slightly passe, perhaps at those who might occasionally need to drive across wet grass or up a gravel driveway and maybe at customers who had considered front-wheel-drive versions of small 4x4 vehicles but would prefer a cheaper option. So does the Trekking do enough to convince?
You really can't go far wrong with the 1.3-litre Multijet diesel engine that powers the Terkking model. It's used across the manufacturer's small car range, in its compact vans and in quite a few Vauxhall-badged products as well. Diesel engines don't come much smaller but the 1,368cc four-cylinder unit can still pack a punch, developing 95bhp and strong torque from 1,750rpm.
The Trekking model is front wheel drive like all Qubos but it can back-up its off-road styling accoutrements with some extra ability. It features what Fiat calls its Traction+ system which is one of the electronic differential locks that are becoming increasingly commonplace on affordable sporting cars. Basically, the system can detect when one wheel looses grip and channel the engine's torque to the other one, maintaining forward progress. To help ensure that neither of the Qubo Trekking's driven wheels loose grip, the vehicle is also fitted with Pirelli 2500 M&S tyres which are likely to be of more benefit in slippery situations than Traction+.
The Qubo has all the key design elements of a roomy small car nailed down. The wheels are pushed right out to each corner of the vehicle, the bonnet is stubby and the roof is tall. The commercial origins of the Qubo don't lead you to expect too much from a design standpoint but Fiat's stylists have done some neat work in jazzing-up the exterior and the Trekking models take things further. The oversized front bumper of the Qubo incorporates an engine guard fixed to its lower lip on the Trekking model. The car also rides 20mm higher and features exclusive wheel trims. 'Trekking' stickers complete the effect.
This revised Qubo gets a smarter front grille and a chunkier front bumper. The tailgate is also revised, with the large circular recess giving way to a straight, flat panel with a more elegant location for the FIAT badge. Inside, there's a new steering wheel design, smarter instruments, nicer seat upholstery and fresh infotainment options. Otherwise, things are much as before. You wouldn't be embarrassed to drop the kids off in one of these, though your offspring might be irritated to find that they can't fully open the rear windows.
At under four metres from nose to tail, the Qubo is certainly small but there's lots of space inside. There's more headroom than you could possibly find a use for and legroom all round is ample for adult-sized passengers. Access to the rear is helped by the wide-opening side doors and in contrast to many of today's compact car offerings, the boot is very generous at 330-litres. The rear seats fold down but if you want to get maximum cargo on board, you'll need to remove them completely. This procedure converts the Qubo back into something approaching van form with a huge 2,500-litre capacity. A major downside for a vehicle of the Qubo's type is that the rear windows don't properly.
The Qubo Trekking looks decent value, at just £1,000 over the price of a 'Lounge'-spec model with less kit and a less powerful engine.
Gone are the days when van-based MPV buyers were happy if their purchase had a heater and a glovebox. All Qubo models get a trip computer, power steering, remote central locking, a CD stereo and the Uconnect communications system which combines Bluetooth connectivity and voice command functions.
Running costs are a major consideration for all car buyers but particularly at this cost conscious end of the market. The Qubo Trekking doesn't disappoint with near-70mpg economy from its 1.3 Multijet diesel and 107g/km emissions. Finally, a word about warranties. You get two years of manufacturer cover with this car, plus a further year from the dealer. Plus there's no mileage limitation, which makes this Fiat deal better than the restricted three year/60,000 mile package you get with rival models. There's also a year of roadside assistance cover, a reasonable three year paintwork warranty and an eight-year anti-perforation guarantee.
If you want a vehicle that's cheap, tough and remarkably roomy, a people carrier with commercial vehicle origins might be ideal but for cruising through fashionable shopping districts, enchanting the opposite sex, forget it. Predictably, the Trekking trim level doesn't transform the Fiat Qubo into any kind of hunk or babe magnet with its 4x4 styling cues but it does add some extra interest to the way the little Fiat looks without impinging on its impressive practicality.
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