Long-Term

A Death Valley Drive for Our Four Seasons 2016 Fiat 500X Trekking

Rolling through the desert to Sin City and back

Long-Term 2016 FIAT 500X Update: Spring 2017 ( 2 of 5 ) Miles to date: 0

As the saying goes, what happens in Vegas stays there. Lucky for you, though, all the salacious details of my road trip in our four seasons 2016 Fiat 500X Trekking are about to be fully exposed.

Initially, the four-door compact crossover that checks in at a relatively svelte 3,292 pounds felt like driving an empty soda can. Add 25 mph high desert gusts across Highway 15 on the way to Sin City, and there were moments that skirted dicey territory. The 500X’s electronically assisted steering felt like it was operating independently of me or the rest of the car at times. It over-responded to quick adjustments, even at moderate speeds. But once I got a handle on its sensitivity, like a Siegfried and Roy white tiger, it was more easily controllable.

When the winds died down and I found some open road free of fellow good-fortune seekers, things got smoother. The 500X’s 2.4-liter SOHC 16-valve I-4 engine isn’t overpowering by any stretch, but its 180 horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque are adequate as long as you aren’t going uphill for long. Then it feels like you’re towing Liberace’s piano.

The nine-speed automatic trans felt a bit laggy in Auto mode. It could probably use a punch-up to keep it competitive in such a crowded segment. As a result, I ended up spending too much time in the more responsive Sport mode than I should have, which didn’t do much for overall fuel efficiency. Then again, trips to Vegas are rarely a time to be sensible, so I felt justified. In a brazen moment, I managed to push the speedometer to 115 mph, but like waking up next to a complete stranger you married at Cupid’s Drive-Thru Chapel the night before, it felt plenty uncomfortable. I didn’t stay there long.

Darting through traffic on the famously packed Las Vegas strip made me appreciate the compact part of this compact SUV. It was easily maneuverable, and the front and rear vented disc brakes proved surprisingly stout. Given its 101.2-inch wheelbase I would have expected a tighter turning radius. Unfortunately, as aging showgirls in heavy stage makeup know, sometimes things are not as they appear. Visibility was good, and the backup camera and Fiat’s ParkSense rear parking-assist feature made squeezing the 168.2-inch long clown car into spots others would shy away from. Ideal for when city parking is at a premium.

Arancio. No, he’s not headlining the 9 p.m. “Thunder Down Under” review. Fiat shows its Italian flair by naming the flashy orange paint color of our particular 500X with the Italian word for orange. For a young “urban adventurer,” this sounds just about right. The interior was surprisingly roomy, especially up front, but even with the optional upgraded seats and additional lumbar support adjustment, after six hours I started feeling it. With trim models named after the Rice Crispy cereal guys (Pop, Easy, Lounge, Trekking, Trekking Plus), this is definitely a car targeted toward the hipster, millennial crowd. Base price is $26,230. Our model as driven with the Trekking Collection 4 option package will run you 27,730 clams. That’s 5,546 hands of blackjack at the $5 tables downtown. Chosen wisely.

Pairing a phone to the UConnect 5.0 system with integrated Bluetooth was easy. A couple of steps, and it was done. Sound quality out the speakers was, well, I could hear it, and the microphone for voice commands didn’t mistakenly call the Crazy Horse when I asked for “Tracy’s house.” There are plenty of compartments for keys, drinks, and cell phones. (Don’t judge; you look at your phone, too.) With only one USB port though, it might take a MMA match to decide who recharges first if there’s more than one early adopter in the car. Given the target demographic I’d think Fiat would stash more than one. Oddly, there was a continuing issue with acquiring a signal on the XM radio but only in Los Angeles. Either the satellite isn’t a Howard Stern fan or the antenna might need a boost or some clever repositioning.

Since the 500X little nugget is AWD, I figured I’d do some trekking through Death Valley on my return trip home. With no cell service and no navigation on the car, I opted to play the role of a true adventurer and use a traditional paper map. Unfortunately for me, it had been a long time since I’d read one. Epic fail. I passed sand dunes I wanted to take pictures of and flew by turnoffs I wanted to explore. No matter. Sometimes missing one turnoff sends you down another, more interesting path, like the one that led to Ballarat, California — or what’s left of it. While far from an impressive ghost town, the unpaved, bumpy, dirt road that leads there was easily the best five miles (give or take) of the entire trip. It was here where the 500X really shined. Its strut-type suspension and Nexen Classe premiere CP671 17-inch tires easily soaked up the gravel and small rocks, and the steering felt plenty connected while navigating the trail. I would have gone up and back on that stretch of real estate a bunch more times, but the desert dudes at the dubiously named General Store were already giving me the stink-eye and asking if I wanted them to take my picture. Alas, as with any gambling, it’s best to quit while you’re ahead. But man, that piece of road was fun.

Save for a startlingly close buzz by a Navy fighter jet, the rest of the drive home was an uneventful blur. If your drive home from Vegas isn’t, you’ve done it wrong. The 500X passed slower cars and RVs well enough for my needs. While average highway fuel economy is estimated at 30 mpg, between my aforementioned over-zealous use of Sport mode and my lead foot I logged my roughly 1,000-mile trip at closer to an average of 23.5 mpg. Below normal, perhaps, but again, it was Vegas, baby—nothing normal about that. Overall, I found the 500X to be a fun little crossover that was more than up to the task of escorting me on my adventure to and from the bright lights of the big city.

Oh hey, I just realized I never shared what I did while I was actually in Vegas. Sorry, this girl doesn’t kiss and tell. So I guess the old adage is right: What happens there stays.

Our 2016 Fiat 500X Trekking

PRICE $26,230/$27,730 (base/as tested)
ENGINE 2.4L SOHC 16-valve I-4/180 hp @ 6,400 rpm, 175 lb-ft @ 3,900 rpm
TRANSMISSION 9-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV
EPA MILEAGE 21/30 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H: 168.2 x 75.5 x 63.7 in
WHEELBASE 101.2 in
WEIGHT 3,292 lb
0-60 MPH 9.8 sec
TOP SPEED N/A

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