We like small, clever cars here at carwow; cars that let you beat the system, who flaunt their poverty-spec as something to be proud of.
But today’s consumer is getting more discerning and expects more for their money. This is why the Citroen Berlingo (which we reviewed recently) has gone upmarket – and ‘upmarket’ also means ‘more expensive’, which is starting to defeat the object of the exercise…
So it was with a sense of excitement that we borrowed a Fiat Qubo Trekking for a week to find out if small, cheap, and versatile can also mean desirable, fun, and useful.
Oh man, the Qubo is ugly; the tall, boxy shape is bad enough, but that nose turns a bland car into one that is unbelievably, unfeasibly, unnecessarily ugly. Why anyone would model their car on the Proboscis Monkey is a mystery, but they’ve certainly done a fine job of it; park them side by side and they would be practically indistinguishable.
To be fair, the roof rails are extraordinarily funky, and some of the other details are neater than is the norm; I especially liked the ‘Wonky Techno Orange’ of our test car. (‘Wonky’; you don’t hear that word enough.)
The body coloured door mirrors and bumpers help make the car look more special than the modest price tag would suggest, and while the tinted rear windows won’t be to everyone’s taste, our children loved them as they could pull faces at passing motorists with impunity. Little beasts.
Things get better inside. It’s cheap ‘n’ cheerful but all the better for being so; rubber flooring in the cabin makes the Qubo easy to keep clean and stops you getting too precious about wearing dirty boots in it - although they’ve put carpet in the boot, which seems a bit odd.
The rest of the car is just as practical; the rears seats fold easily to give you massive boot space and the upright seats, huge glass area, and short overall length make the Qubo the easiest car in the world to parallel park.
The front seats might lack lateral support, which makes them less than ideal for long journeys, but then the Qubo Trekking isn’t a long journey kind of car, is it? No, it’s a commuting/city/school run hack and those sliding rear doors are ideal and a boon you only appreciate after you’ve used them.
Standard equipment across the range includes follow-me-home headlights, a trip computer, power steering, adjustable steering wheel, electric heated door mirrors, remote locking, and electric windows and adjustable lumbar support for the driver and passenger.
As a ‘Trekking’, our Qubo also gets a sump guard, raised ride height, roof bars, and luggage net in the boot.
Can we get the negatives out of the way first? The Qubo Trekking’s ride is appalling with more bounce than Barbara Windsor on a trampoline. During an earthquake. It really is quite extraordinary and feels like it needs a tonne of sand in the boot to smooth things out a bit.
If you can ignore the ride, the Qubo Trekking isn’t half bad. Steering, gearbox, brakes, and NVH are all acceptable and if they aren’t class-leading they are nowhere near bad enough to put you off driving it; there were plenty of times when I didn’t have to drive the Qubo yet it was always the Fiat’s keys that I picked up. It’s a fun car that oozes joie de vivre, peasant transport that is almost classless and in the downsizing 21st century that’s a useful and important trick to have up your sleeve.
What of the ‘Trekking’ feature? As well as the raised ride height (which might explain the bouncy ride) the Qubo gains TRACTION+, an electronic limited slip differential that diverts power to the front wheel with the most grip. We tested it on steep gravel and mud tracks and can confirm that it’s simple to use (you just press a button on the dashboard and pull away as normal) and works remarkably well. It’s not an off-roader, but should give most owners as much traction as they’re ever likely to need to cross a muddy car park or field; throw on winter tyres and you’d be unstoppable in the snow.
Our car had the 1.3-litre MultiJet diesel engine boasting 95bhp and 148lb/ft of torque, which are ample to propel 1275kgs. It isn’t the quietest of engines, but the noise isn’t unattractive and if you drive it with commitment it is almost sprightly.
A top speed of 105mph and 0-62mph acceleration of 12.2 seconds mean the Qubo Trekking can keep up with the traffic with ease, although overtaking does take some forward planning. And bravery.
Fuel consumption is 68.9mpg according to official fuel consumption tests and 50+mpg should be easily attainable for most owners in day to day use.
Value for Money
The showroom price of the Qubo Trekking is a few pounds over £15,000 – but this is not what you should expect to pay.
A quick look on Autotrader reveals that £11,500 is the going rate for a new model with delivery miles and nine grand gets you behind the wheel of one with fewer than 10,000 miles on the odometer. This makes the Qubo extraordinarily good value.
Running costs should be low and while the CO2 emissions are 107g/km, which is close but no cigar to free car tax, most won’t mind writing out a cheque for £20 a year.
The Qubo Trekking is a flawed but attractive package. If you can ignore the way it looks, and don’t mind the bouncy ride, the Qubo has an awful lot going for it. It’s spacious, gooad fun to drive, well equipped, and likely to provide enough all-surface ability to keep country folk mobile in even the foulest weather.
Rivals include the Peugeot Bipper Tepee (which isn’t as nice) and the Skoda Yeti (which is more expensive albeit much better).
No, if you want inexpensive transport with a modicum of off-road ability then the Qubo Trekking is a lone voice – well, it is until we drive the ridiculously cheap Dacia Duster…